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Meeting With History

Meeting With History

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Published by worthingp
The true story of when I met with Dame Vera Lynn recently at a summer fete in Worthing, West Sussex.
The true story of when I met with Dame Vera Lynn recently at a summer fete in Worthing, West Sussex.

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Published by: worthingp on Feb 01, 2010
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02/01/2010

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Damaged Goods But Not Lost PropertyBy Stephen PageWe take a lot for granted as we live our busy lives.In my 40th year, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and I think ittook two full years for me to escape denial. Yet, if I am honest therewas a part of me that embraced my changing capacities.Extraordinarily quickly.I have been fortunate in that to date I have not suffered problems withmy speech, beyond the fact that my lungs do not have as muchexercise as they once did. And talking, I now realise, is quite anexhausting activity. I laugh sometimes because the more I talk theless I see. My optic nerve has been affected, and I am registeredblind, although this doesn't mean that I can't see things. Simply thatmy ability to interpret signals from the eye has been degraded. Theamount I see, for example the speed with which I can recognizefaces, varies over time, and even sometimes improves if I am rested.I was never too fond of physical activities, and so I don't mourn thisaspect of my losses as much as many would. I have always lived acerebral life, and although my thinking might have slowed, it hasn'tstopped. I might be damaged goods, but I'm not lost property.A lot of my time is devoted to ensuring that the important things aresomehow made possible: the things I used to take for granted, likegoing shopping, visiting friends and family, and going to theatre andconcert performances, which I have always enjoyed attending.Even the little detailed things like just finding stuff, which is hardenough when you're able-bodied, requires time, good organisationand in my case often the help of a carer.
 
Perhaps the single most important activity I can still pursue is creativewriting. I used to be able to type very fast, but these days I would bea one-finger typist, if it wasn't for voice-activated software. It isamazing how accurately the software recognizes my voice, and Vickithe speech circuit in the computer, reads back to me with an amazingCalifornian accent.I don't go out anything like as much as I used to, and I don't meetpeople outside of my social circle very often, so when I do, I probablytalk too much. Which is exactly the way I behaved when I met DameVera Lynn recently, just across the road from where I live in Worthing.The Queen Alexandra Hospital, home for soldiers aged between 23and 99 years, is just a few hundred yards from my flat in the WestEnd of Worthing. A Summer Fete was advertised on a notice boardat the entrance to the car park.It was the end of August, and the band of the Coldstream Guardswould be in town to greet the return of some of 'our boys' fromAfghanistan. It was natural, somehow, that after the formal businessof the day they should turn up at the hospital, especially as DameVera was there to open the fete and sign autographs for a pound atime. There was no shortage of takers.The weather brightened up just as things began to get going, andPauline, my carer, wandered off with her sister whilst I treated myselfto a beefburger with onions. Fabulous. A local farmer was providingthe goods, and like many people these days, I like to know where mymeat has come from.When the girls found me, thoroughly enjoying my lunch, I wasinformed there were soon to be tours of the building. We signed up atonce, and in no time were being given a briefing from our guide. Thedoors to many of the rooms would be open, she said, but we shouldrespect the fact that this was their home. And what a fabulous place itwas. It was definitely a hospital, but the quality of everything wasquite extraordinary. About 20 of us in our party made up a ragbag of
 
visitors, greeted throughout the tour by friendly faces peering from therooms. I couldn't help thinking that I could quite happily live there, anda small part of me wondered whether my service in the CombinedCadet Force at my grammar school would make me eligible.Just as we finished the tour, via a lift with the sexiest voiceimaginable, I could hear the sound of the band beginning to playoutside. The crowds of people filling the downstairs had begun to driftout to hear them, and before I even noticed she had gone anywhere,Pauline suddenly appeared and said, "come over here". I dutifullyfollowed without question, suddenly to find myself face to face acrossa small square table from Dame Vera Lynn.Dame Vera had been the only other woman my father ever admittedfeelings for, and she had sustained him through the time when hehad served with the Royal Engineers between 1940 and 1948.Suddenly my hand was in hers, not in a handshake but just held as ifwe were long lost friends meeting. I found myself explaining to DameVera how much she had meant to my father, and to the men that heserved with, through the long years of fighting.Dame Vera listened, and for her entire tea break she gave me her fullattention. I was under her spell. I talked too much. The time to leavecame too quickly. I began to move backwards in my electricwheelchair, only for both of us to be astonished to see the teacup andsaucer immediately in front of her moving slowly, as if by someunseen hand, towards the edge of the table.In the nick of time I heard Pauline's voice ordering me to stop.Somehow I had caught the table cloth. The look on Dame Vera'sface will stay with me for a very long time. My magical moment endedwith us all chortling.I didn't want to wash my hands for a week after that. The first thing Iwanted to do when I got home was to ring my mum, to tell her what Ihad been up to.

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