And so, belatedly, it is summer; Indian summer, perhaps. That’s what the locals are calling it, anyway, despite the improbability of it meeting all the criteria. But who would want to quibble over esoteric details on such a fine day? Certainly not I, especially when I’m on a mission.
The days here are hot, the nights long and soft, leading me back to my younger days when, like today, I remained at leisure while my elders toiled these most enjoyable of days away. (Or, at the very least, I happen to not be at work on a weekday, and that’s good enough for me.) I’m heading into town today, going to a place I have never been before; a rare adventure, which makes the pull of my youth even stronger. And so as I wander, past the shops selling mobile phones, iPads and the latest in electronic wizardry, I find myself yearning, with an intensity that make me ache, for those days when a game of hide-and-seek was enough to satisfy, and the latest in high-technology was a three-speed bicycle.
I wait in solitude at the edge of the market square, watching life buzz around me: Near the bandstand, a clutch of young mothers clucks and coos over the latest arrival while, at the bus stop, a doddering of matrons looks on with approval. In the shade of the chestnut tree, an elderly woman stands still as a frightened fawn, watching other pensioners parade past in jackets and jumpers. On the benches a languor of long-limbed ladies (heedless of the dangers of excessive alliteration) lounge lazily under the solstice sun, their white skin steamy in the sultry heat. Nearby, an indolence of boys—bare-chested, tattooed and rugged—gaze on in anticipation. There is nothing for me here, so I move on.
I’m on a reconnaissance mission to scope out a local village in preparation for a meeting I have there next week. I find it advantageous to make a practice trip in such instances for reasons that become obvious even as the bus rumbles along the impossibly narrow country lanes: if you have never been to a place before, how do you know when you have arrived?
When we enter an area where there are at least a few houses, I get off the bus. I had envisioned a twee village, perhaps with a cobbled main street lined with shops, an old stone church and the pub I was searching for. Instead, there were just empty roads, some houses and, alarmingly, no people. I walk up the road and down the road but find nothing promising. At the opposite bus stop I see a young woman and, as she is my only option, I approach her.
“Do you know…” I begin. But then I realize I have nothing intelligent to ask her. “Where I am?” would make me seem hopelessly inept and, perhaps, dangerous. Asking the location of the pub would be a good opening line, but I have neglected to memorize it. I didn’t feel the need, as I have memorized what I regard to be the one piece of information I need to know: it is the only pub in the village. But where is the village?
So I continue. “Is there anything that resembles a village around here?”
“Well, if you go up this road and take a left, you’ll find a pub and a store,” she tells me. I thank her and set off, but soon begin to wonder if, having noticed my accent, she has decided to play “trick the tourist.” The road I am on is narrow and empty and I am about to turn around and try the opposite direction when I round a corner and find, just as she promised, a pub, a store and little else.
But the pub is lovely, old and dark with low, beamed ceilings, and the publican is cordial. I had planned on a quick drink and a return trip but the waitress explains to me that the bus service is…well,…
“Crap?” I offer.
She smiles, relived at not having to break the news to me herself.
“So I’m going to have to stay here until four o’clock?” I ask, incredulously.
She shrugs and looks at the pristine sky.
“It’s such a lovely day; I shouldn’t think you’d mind.”
Post script: it is three thirty now. I have had a relaxing lunch and a fine pint. At three o’clock, the publican locked up and, without a word to me, left me here in the deserted beer garden with my pint, my cigar and my thoughts. It has been—and continues to be—a lovely day, and I can honestly say that my mission is now well and truly accomplished.