Growing old is for many a sobering thought. The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 captures a snapshot in time and magnifies it to reveal the twilight years in all their extra ordinary toughness. Light-heartedly crafted, with immense power of observation, J B Morrison has created something gentle, unassuming and teasingly funny from the tragically repetitive loneliness that so many elderly people struggle through.
Frank Derrick has been in an accident – with a milk float. He’s temporarily incapacitated, and as a result comes bounding into his incredibly dull life the young, encouraging, angelic nurse Kelly to shake him up and reawaken his old dreams. Frank is outrageous, horrendously unsubtle, far from graceful and capable of great love, but he’s stuck in a bit of a rut. He’s desperately ordinary, which makes him all the more loveable, and you can see traces of him in the streets around you. His surroundings are classic southern English suburbia, with the hysterical, stereotypical neighbours and shopkeepers whose routine will strike a chord and make you chuckle.
There are moments of everyday brilliance – in the charity shop or the sheltered accommodation Frank frequents – that make you burst out laughing, and others that are overwhelming in their casual tragedy. The reader sees everything through Frank’s eyes, and his array of likely friends – the elusive Kelly, Smelly John and Bob – enrich his world and yours.
With prose unstilted and a strong sense of purpose – to show how a little kindness and a spark of hope go so far into invigorating a worn-out life – this is a novel you will pass on to your family members with a big hug and a renewed idea of what it means to grow old. At the beginning of the book the author expresses a wish that this story might compel the reader, at the very least, to speak with or visit an older relative after turning the last page. It achieves that and more: a sense of responsibility, deep-set empathy and understanding not often evoked elsewhere.
Frank’s story is simple, quiet and only a small part of the bigger picture, and yet it is the sort of enduring tale that can be a lesson, a comfort and a hope. If anything were to make you aware of your own mortality, and put you entirely at ease, this book is it.