‘The Kindness of Strangers’ is the title of Kate Adie’s autobiography charting her life from childhood to becoming a fully-fledged war correspondent for the BBC. The reason for this choice of title was based on her experience as a young reporter in Belfast during ‘the troubles’. Journalists would be cowering in front gardens behind hedges and fences while bags of human excrement would be flying overhead towards the police and soldiers while rubber bullets made the reverse trajectory. As this exchange of missiles was going on Belfast housewives would lean out of doorways and windows calling out to the journalists ‘Would you like a cup of tea love?’
Over the last few days my wife was confined to hospital. One particular evening the outside weather was very hot and humid. This was reflected inside the ward as there was no air conditioning, no fans and the windows would only open about two inches. It was like a sauna for me to be there but even worse for the patients, including my wife, who were all ill and in pain. To help keep my wife cool I used a copy of Horse and Hound as a fan. We did try OK and HELLO but the quality of the paper was cheap and lost its rigidity after only a few waves. Whereas Horse and Hound retained most of its stiffness to be an effective fan.
Conditions were nowhere near those front gardens in Belfast forty years ago.
During the evening one lady was admitted and placed in a corner far away from my wife. She could hardly walk, had trouble breathing and must have been in a lot of discomfort. From her bed she could see my wife and my efforts to keep her cool with the magazine and a wet facecloth. She mopped her brow, stood up and lifted her suitcase on to her bed. I thought she was going to get ready for bed as she ruffled through her belongings. After a couple of minutes of ruffling in her luggage she came past us with a brand new pure white flannel which looked like she had bought it specially for her hospital stay and ran it under a tap at our end of the ward to soak it. She turned and I thought she was going to head back to her bed and then came towards us
‘Here you are love……you can have this to keep you cool…..I won’t need it back’.
The kindness of strangers.