When I was 16 years old my big brother went off on a gap year, backpacking around Australia. I was jealous and wanted to go too but there was a problem – I was only 16. Eventually my parents compromised, I could go, but to visit my Uncle and Aunt in Brisbane and be back soon to start A levels.
I waved goodbye at departures, got through security (explaining that the cricket bat in a box was a gift for my cousin and was not a dangerous weapon, pre-9/11) and off I went on my own. I found a seat and as I sat down, tears started to form. I was emotional. I was 16.
There was another passenger already seated on the benches in front of me. Until that moment he had been hidden behind a large broadsheet. He slowly lowered his Financial Times and peered out at me over his glasses. Revealed was a tall, skinny man, larger than life. He was dressed in tweed with a remarkable moustache, a big bushy beard large enough to hide Basil Brush and Roland Rat and to top it all, he was wearing a wonderfully bright red turban.
“What are you crying for young lady?” he asked me, not accusingly, not aggressively, not patronisingly, just quietly.
“I’m going to Australia.” I sobbed.
“Mmmm, well that just sounds like there’s a wonderful adventure to be had and no reason to cry. You’re going to love it” and with that he was hidden again behind his newspaper.
I couldn’t help but stop crying and start laughing about at how silly I was being.
I never saw him again, not in person anyway. I think of him all the time though, when things start to get a little hairy and I feel like a 16 year old heading off alone to the other side of the world.
What a chap.
It is easy to fixate on the shit comments people have said to us, the ones that really stick in us like knives and do us so much harm. For some reason, remembering the helpful stuff is harder. There are plenty of chances to see the positive and be helpful and kind to those around us. If you are in a position of authority and even if you can’t match the remarkable facial hair of my wonderful moustachioed man at Heathrow, please offer up a good comment, you never know who might remember it, with fondness, 22 years from now.