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Ageing, ageism, photography, stories

12th April 2019

Norma Howard, 92

Norma is the oldest female wing-walker in the UK. The former physio took to the skies last year to raise money for charity.

“My parents divorced when I was about eight or nine, but they remained friends. My father married again but my mother didn’t want to. There was no jealousy between them and as a result it didn’t affect me at all. I don’t see why there has to be such agro around divorce. I have lots of pleasant memories from my childhood and I look back on it all fondly.

I was 18 or 19 when I met my husband. We were engaged for three and a half years because we couldn’t afford to get married, but that was fine by me. I wasn’t anxious to get married because I didn’t want to be tied down. I’m an Aquarian, we like to be free, plus I was an only child, so I liked my independence. I even moved to Belfast for a year while we were engaged; I thought he was probably better off without me hanging around while he was at medical school. You don’t have to be in each other’s pockets all the time.

My husband died 11 years ago, aged 82. I wouldn’t rule out dating now but I would be difficult to live with. Anyhow, living on my own I can do what I like, when I like and I’m not answerable to anybody. I enjoy it. I don’t get lonely because I am still able to get out and about. I volunteer for a charity that takes people who can’t drive to appointments and brings them home again. I’m often a lot older than the people I ferry around, though I don’t know if they realize that.

I’ve always been into fitness and I’ve made lots of friends through exercise since I retired. Swimming gives me a real lift every day and it means I am out of the house early. There’s quite a big group of us that do it and we’ll meet up for coffee afterwards. I go the gym every morning too – I tend to use the recliner bike so I can watch the TV at the same time.

They wanted me to wave but the winds takes your arms – I did what I could.

I wasn’t scared doing the wing walk – I actually quite enjoyed it. I’d be far more frightened getting up and doing a speech. The challenge for me was climbing into position. I had to do it unaided for it to count as a record and I’ve had two hip replacements. Luckily, I was able to go down and practice when the plane was still in the hangar. People were so willing to help – and because of that I didn’t give up.

I’ve made lots of friends through exercise since I retired

There’s an awful lot of time messing about before you even take off, and the taxi was a bit wobbly, but once you’re up there it’s fine; they strap you on and you’re away. They wanted me to wave but the winds takes your arms – I did what I could. As it turns out, it’s not seen as a record anyway as it’s not gender related, so I’m beaten by a 95 year old man. I am the oldest woman – but it’s not officially recognized.

I do think about death – I am long past my sell by date and I’ve told the children exactly what I want. If I can’t be reasonably independent then I don’t want to be here. Having said that, every age has its benefits, including this one. I just enjoy life. Whether it’s work or pleasure. I’m an optimist. I make the most of everything.

My life motto? Expect the best, but be prepared for the worst.

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