Waterlooville man's love of words and laughter supported him through his grief

At 77 years of age, Neil Browning says he ‘never takes life too seriously’, but one exception to the rule was the decision to publish his own book, something he didn’t take so lightly.

By Elsa Waterfield
Tuesday, 1st February 2022, 11:29 am
Updated Tuesday, 1st February 2022, 11:35 am

When 77-year-old Neil Browning found himself isolated and living alone in the winter of 2020, he decided to put pen to paper and write a guide to what he feels is the key to life: Laughter.

‘It’s a love of words, a love of writing, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could actually do it,’ says Neil.

Neil, originally from Exeter but who moved to Waterlooville 1975, lost his wife Ann to ovarian cancer in 2020 and, following a hard and isolated winter during the first year of the pandemic, decided to channel his energy into writing his now completed book.

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Collector Neil Browning of Waterlooville has written a book in memory of his late wife, which includes a selection of poems and lymerics which he hopes to get published. Photos by Alex Shute

‘Last winter, I was completely on my own, I was crawling up the walls,’ says Neil.

‘I knew I didn’t want another winter like that, so this is what I did.’

Neil says that having the book to focus on, as well as various other projects in the house such as getting on his hands on knees to paint his driveway and subsequently being branded ‘Picasso’ by a neighbour, helped to keep him busy during a tough period of his life.

‘Once I’d got it into a readable form on the net, I got round to getting it printed,’ he says.

Caption: Neil and Ann Browning Picture: Neil Browning

‘I’m really proud of it,’ he adds.

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Now, just over a year and a half on from losing his wife, Neil has published copies of his book, An Older Person's Guide to Life & Laughter, and plans to dedicate any and all profits to Cancer Research UK, in memory of Ann.

It’s true we don’t appreciate

Caption: Neil and his dog Bambi Picture: Neil Browning

What we have had ‘til it’s too late

That applies to people too

But with some effort I’ll get through

All the sorrow and the pain

With any luck I’ll smile again

(An Older Person's Guide to Life & Laughter, poem On losing someone dear)

Neil’s book, a combination of limericks and jokes, comedic poems and reflections on life with a particularly humorous outlook, is 95% his own work which he is happy to share, in return for a £5 donation toward his chosen charity.

‘I got a few bits jotted down before, but I wrote most of it after Ann.’

‘I think she’d like it,’ Neil says.

Neil says that while some days, he thinks in rhyming couplets, he can’t force his creativity to flow.

‘I don’t work to a routine, if I force myself to write, it won’t work.’

‘I could be walking the dog and if something I like comes to me, I'll write it down when I get back and embroider on it, see if I can do anymore,’ he says.

Neil, who describes himself as ‘nutty as a fruitcake’, first met Ann, who he says was fond of his humour, 12 years ago as members of the Bon-Amis social club which meets regularly in Cowplain, one Neil is still involved with.

‘You’re looking for that compatibility ratio, but it was more her character I think.’

‘We just had the same kind of character, the same likes and dislikes,’ says Neil.

The pair were married in November 2014, and lived together at their home in Waterlooville with their dog Bambi who Neil described as the ‘other woman in his life’, until Ann lost her three year ‘battle’ to ovarian cancer in June 2020.

‘It wasn’t really a shock because things seemed to be going downhill, every time she hit a peak with her medication or how she felt, that would then go back down again.’

Neil, who in the latter months of his wife’s illness, cared for her seven days a week, 24 hours a day, was suffering himself from the continually worsening symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which he was diagnosed with in March 2020.

‘At times it was a toss between which of the two of us was more ill than the other. But that’s just what you do, in a marriage,’

‘In sickness and in health,’ adds Neil.

Neil explains that after losing Ann, not only was he grappling with his grief, he was also coming to terms with the symptoms of Parkinson’s, struggling with his balance and getting upstairs.

He was also learning how to live alone, and dealing with an absence of human interaction as a result of government guidelines and family members, including his two adult daughters, not being close-by.

So Neil turned to writing for comfort.

‘It was me thinking, I’ve got to deal with losing Ann, I’ve got to deal with the Parkinson’s and now there’s only me to look after everything,’ he says.

The book is a first person account and ‘brain dump’ of ‘miscellaneous musings’, Neil says, with a keen emphasis on comedy, which he feels is the key to life.

‘I try to be unbiased when reading it myself, but I think it’s good and I enjoyed writing it,’ he says.

‘I’m hoping it will be well received, it doesn’t fit into any particular genre but it’s aimed at an older readership, I think they will understand and relate to it.’

In his book, Neil reflects on various themes including a chapter entitled; ‘A guide to living on your own’, loss and lighter thoughts on life which he’s gathered along the way such as ‘Remember when…?’ and ‘Quirky quotes’.

We senior citizens have a big bonus - a wealth of experience and it's the most valuable experience of all - experience of life.

(An Older Person's Guide to Life & Laughter, Chapter 1)

As well as humour, Neil’s book takes an optimistic stance on sombre topics and while Neil wrote with a senior audience in mind – events of the past year and a half mean render subjects involving solitude and isolation, relevant to all potential readers.

‘I saw an interview of a 105-year-old lady on the TV recently. They asked her ‘what’s the secret to a long life?’

‘She said; ‘I always try to find the positive in everything’, and I suppose that’s the theme of the book really,’ Neil says.

Aside from writing, Neil has many interests and hobbies which keep him occupied, he’s an avid collector of all things 60s, including an array of toys and model’s that he displays proudly in his living room.

Although, as someone who climbed Snowdon at age 65, he maintains ‘there is no substitute for fresh air.’

‘Do you know what getting old is?’

‘Bending down to tie your shoelace and wondering what else you can do while your down there,’ laugh’s Neil.

‘I’ve always had the ability to carry jokes in my head,’ he adds.

If there’s one thing Neil wishes for his readers to take away from the book, it’s to always ‘keep laughing.’

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