Words from wise old heads of the city

Imagine if we could tap into the minds of those people who have been there, seen that and bought the T-shirt? Star reporter Rachael Clegg speaks to Sheffield's older generation about the pearls of wisdom they would pass down to today's younger folk.

"IF I knew then what I knew now."

"If I could do it all again..."

How many times have you thought these words?

While few of us envy the physical inevitabilities of old age - arthritis, deafness, osteoporosis, cataracts - most of us crave the wisdom that comes with it.

And at 97 years-old, Albert Ball has wisdom in abundance. Having lived almost a century, he's seen it all. Albert worked as a tile draughtsman in the potteries in Stoke-on-Trent and was talent spotted and offered a place at the Kensington School of Art in London.

But he wasn't lured by prestigious study. Instead, Albert decided to become a minister and, after studying at theological college, was posted to Tideswell, with seven churches in his parish. He also worked as a chaplain in Sheffield while the city was under siege, as a chaplain in Bombay during the war and later in the Far East and Africa.

Today, in his spacious and immaculate flat near Endcliffe Park, Albert offers his pearls of wisdom, which he has typed out neatly on an A4 piece of paper. The nonagenarian exudes wisdom, gesturing with his walking stick and pausing for thought between questions and answers.

"Take charge of yourself," he says, reading from his sheet. "Assume responsibility for your own actions. No person can go through life without being able to control their own conduct. Young people are all unique - be yourself. Don't allow others to control you. You don't need the approval of anyone," he says, in a matter-of-fact manner.

But while it's important to be oneself, Albert also laments on the fact that society is becoming increasingly individualistic: "We need to see ourselves as part of a community - people don't queue any more when they get on a bus. It's important to consider others as well as yourself."

Albert says he lives in the now. Even at 97 years-old. "You have to break free of the past. Two useless emotions are guilt and worry - guilt because it is of the past and worry because it is of the future.

"It's better to think that the thing about which you are worried may happen, but when it does happen you needn't be afraid. All things work together for good in the end anyway."

Albert suggests living one day at a time, while making five year plans: "I made a five year plan in my 96th year - I make these plans and I stick to them." He's also an advocate of adventure: "Explore the unknown," he says, "I was invited to Christmas dinner with 16 people I didn't know. I went and I had a wonderful time. Trust yourself to handle anything that may come to you."

But most of all, Albert says: "Smile. Get a sense of humour. Be friendly. Make friends. Joy is the ideal of life. And I' have always enjoyed life."

Indeed, Martyn Johnson, 68 (a young pup compared to Albert), has always enjoyed life.

Former Attercliffe policeman and author of What's Tha Up Martyn Johnson, also lives by a joy-based philosophy: "My only ambition in life has always been to make ten people laugh each day and do one person a favour each day."

Living by this mantra, Martyn says, has made him a happy man. "I've also always appreciated the way I was brought up. We had to look after our neighbours - when Mrs so-and-so was on her own my parents would say "Go and grab some coal and take it round before you have your tea. We were weaned into helping people."

Martyn believes we are all a product of our own experiences.

"I've lived my life as I've been dealt it. And one of the nicest things that's ever happened to me was being invited to a prostitute's funeral. The prostitute was an informant when I was a policeman and to me, the fact I was invited, was a massive compliment."

Martyn has been married for 27 years. "I love my wife now as much as I ever did," he says. "In many ways, I think I am the richest man in the world."

Kathleen Roberts, 89, from Greenhill, was happily married for almost 70 years until her husband died three years ago. The former woman of steel has two daughters and is a no-nonsense sort of woman, offering the younger generation more practical life advice.

"Don't get into debt," she urges. "Don't buy anything unless you can afford it.

"I prefer to use cash, when I can, I know it's done with then."

But her wisdom goes beyond matters of the purse: "Manners are important, too. Always be well-mannered. Young people these days don't respect their elders - young people aren't all bad, but some could do with a few lessons in manners. You have to help one another and show respect for one another."

Kathleen's advice on love is also about co-operation and respect: "Marriage is not easy. You have to work together. We shared all the jobs around the house and we always trusted each other, too.

"Joseph was abroad for three years and when he came back (from the war), we had both changed, but we worked it out.

"You have your differences and if you have an argument you never let it go past that same day."

But while we toil through the difficulties of marriage and money, perhaps the most universal and fundamental advice is that of Albert's - keep smiling.

After all, as Albert says, joy is the ideal of life. And at 97 years old, his pearls of wisdom must count for something.

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