Have you ever noticed how “ordinary looking”  people sometimes have had the most extraordinary lives?

I see them on TV, or in the newspapers, and hear of their feats of bravery, or conversely their horrific deeds and think, “If I met them in the street or on a bus, I could never even guess which side of  the divide they were.”

You see the frail little old man, who has to be helped onto the bus, and he was an incredibly brave soldier during the war. Who would guess that that burly, slightly scary looking man had risked his life to rescue children from a house fire?  Who would have looked at the four young men leading what seemed to be ordinary lives and guessed that they would become suicide bombers? 

When I worked as a practice nurse in the late sixties and early seventies, I was surprised over and over by the histories of some of the patients.

One was a slightly smelly little lady. I made a home visit on her one day and remarked to the old doctor on the state of her flat. The doctor had been in that practice for nearly forty years, so knew her when she was much younger. “Ask to see her hats next time,”  he said. Somewhat intrigued I did this on the next visit. She obliged me by bringing out several fancy hat boxes and laying out for my inspection beautiful Ascot style hats! Apparently,  in her younger days, she had been a society beauty, but had fallen on hard times.

Another was a very quiet sad looking lady. No matter how we tried to raise a smile from her nothing worked. One day she had to to have  a blood test. When she, reluctantly, rolled up her sleeve I saw a number tattooed on her forearm. She and her family had been in a concentration camp and she was the only one of them to survive. Once she saw that I had seen the tattoo and realised its meaning, the ice was broken and she started to talk to me. She never talked about the camps, but she did talk about her life as a child before the camps. I think it helped her to remember the happy times.

I think the prewar generation did not talk so easily as we do now, even to their families. I often hear the people on “Who do you think you are” being amazed at the stories uncovered by the researchers about their families. Kate Humble remembered her grandfather as”a little old man sitting by the fire with his cat and his pipe”.  She had no idea that he had been a POW in the camp where the real life escape, on which the “Great Escape” was based! 

These are just a few examples, but I now pass the time on bus journeys etc. looking round at my fellow passengers and wondering what stories they have to tell, heroes, villains or just mundain!

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