GEOFF WITH A G
Loneliness, Serendipity and Ice Cream
Yesterday was full of serendipitous moments the type of timing that you think can’t be accidental. The creation of a series of events you know can’t possibly have been random. I love those kinds of days, they restore my hope that magical things exist and life is more positive than negative.
We were having a girls day, my 6 year old and me. A day where she got to set the rules and we could do whatever she wanted. Our plan was scuppered when we went to visit the newly opened Kaspa’s dessert restaurant and there was an hour’s queue.
She clocked the queue and I gave her the choice. Luckily she made the right decision but there were tears. Big fat squirty tears of disappointment, the type that instantly swamp you in parental guilt.
But that foiled Kaspa’s visit set us on a path that was full of serendipity – including pulling up to our alternative choice and finding a full on fun fair opposite. The exact timing also bought us smack bang into her best friend who’s birthday it was that day and meant we got to whisk her off for ice cream and giggles.
It’s also how we ended up there in the Broadstairs bandstand listening to a duo band called Nostalgia. The plinking plonk of their keyboard and retro crooning drew us in from the fair and meant we ended up sat next to 91 year old Geoff with a G.
A long row of folding chairs curved round the bandstand edge and there in the middle sat a dapper old chap. Ffion went and sat one chair away from him. Empty chairs stretched out either side and she decided she wanted to be right next to him so I followed her lead.
Earlier in the week I’d read a post on Facebook about a 91 year old lady who’d written to her neighbours to ask if they’d like to be friends. It made my heart ache for her loneliness and was still bouncing around in my short term memory giving me sharp little jabs of guilt. One of those posts that makes you feel guilty and emosh but full of hope all in one go. So instead of sitting in the numerous empty seats stretching out or on the other side of Ffion I sat there, right next to that dapper chap and I said “hello”.
For the next 40 minutes with Nostalgia providing our sound track and Ffion dancing happily we chatted and I learnt all about Geoff. When two people are strangers it’s surprising how quickly you can get the measure of someone if you let your guard down and so do they. Like speed dating for friendship a super power that smashes through loneliness and gets straight to connection.
Just start a conversation
I’ll talk to any child, any where I don’t even think about it, my 11 year old son finds it utterly embarrassing and my 6 year old gets jealous. My whole working life has centred around children so It’s the easiest thing in the world to me. Just start a conversation ask them what they like and get carried along on the wave of their enthusiasm and wonder at the world.
Generally there’s never reservations just honesty and mostly a lot of fun. Why do we let that go as adults? Why do we slowly allow the barriers to rise and the length of time needed to feel comfortable with someone to increase? Kids just go up to whoever they feel like and start chatting – they have it right.
But there in the bandstand in those 40 minutes from just saying hello I learnt a lot. I learnt all about Geoff’s life, about his wife who had died ten years earlier, his children and grandchildren and their jobs. I learnt about his love of badminton and his 50 years service to Badminton England.
I learnt where he lived and what he liked to do with his days. Things like the trip he’d taken out that day to visit the bandstand that had bought us to our conversation. I discovered he still drove at 91 and he was as sharp as a knife. I learnt that loneliness can shadow someone’s life but not totally eclipse it if they have the right attitude. I learnt that I had some totally incorrect misconceptions about age.
He shared how he had recently bought a mobility scooter but he far preferred to keep moving and keep active. I learnt about his parents and life before the war and the beach hut his family had really near my own one. I learnt he’d been a dancing champion and that his cousin is Mick Jagger!
Secrets of a Long and Healthy Life
He even shared his secrets to a long life with me:
- Enjoy every day life is for living find small pleasures in everything you do
- If you’re married or in a relationship don’t do absolutely everything together because when one of you go it’s so much harder to go on
- Connect with people
- Don’t smoke
- Don’t drink
- Keep active and moving
All of that from one fabulous chance encounter. From one failed dessert trip to a full on life affirming connection with a total stranger. He was like a gift sitting there just waiting to be opened. A box of stories and memoirs, a life full of wisdom and all I had to do was say hello.
Like the Facebook post that inspired me to talk to Geoff I encourage you to connect with someone older. Write a letter, go and visit someone, just say hello. Older people’s lives move so much slower than our hectic pace, they have time to watch and think and can feel experience incredible loneliness.
Connection is so important, saying hello and striking up a conversation can have such an impact on someone’s wellbeing. Like me you’ll probably come away all the wiser for it too. Geoff shared his wisdom of 91 years with me, a total stranger, and that is priceless.