Alec and his wife Hazel. Bury, Manchester

“With Hazel being on the vulnerable list we have to be a bit more careful. Like everybody else we get fed up now and again but our daughter phones us every day. She took me on a video walk last week actually beside the Bridgewater Canal. Walking along holding the phone and talking to me so I could see the scenery. It were lovely. Next best thing to being there.

This is the thing you see. I retired early through a heart attack. I sort of took up walking afterwards to get myself fit. Me and a friend. We used to go hill walking every week. I’d be gone from 8 in the morning til 8 at night on those days, Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough, as far as Robin Hoods Bay once.  I don’t know how the wife put up with it. She’s fantastic. I had to keep a close rein on Kevin though. He was a devil for going off-piste, if you know what I mean.

Obviously when the wife were taken ill I couldn’t do the walking. So it was really great when Bury Carers took up walking with https://carerssteppingout.co.uk/. That walk we did at Heaton Park, Hazel and I thoroughly enjoyed it – even though we got soaked! We’re looking forward to starting again when we can.

It’s our 58th wedding anniversary this year. We were 15 when we met. Rock’n’Roll, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley. Thing were different. Different world altogether. There were no dating sites, internet, things like that. We actually went out and met people face to face. On Friday/Saturday nights in Chesterfield the habit was for all the youngsters to go Town Topping, as we called it, in the centre of town. Four streets formed a quadrangle and all the girls would circulate one way round the triangle and all the boys would circulate the other way. Bit of talent-spotting. Eyeing up what was available, so to speak. Then we’d go into a coffee bar to chat.

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That’s how we met, me and Hazel. We arranged a date following weekend to go to the pictures. I can’t remember what the film was. (I know it wasn’t the John Barry 7 Band at the Chesterfield Gaumont because I’d already seen them with the lads). So I turned up at the allotted time. No Hazel. Ten minutes – quarter of an hour later, no Hazel. In the end I waited for next two buses. Still no Hazel, so I decided I might as well  go home and chalk it up to experience.

I forgot all about it until about a week later when, my mother said: Oh Mrs. Hardwick’s got a note for you from a young lady. Mrs. Hardwick was our next-door-neighbour. Turned out that she’d met Hazel at a bus stop the day before in Chesterfield and they’d started talking as you do. When Hazel discovered that Mrs. H was catching the bus to Dronfield, she said: Oh I met a young man from Dronfield couple of weeks ago. His Mum and Dad have a shop.’ (They did. Mum and Dad had a corner shop like Arkwrights, you know, the old BBC comedy with David Jason and Ronnie Barker.) Mrs. H said “Oh my next-door neighbours run a shop.” Hazel said: ‘His name were Alec”. Mrs. H said: “Oh my neighbours son is called Alec”.  So she scribbled a quick note to give to Mrs. Hardwick- “Same time, same place, next weekend” – and now we’ve been together over 60 years.

What had happened was Hazel had got infected gums and her mother wouldn’t let her come. ( I understood what it was like because I’d had it too. All I could eat was soup and mashed potato for days.)  From that day we’ve always said, myself and Hazel, it was fated for us to be together.

I was 20 and Hazel was 19 when we married – and I always add we didn’t have to get married! We had 5 children – lost three of them at birth or from miscarriage but we got through.  We still have two fantastic children. Our daughter Susan is a gem, our son Steven is fantastic lad and his husband  Michael is also a great lad. He’s actually made big improvements to our life. He’s brought us out – because he’s always been involved in theatre and performance.

Where we’d been happy doing same things at night and going to work in the morning, Michael got us mixing with his friends and going out more. We would always go to Mablethorpe on our holidays, he goes abroad. And now we’ve been as far East as Bangkok and as far west as San Francisco. He’s done us good.  One of first places we ever went away with them was to the Greek Island of Crete. I got dressed and went outside and Michael looked me up and down and said:“Father-in-law, we do not wear socks with sandals.” I’ve never worn socks with sandals since.

How’s Hazel? This is the thing: obviously it’s not good. She’s losing her memory. She can’t even remember now when we got married. But she’s ok – she’ll have a conversation with you. But two minutes later she’s forgotten every word. Her short term memory is shot. Myself, Im coping because Ive got to cope. I cant do anything else. I also know if boot was on the other foot shed look after me. She looked after me brilliant when I had my heart attack. When I had my second one in 2018 my daughter and son came for a week each but Hazel, even though then she was ill, looked after me as best she could.

She’s had Alzheimers for about seven years now and she’s always laughing. She’s chosen to. She says there’s two things you can do: laugh or cry.  I do things to try and jog her memory. I put on the DVD of our Golden Wedding Anniversary a week or two back. She can’t remember any of it now. Being only 2012 that was heart breaking. I’m looking at that film and there’s my Hazel in full-song on video but she weren’t sat watching it as she was then. But our daughter is prouder of Hazel than she’s ever been. She says: “I’ve never know anybody with such a positive attitude.” So that’s basically it. That’s where we are now.

 I suppose the toughest thing about this lockdown – me particularly, the wife not so much – is not meeting people, losing contact with people, not seeing family. That’s been the worst for me. I’d love to be able to get in the car and drive to the Peak District and park by the side of the road for an hour, see the sights, walk in the hills, but those days will come again.”

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