Robert – Age 84
“I come over here because it’s always nice to have people around who still know you. One thing I notice these days is young people driving too fast and I think it’s wrong. Then I realise if I’d had a car at that age I’d have done the same!”
I’m always swearing, at least Sheila tells me I am. Went to Australia when I was 22 and came back here when I was 29. Loved living there, loved it to death, but my mother wasn’t well, so I came back. She died. I always wanted to go back but got stuck in a rut and never made it back there. I still think about it as one of the nicest parts of my life, living out there. Job-wise, I wasn’t much good at school, at maths and all that jazz, but I liked art and I liked carpentry. Before I went to Australia, I had to do two years national service in the Army, which I quite enjoyed. It was tough but I quite enjoyed it.
Before I went into the Army, I worked at a big department store in London, in Oxford Circus. In those days, when you left the Army or Navy, whatever you were in, the firm you were in had to let you back – whether they liked you or not! They didn’t like me very much, but anyway, I wanted to go on a display team doing window dressing, which I did. I picked it up quite well – didn’t get on very well with the assistant display manager. He used to stutter, which I had nothing against, but he and I didn’t get on. One time – I was very rude – he was arguing with me and I said to him, mimicking, stop s-s-stuttering. He didn’t like that. So I knew I would get the sack, so instead of getting the sack I left.
I went to another part of London, which was Kensington, one of the big department stores down there. I walked into one and looked at the windows of the shop, and I thought ‘God, they’re pretty old-fashioned’, so I walked in and asked if they had any jobs. I found out that the display manager used to be in the Army. He asked me lots of questions. The shop I’d left was just fashion. Nothing else – it wasn’t furniture, it wasn’t anything like that – just fashion. The shop I was talking in, they did carpets, crockery, furniture. He said ‘Well, I can’t see anything for you’, and then he said ‘Well, one can learn, can’t one?’ He thought that was good. I got the bloody job then. I was there until the time I went to Australia.
Anyway, I came back. My father ran a pub in London but while I was in Australia they moved down to Brighton, in an estate called Lower Bevendean, which is still there. It was a pub right in the middle of Lower Bevendean. It was quite good because people in those days didn’t have cars, so they drank there. I lived with my parents in Brighton for some time. I got a job in a department store down here, which is opposite Waitrose now. It used to be called Plummer and Loddys. It’s a real dump now. I met lots of good friends there, which I still keep in contact with. I shared my flat here with a mate of mine called Malcolm Robinson. He died of cancer some time ago, and I’m in the flat by myself now. People say ‘Would you like someone else to live with?’ and I say ‘No, I’ve got used to my own self’. I miss him, of course. He was an architect, a very very good one. About six years ago, I caught cancer, lung cancer. I went through all the chemo and radiotherapy, which can be quite sickening for some people but I didn’t have any trouble with it at all. That was over 5 or 6 years ago. I’ve had check-ups every year since then and I’m clear of it now, which is good.
I got to know some people over here when I started coming over. I quite enjoy it. One of the things I enjoy most about retirement is coming over here. A lot of my friends have died in the last few years. It’s always nice to have people around you who you still know. I quite enjoyed working – I only stopped because I got to a certain age where you can’t work anymore, or you’re not allowed to work anymore. I used to enjoy myself. I used to work for a big company down here called Brewer and Sons, which are the paint place. They’ve got a place in New England Street, I think, and a place down Portland Road. I quite enjoyed it up until we got computers in, and of course my mind doesn’t work like that. I enjoyed working for them but I had to retire. They did ask me to stay on, because I was a bloody good worker – always the first to start in the morning and stay on at night. As I say, there’s only so long you can go on for.
If I had any words of wisdom for the younger generation, it would be just behave yourself. I watch all of these new programmes on television. People have got cars, doing about 80-90 mph and things like that. I’m thinking ‘Why are you doing it, for God’s sake?’ I thought to myself ‘If I had a car at a certain age, I would want to go a bit faster than you’re supposed to.’ Then again, if you get caught or fined or whatever…
I think I’m quite fair with people and I think would be fair with me, in any circumstance.