My oldest cousin died late last week. As with many families left over from Victorian times, our ages were wildly different - she was well over ninety and I'm, well, not.
She'd had a wonderful, full life teaching languages in a local school and making hundreds of friends via the church and her various interests. I'm still sad, though, because she'd been a fixture in my life ever since I first moved to Birmingham to work as a scared twenty-one-year old.
I'd never so much as visited the city before and didn't have a clue. The B&B where I was staying was a mean little place whose owners seemed to live more for their own convenience than their guests' comfort. After a few days they suddenly announced that oh, hadn't they told me? they didn't do food at the weekends. And I was left to feed myself, on a Sunday when pretty much everywhere was closed. There's a Greek restaurant on the main road, they rather unhelpfully said. You can eat there.
I didn't eat there, I phoned my parents. They were too far away to come and bail me out, but they did tell me about Joan. "She lives fairly close, why don't you give her a call?" So plucking up my courage, I did, and she was wonderful. Within half an hour she'd marched straight round and was bobbing nervously up and down on the doormat while the owners' large and savage Alsatian dog hurled itself at the inside of the front door. Once the dog had been dealt with she took me under her wing, took me home, and fed me. It turned out we had all sorts of interests in common and we became firm friends; I joined her church and visited regularly for Sunday lunch, and when I finally got a place of my own I invited her back there too.
I'll really miss Joan. She might have been from an earlier generation but she never lost her fascination with and sheer love of people. She was interested in everything she heard, and a slightly 'Miss Marple' manner hid a keen mind and a wonderful grasp of human nature. You could tell her anything and she wouldn't be shocked, just full of curiosity.
It seems odd to think that if it hadn't been for that B&B I might never have met her. I hated that bloody Alsatian at the time, but looking back I have a lot to thank it for.