A Hobby (A short story based on two neighbours of mine)

A Hobby

Alfred Reginald Bester was one of the nicest old men you could ever hope to meet. Nothing was ever too much trouble – a man who spent his time looking for ways to help others.

Now in his eighties, widowed for twenty years, with arthritic back, two hips that needed replacing, a dodgy heart and failing eyesight, you might be forgiven for thinking that it might be his turn to be looked after for a change. Not a bit of it. There wasn’t a day when Alf wasn’t busy doing something for someone else. He called it his hobby and always said that it was them who were doing him a favour, keeping him young, fit and healthy (at least in his mind).

On Alf’s wall was a big calendar with all the jobs that needed doing. It had to be big or he wouldn’t be able to read it.

His week started with the shopping. Mrs West from next door was housebound so she depended on him. At nine o’ clock sharp he’d rap at her door and she’d provide him with a list. He’d trundle along to the local store, he would never used the supermarket; they were too rushed in there. He liked to have a friendly chat while the shopkeeper, Maisie, packed his goods. They always had a good laugh. Then he’d trundle back a little more slowly. He had bought a special large shopping trolley so that it was big enough to get the goods for both of them. Not that their needs were that great. Neither of them were big eaters, both skinny things. ‘Nowt but rags, skin and bones,’ he’d laugh at how the years had treated him.

When he got back he’d help Elsie West put things away, she’d put the kettle on and always joked ‘I’ll put the kettle on Alf, even though it doesn’t suit me.’ He always laughed. They’d have a cup of tea and a biscuit.

In the afternoon it was the same for Harry from round the corner. Tuesday was picking up Rosie Symmond’s prescription, playing draughts with John – it used to be chess but John kept forgetting the moves. On Wednesday and Thursday he volunteered to serve in the Help The Aged charity shop, on Friday he went to the local school to listen to the boys and girls read. That was a highlight. On Saturday he visited the old peoples’ home where he played them some songs on the piano, if his fingers weren’t playing up too much, and they’d have a right good singalong. Which brings us to Sunday. Sunday was very special. He always spent the day at Shelby Hall – a home for children with severe disabilities. The kids were always eager to see him and he loved working with them on their various projects, whether gardening, art, music or other creative ventures. Alf always said that there was nothing wrong with their brains, imagination or humour.

Suzie was fifteen, as sharp as a splinter of glass, even though the cerebral palsy had robbed her of the proper use of her limbs so that she was confined to a wheelchair. Alf always made a point of sitting with her for a half hour or so. Suzie was a whizz with computers and was designing a very lively animated game in which a miserable old man, always groaning and moaning, would have a series of mishaps as he set off to do his shopping. One thing after another. Every time he tripped over, fell down a hole or was knocked down he exploded with a loud bang and big burst of colour. They used to chuckle like mad about it. ‘Is that meant to be me?’ Alf asked, peering short-sightedly at the shambling old grump. ‘Of course it is,’ Suzie chortled.

They both had a laugh as Alf tried to get his character to the shop and back without exploding and always failed. After he’d exploded the old man would be back at the start with steam coming out his ears, jumping up and down, fuming and shouting expletives. It was a fun game. ‘What are you going to call it?’ Alf asked.

Curmudgeonly is the name of the game,’ Suzie grinned teasingly delighting in baiting him. He tried to look shocked but failed miserably. Her distorted grin and dancing eyes always filled Alf with joy.

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