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This one's for the child in us all.


An elderly lady climbing a ladder

To be perfectly honest, I had little time for community bobbies, life at the blunt end held no appeal for me. Days spent organising five-a-side football games, discos and bingo evenings would've driven me insane, but, each to their own.

A mate of mine had cornered me in the canteen. "You like your cooking, don't you, bud?" Pushing the coffee (which I knew was a bribe) towards me, "Fancy some easy overtime on Sunday, help us out at the same time?"

"I took a slurp before refusing, "Sorry Jeff, I know diddly squat about the community section, can't help, sorry!"

"But you can cook?"

"Yeah, but....."

"Six hours, doing a meal for the old dears, Sally was cooking but she's gone sick, go on, mate, they love their Sunday lunches and a bit of company, have a heart?"

Ten minutes of wheedling later...

"OK, ok, six hours, but I'm not playing bloody bingo!"

So it was that I'd been shanghaied into cooking a rather nice lamb casserole for fourteen octogenarians at one of the local old people's homes, nice bit of PR and the old folk got something different on the menu and someone different to chat to.

I popped outside and sat on a bench to get some cool air and have a sly cigarette.

"Got a cig going spare, love?"

The old lady looked at me with pleading eyes.

"Is it ok? I mean should you be smoking?"

"You mean should I be my age?" She gave me a wicked grin, "There's lots of things I shouldn't be my age, but I won't tell if you won't!"

Again that wicked grin and a cheeky wink.

We shared a smoke and started chatting. This woman, Betty, had lived a very interesting life. Married into the Services, seen the world, been through a war and worked well into her seventies.

After her husband passed away, with no kids, she'd gone off travelling again, exploring some very shady parts of the world on her own, only returning to England when her health and funds started dwindling.

This woman had a lust for life that would put must teenagers to shame. Sadly, it seemed, her travelling days were finally behind her.

She'd broken her hip climbing, or trying to climb onto the home's roof as she'd noticed they'd flown the Union Jack upside down, quite an eye for an old dear!

"You enjoy the lamb?" I managed to get a word in edge ways as she lit another fag, "Cooked it myself, but you can give me an honest opinion"

"Don't go in there if I can help it love," she lowered her voice and whispered, "Full of old people in there, can't stand the bingo and the endless moaning! I'd rather be out here in the fresh air!"

"Well, you go in if it gets any chillier, eh?" I stood up to leave, "Lovely meeting you, Betty, see you again soon, I hope?"

"You never know your luck, son!" She gave me another grin, "Nice chatting to you, too, you take care."

"We start nights on Friday, so it may be a few weeks?"

"Don't worry love, I'll try and hang around, unless somewhere more exciting calls!" That final naughty wink left me leaving with a big smile.

Sadly, work got in the way for the next few months. Then I had leave booked, places to go people to see, more nights, more work.

Bumping into Jeff again, about five months later, he asked if I was free that Sunday for a return spot as guest chef.

"Can't do, mate, got the Tall Ships Sunday, but I will try and pop in next week and say hello".

The following Monday I had a few statements to take in the street next to the old people's home and, although I didn't finish till after nine, I did indeed pop in.

"Hi, love, if it's not too much trouble, I've just popped in to say hello to Betty and see how she's getting on?"

I gave the receptionist my best I-know-it's-not-visiting-hours-but-can-you-bend-the-rules-just-this-once? Look.

"Betty?" The lights finally went on, "Oh, Betty, now there was a handful, more energy than the staff, always talking about the few places in the world she still had to see! Not much time for the other residents, but the staff loved her tall tales, I'm sorry love, I take it you haven't visited for a while?"

"Suppose it has been a bit, how's she been?" Her past tense answers should've given me a clue, never been that good a detective!

"I'm so sorry, love, but Betty passed away a while back, went in her sleep, very peacefully..."

"Oh dear, poor love, when did she...?" I let the question hang in the air, picturing that wicked smile, sorry I'd put off visiting for so many weeks.

"Let me see? I'd been here three months so...about five years back."

Again that cheeky grin filled my mind as I left, hoping she was happy, sure that she was still getting into mischief....hopefully somewhere very exotic!

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