104 not out and still smiling

At 104 years young, Alf Powell reckons he’s still got all his marbles – it’s just that they’re not rattling as well as they used to when he was younger.

He might be Tamworth’s oldest bloke, and may be one of only a handful of men across the north who can put three numbers to their age, but life is still unquestionably a lot of fun, plenty of laughs and every day he’s still learning about the world and its people.

The Tamworth resident of the Bupa nursing home reckons that if he knew the secret to such a long life, he’d bottle it and sell it.

He’s got a sparkling sense of humour, and mind you, he does have a tipple each night with his evening meal. 

A nice glass of white wine. It used to be moselle, but like quite a few things in Alf’s life, that’s disappeared over the years, and he’s had to get used to new- fangled names for old-fashioned things.

But it doesn’t faze Alf much. He enjoys life, and if he has some secrets of a happy life to dispense to younger generations, they’re pretty relaxed too.

He loved his working life, but retired too early. 

He wanted to become an architect, but couldn’t come at “the classics” in school and left early just before Christmas vacation. 

The next day, told by his father that holidays were only for schoolkids, he found his first paying job. He was 14. He became a messenger boy.

He went on to work with some old media, production and publishing distribution company and magazine distributors, like the venerable Gordon and Gotch, an English-born company that traces its lineage back to the 1800s. 

He worked with them for years, at one stage becoming the upstart colonial who took on managerial jobs that should have gone to Englishmen in an English company. 

He was very successful in his career. The secret there was pretty simple.

“One of the keys to my success was to keep my mouth shut and listen,” he says.

“If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, then don’t do it,” he says by way of advice to the working generations.

“Long life? In my experience, I tried to avoid stress but I retired a couple of years too early. You do miss your working life.

“I woke up one morning, and thought ‘what am I doing, rattling around in a huge three-bedroom house on my own?’, so I got in my car and came up here. 

“Over a meal, I told my daughter and son-in-law I thought I might come up to Tamworth to live.”

He did, buying a house in Carthage St where he spent the next 20-odd years.

He’s been at Bupa since December last year. 

His second wife, Betty, is in Cottage Homes on the other end of the eastern side of Tamworth, and has mild dementia. 

He and Betty married 15 years ago. They’d known each other since Betty was a 16-year-old schoolgirl. Both had been married before, both had two children in those wonderful marriages, and then they met up again.

Betty came to Tamworth a couple of times, and he contemplated popping the question.

“If you ask me to marry you, I would have to put a condition on it,” Betty told him that night. “No children!”

They both collapsed in laughter, and that was the last serious bit of the night.

But it provides an insight into another Alf lesson in life – young love is something special, but you can find love again when you’re old and wrinkly.

“It was an amazing experience. Old people don’t fall in love like young people do, but there’s a realisation of a deep affection,” he said.

Alf enjoyed a family celebration for his birthday last week. His daughter Judith, a former director of Lifeline in Tamworth, also lives here. Her four children have provided more great-grandkids, and there’s been some special ceremonies to mark the four-generational achievements.

In 2008, he was also honoured by the Masonic movement. They presented him with the Masonic jewel for 80 years of continuous service. There wouldn’t be too many of them around, if any.

These days, his hearing is still excellent. He can patter on the phone without a worry. 

His eyesight is poor and it prevents him from reading as much as he’d like, so he gets his news from the television these days.

And no, he’s not the Bupa bingo champ.

“I’m not into that racket,” he says.

“I’m sorry but people in their 70s and 80s here, they do it; I can’t do it. 

“That’s not me; I enjoy talking to everyone around and having a bit of a laugh with the staff. I share their sense of humour.”

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