I’m not sure these two are going to talk. Clearly a couple, the woman looks like my old primary school teacher, a kind face with a long auburn bob. The man has grey hair, small blue eyes and a tight mouth with slightly wonky teeth. When the lady starts humming, I’m given hope she’ll be a good person. After all – good people hum.
The conductor comes round to collect the tickets.
“Have you got the card?” the lady asks her partner.
“Yes,” he says, pulling out an East Coast trains-branded wallet.
I go in for the kill, “What’s the card?” I ask.
“It’s for old people,” the man says, “for want of a more politically correct term,” he adds.
We launch into a conversation about discounts for the over 60s. I ask what the man does.
“All my career I’ve been working as a psychologist. I now run a business but I’m part retired. Because of my age I mainly do senior assessments for directors and chief executives of companies.”
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“I do psychometric testing and write reports for the client, usually looking at the skills of the job versus those of the employees.”
“So it’s business psychology?” I ask.
“It is. I mean, I hated clinical psychology. Education was a growth area and occupational is relatively new in the UK.”
With part retirement in mind, I ask about the changes to retirement age.
“You escaped that didn’t you, Glenys,” he says.
“I escaped that,” she agrees, “I got ill and took early retirement.”
“And what were you working as before?” I ask Glenys.
“I was a teacher.” Her voice is lovely.
“Oh really, what subjects?”
“Art was my main subject. And English.”
“But then you got ill,” I say.
“I didn’t know I was ill at first. They were a bit bad with it at school.”
“Kept saying you’d hit the bottle,” her partner adds.
“Hmm, I started falling over and kept walking into things,” she turns to look at me and says, “I had a brain tumour.”
I raise my eyebrows and my eyes grow sad.
“It’d been growing for forty years,” she says, “it was the size of a golf ball.”
“That’s awful, how did you find out?” I ask.
“As I said, I’d started bumping into things and people at school were joking I’d hit the bottle and I suppose it might have looked like that. In a way I felt like that.”
“And when did you realise it wasn’t right?”
“I was decorating. I climbed a step-ladder and suddenly felt really weird – which I later found out was the pressure – so I went to the doctor, who said it was just a headache. I wasn’t happy with that, so we went to get a second opinion. The next doctor I saw asked me to do a couple of tests. For one, they get you to walk along a line. I couldn’t walk straight so they sent me straight to the hospital. I was lucky because it turned out to be benign.”
“How long were you in hospital for?”
“Only for days. And yet it seemed a long time. We drove 40 miles and got there at 2am. I had the operation on Boxing Day. Then there was a bit where they stuck what looked like straws in my head to relieve the pressure, which I found out later was actually the most dangerous part. I would’ve been more scared if I’d fully understood at the time. Obviously the location of the tumour affects the danger. I was lucky – you can end up paralysed.”
“Was it near the top of your spine?” I ask.
“Yes, it was here,” she points to the lower right-hand side of the back of her head.
“It was in an area that affects your motor skills,” her partner says, “a tumour at the front affects speech, at the back it can affect motor skills.”
Glenys nods and says, “I met this guy in there, we saw him afterwards, and he was such good fun to be in hospital with – if you were going to be in hospital with anyone. When you have brain injuries or damage, they’re always asking you general knowledge things – just to make sure your memory’s alright. We used to have learning sessions you know, and do stupid things between us. It was just a way of keeping going really. He was terrific.” She looks up, “he died not that long after he left.”
I comment on how sad it must be to make friends with someone only to lose them so soon. She sighs, in the way that people do when they’re accepting the gravity of the inevitable cycle of life and death.
Then her husband says,“Course there were a lot of jokes in there. Like when the nurses said, ‘it’s a no brainer.’ The best bit was when we managed to visit Glenys in hospital and there was a young male nurse who – and Glenys was looking her worst right (He winks lovingly at Glenys) – said to my wife; is that your s..s..son? I felt really good – I’d lost twenty years!”
And we all laugh.