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Big Interview: Barbara Tabel
2:00pm Monday 11th March 2013 in News
On Saturday, March 23, retired nurse Barbara Tabel will make a tandem freefall parachute jump in air of Guide Dogs and Cricklade Open Door, a senior citizens’ group of which she is a member. Mrs Tabel is 80.
“EVERYONE I speak to thinks I’m crazy but they’re supporting me,” said Barbara Tabel.
“I was pretty ill in September and I know the family didn’t think I was going to make it. I thought, ‘Blow it, I’m going to jump out of a plane and do something for charity.’”
What made her ‘pretty ill’ was a life-threatening auto-immune condition that brought her out in dreadful blisters and led to her spending a month in hospital. A few weeks before that she’d been rushed for treatment after a low white blood cell count made her collapse.
In spite of this, and in spite of the degenerative eye condition that has taken all but 10 per cent of her sight, the retired nurse has no intention of slowing down.
Once her sponsored skydive has been completed, there’s a sponsored glider flight lined up and possibly some abseiling. Another ambition is wingwalking on a biplane.
She’s currently gathering sponsorship for her March 23 leap, scrupulously acknowledging and making a note of each donation so everybody knows she’s honest.
Asked whether this was necessary as she was obviously trustworthy, Mrs Tabel said she wanted to reassure people she wasn’t a scammer, and added: “The sweetest old ladies get on to planes with drugs.”
Youngest daughter Elizabeth, sitting nearby, hastily assured the Adver: “As far as I know, she’s never done that.”
Mrs Tabel was born in Bristol, and was just 13 when her mother died. Her father was a soldier who served with the Royal and Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in the Second World War and worked for Rolls Royce in civilian life. The couple had four children, of whom Mrs Tabel and a brother survive.
Visiting acquaintances in her home city after the war, the young woman met the man to whom she would be married from 1949 until his death in 2010. The 26-year-old Conrad Karl Tabel was an East Prussian not long released from a nearby prisoner of war camp, having been captured by the Allies in 1944.
“He was a young boy when he joined the Army. He was apprenticed to a coalman because he refused to join the Hitler Youth. He’d had a strict upbringing and he was strict with the children but I was there to temper it. He was always fair and he always worked hard for his children.”
The couple were to have five children. Two joined the RAF, two became police officers and the fifth – Elizabeth – is a nurse. There are nine grandchildren and seven great grandchildren with an eighth on the way. In the early days of their marriage, Conrad’s heritage counted against him in a Britain still recovering from war.
“It was hard,” said Mrs Tabel. “We were refused entry to lots of places. It just made us a stronger family unit so probably I’m thankful for that. My husband worked at a market garden just outside Bristol.”
The young family moved to Cricklade when Conrad took a job at Pressed Steel, and in 1960 and 1961 the couple built their own home, the bungalow where Mrs Tabel still lives.
“I didn’t take up nursing until 1966. My husband helped me by looking after the children while I studied. I worked at Princess Margaret Hospital for 17 or 18 years. I did general nursing at first and then I went on to nurse sick children. It was all rewarding, but especially nursing the sick children. If they didn’t like you they would let you know.
“I had the impression that children were loaned to us – they don’t belong to you, they are loaned to you. I think children have more courage than adults.
“I retired from nursing because of my health I had angina and I’d injured my back.
“Nursing made me conscious that if there’s something you can do to help, then you should do it.”
This belief prompted the skydive and the other fundraising activities Mrs Tabel is planning, and she also has some advice for other older people who may be wondering whether life has more to offer.
“I would say, ‘Buck up and do something.’ They should find out what they can do and not worry about what they can’t do. I went through a stage of sitting in a chair, just stagnating. I had to snap out of it.”