I met fellow Author Tony Inman at my last Perth Conversations event in 2011 and we’ve kept in touch on facebook – lately through my Do Talk to Strangers Group. Tony volunteered to preview my book manuscript and sent me the following email. It’s incredible. Moved me to tears. So here’s “Guest writer” Tony’s amazing reply –
Thank you for so much for the privilege of previewing your book. I just wanted to touch base and let you know that I have started reading it and I am thoroughly enjoying it so far.
I will get through it as quickly as I can (in between running two businesses!), so I can give you some comments.
My first observation, especially when you spoke about your grandfather, was that it reminded me of my own 95 year old mother, Vera Inman.
You would love chatting with her!
When I was about ten and my Mum used to drag me out shopping, I would be so embarrassed. She would start a conversation with the shop assistant and somehow would go from asking for a particular product to explaining why she needed that product, what it would do for her and why, to finding common ground with the bemused person, finding out where they were from, who they both knew and all kinds of random information. I would joke that my mother had to tell every shop assistant her life story!
She still does it to this day and justifies it by saying that because of her random conversations with strangers, she has met a lot of interesting people and made a lot of friendships. I now find myself doing exactly the same thing and jokingly saying to myself “Oh my God, I’m turning into my mother!”
That trait is what made her exceptionally good at running small hotels and guest houses on the British holiday island of Jersey, where she and Dad lived for 36 years after the War, before migrating to Australia. Her guests became friends and returned year after year because she cared about people.
Likewise, having helped in the family businesses as a young man, I later ran a Perth-based backpacker hostel for 14 years and many of my visitors became good friends. It’s in my blood to be fascinated and deeply interested in people.
One of the best stories, of which she reminded me the other day, was that she and Dad (who passed away two years ago at 90 – they had celebrated 70 years of marriage!) had been on an RSL coach tour one day. Mum was visiting the ladies’ rest rooms at one of the coach stops, waiting for the group to get back on the bus and began chatting to another lady, called Marianne.
The common topic on a coach full of war veterans was of course the War, so Mum asked where Marianne’s partner, Ed had served. It transpired that Ed had been a Spitfire pilot on Malta in the Australian Air Force. My father, Bill had been an aircraft engineer, fixing Hurricanes and Spitfires on the ground in Malta for the RAF, when the Germans were bombing the island relentlessly, as it’s location made it a crucial stronghold in the Mediterranean.
Had the Germans succeeded in taking the island, their aircraft could have used it as a base from which to reach North Africa and potentially Rommel’s Germans could have defeated Montgomery’s 8th Army, thus turning the whole War around.
The ladies immediately introduced their husbands. It turned out that not only had they both served in Malta, they had been in the same squadron! My Dad had worked on Ed’s planes, keeping him in the air to fight the Germans. When they each got home, they dug out old photographs and found each other in the same group photographs.
The four of them became best buddies and remained so until both Ed and Dad passed away. Marianne is now very visually impaired and can’t get out much, but she and Mum remain friends to this day.
Back in 2002, I visited the Airfield at Takali in Malta, to see one of the places where Dad had been stationed. I found instead that it had been turned into a War museum. Lo and behold, I then found a Spitfire on display and rang my father as I stood next to it. When I gave him the aircraft registration, he told me that he had worked on that very plane – it had been in his squadron. It also turned out that Ed had flown that very same Spitfire! (see photo attached).
Naturally, following my mother’s trait of conversing with strangers, I began chatting with the museum’s curator, a Maltese chap named Joe. I told him all about my Dad which made him very excited and I connected the two of them. Over the next few months they exchanged several letters and calls and my father was able to help Joe to identify quite a few of the faces in old War photographs, as well as recounting some interesting anecdotes.
On the same holiday, I visited Manchester and found my Dad’s old school, that he had attended in the 1930’s. Another of my random conversations linked a caretaker at the school with my father. This gentleman sent Dad an old record book (something like a year book) from the school, in which he found comments and stories from some of his former teachers and classmates.
It can be truly amazing where random conversations can lead you.
The thing that my mother has taught me is that although some people might think you are mad sometimes, you can touch people’s lives with a simple smile, an encouraging word or an act of kindness. That might be the very gesture that has a ripple effect on that person’s life in unimaginable ways. Kindness costs you nothing but may be an invaluable gift to the recipient. Furthermore, I have seen many times that as you sow, so you shall you reap, often in very unexpected ways. It’s quite simply a Universal Law that just works and I love it.
I love the book concept and I’ll get back to you soon :-)
Have a great day!
Thank you Tony! What a beautiful story of wonderful connections – and yes – I would love chatting with your mother! You’ve not only shared great stories, but pulled out some key learnings and I’m sure our readers are more inspired to be open to ‘random conversations’ and reaping unexpected rewards.
Let’s have a great week connecting with people!
Cheering you on,