I've been doing a lot of travelling round recently - mostly long train trips, some driving, mostly work, some not. In the course of these trips I talk to many people. Some because that's what I've arranged to do, some through happenstance. I sometimes wonder if I have the sort of face and voice that encourages fast intimacies, or that demands confessions.
Last week I was on a train to London. Sitting opposite me was a woman I'd guess was in her 30s. Originally from South Africa (she told me at some stage), she was about to travel round Europe with her two primary-school aged children and her UK husband, in a large camper van, for 4 months. She was freelance, working on PR strategies and websites. She'd just been working on a website for a Welsh company developing hydrogen-fuelled cars.
I'm not sure why or how we started talking, but then I can never remember the openings of conversations. I just remember the stories people tell once they get going.
She talked about loneliness, and asked what I did for work and when I explained, told me that last year she'd decided to start volunteering one morning a week with the RVS in the town where she lives. She'd been matched to visit a lady of 88, living alone. She'd recently lost her dog. Her family visited quite often, but they weren't chatty together. It was really just a short time with other bodies in the same house. Not really enough of a connection.
She'd contacted some rescue places to get another dog, but everyone had turned her down because of her age. And her family weren't keen. They thought the dog would outlive her, she told my train companion. That she wouldn't manage.
But she was quite determined, and this RVS visitor mentioned a rescue shelter she hadn't tried, and they decided to go and see the place. The visitor took her in the car, and they explained the situation to the shelter manager.
And the manager hesitated, and then said:
'We have one dog that we can't place because her age. She's 13. No one wants a dog that old. I wouldn't normally agree to this, but we're getting to the point now where we won't be able to keep her much longer. Come and meet her.'
And the rest you can probably guess. The 13 year old dog (91 in human years) and the 88 year old woman (12.5 in dog years) now live together. It's a happy ending: even the family are happy. And what's helped the woman most is knowing she saved this dog's life, as this dog is now saving hers. That neither of them were 'too old' to have a purpose, and a good one.
And is it a true story? It's truly what was told to me, 15th March 2017, on the Littlehampton to London train, by a South African woman about to take her children out of school to travel round Europe. So, yes, it is.