Jim, the Olympics and the Forgetting


It was a freezing, blustery, miserable August Monday morning in Melbourne.

It was my day off and I was intending to run down the shops quickly and then spend the rest of the day with the London Olympics on in the background, while I did the domestic chores.

(As a former Little Athletics Under 12 hurdler [1973] I was keenly following Sally Pearson).

I was rushing, crossing busy streets, not really looking, when I saw him.

He was a small man in his eighties standing in the middle of the footpath looking blankly ahead.

I asked him if he was okay and he said he was looking for his friend’s house as he was going to surprise him with an impromptu visit. He couldn’t remember which house it was so we walked up and down a row of terraces several times hoping to spark something. It was no good – he was frustrated as the houses looked different today he said.

I asked him many questions. He said his name was Jim, he had travelled that morning on the V-Line train from Mildura and had come from Southern Cross station to surprise his friend. As it was only 10am I couldn’t see how he had travelled that far, so quickly that morning.

I asked more questions. Did he have wife, family? Yes, he had originally come from Greece as a young man and was married with two sons – one son had a restaurant in Melbourne. He couldn’t remember the restaurant’s name so I couldn’t Google it to get in touch with him.

The wind got colder, Jim grew more frustrated as he was dearly hoping to see his friend that morning. He couldn’t remember his friend’s name but was sure he would soon recognise his house. We had been in the street for at least 30 minutes by now. I thought about travelling back to Southern Cross with him and putting him on a train home – but he didn’t want to do that.

He then confessed that he had been lying – that he wasn’t from Mildura but he didn’t know where he actually lived.

I asked for his wallet to see if he had any ID. In his wallet he had his Medicare card, a $5 note and daily travel card. At least I had a name now.   I rang Triple Zero. They asked me if he had any noticeable health problems. Physically he looked fine – he was quite dapper in fact, well dressed and groomed.

Does he have dementia the operator asked?

“Jim, do you have dementia?” I nervously queried.

Jim yelled back defensively: “No, I do not have the demench!!”

I told the operator I was pretty sure he did. She said she would send a police patrol car to do a welfare check on him.

When I told Jim the police were coming to help, he relaxed and we were both relieved. He said perhaps the police would give him a bed for the night as he had been hoping to stay at his friend’s place. Now realising his plans to see his mate were thwarted, he started to feel anxious and upset.

It was now bitterly cold on the street. We huddled in the door way of an empty shopfront.   I asked Jim if he was following the Olympic Games. He said he was and he especially liked the football and Usain Bolt.

We talked about sport in general and I told him how as a country kid my life revolved around sports and how much we loved watching the Olympics as a family. And how lucky I was to have had a dad who had been a runner, jumper and footballer and brought us up with a love of sports.

Jim reinforced that he liked football – the soccer sort.

The fresh-from-the-academy-looking constables arrived at least 45 minutes after the Triple Zero call. Jim and I were actually arm-in-arm at this point, from the cold but also from an easy companionship.

The police were patient and very kind to Jim. They did a quick identity search and discovered that he in fact, lived in the south-east suburbs of Melbourne. They called his home number.

They found out that he had secretly left home at 7am. We realised he would have had to have made trips on a train and trams that morning to get to the street where I found him.

They also found out that a couple of months earlier, Jim had been hospitalised for dementia and his family had been worried sick about his disappearance that morning.

Another 40 minutes or so and Jim’s son arrived. He was angry at his dad, said he was sick of him going walkabout. He thanked the police and me and said he would take him home now. We found out that Jim worked in the area 50 years ago and his mate had many years ago, lived in one of the houses Jim was looking for.

Jim sat in the front seat of his son’s car looking sheepish and a little bit naughty. He wound down the window and blew me a kiss yelling at his son to make sure he got “my Aussie angel’s” phone number.

The son said; “I owe you a bottle of red – no, I owe you half a dozen!”

He took my number. I told him his dad had been great company and told him to look after him.

I then realised Jim and I had been on the street together for two and a half hours and had not run out of things to say. Talking about sport had been one easy way of keeping the words coming.

A day or so later I was still thinking about Jim. It hit me that at 82, he was the same age my dad would have been if he was still alive.

And like Jim, Dad would have loved Usain Bolt.

I never heard from the son. I never expected to, but I’d love to know how his dad is.


  1. love it, Tess.

  2. That is what keeps the world from caving in Tess.

    Kind and kindness are two of my all-time favourite words. I try to use them around my kids a lot. I will get Theo to read this uplifting story.

    PS I’m all for the cheekiness.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    A few years back, I was approached by an elderly lady while at Caulfield Station while on my way to work in the city.

    She said that she was going to the Bendigo Sheep Show, but wasn’t sure which train to get. Follow me I said.

    As we talked on the train, she mentioned that her friends were going to pick her up from the station at Bendigo. As we approached each station, she asked me whether this was hers. She seemed nervous, but we carried on a polite but awkward conversation.

    I told her that I would stay on with her until we got to Southern Cross. She seemed very pleased, but still nervous and some of what she said seemed a bit odd, but nothing I could put my finger on.

    While I found her platform and walked her to the V-Line train, I was alarmed to hear ask whether all of the people at the station were going to Bendigo. At that point some of our earlier conversation made sense. Still, I presumed that her friends at the other end would be able to cope with her when she arrived.

    I stayed long enough for her to find a seat, I waved goodbye and congratulated myself on my good deed.

    Once I made it to work, I passed this on to my next-pod neighbour in an effort to display my new found helpfulness.

    I then googled up the Bendigo Sheep Show to find out more.

    The show was next week. She was a week early.

  4. Dugald Jellie says

    What a lovely little story from the big city. Oh the humanity! (Many bottles of red must surely, cosmically, find their way to you).

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks Tess, in my lunchtime haste to pen my tale, I forgot to show my appreciation for yours.

  6. Riveting because of its loveliness. Beautifully done, and beautifully told. Thanks very much, Tess.

  7. Nice one Tess

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