It’s only Tuesday and it’s already been a week of awkward moments. This is largely due to not thinking it through and the fact that I’m not at my brightest first thing in the morning.
Yesterday I woke to a beautiful blue sky and the sun streaming in through the gap in the curtains. Someone was busy dragging a suitcase down the stairs and bustling in the kitchen…where is my cup of tea I wondered? It wasn’t long before it arrived and I was duly kissed farewell by a man in combats saying, “see you in a week.” I snuggled further down under the duvet, glad I didn’t have to get up quite yet. But as I heard the back door bang, I glanced across at the other bedside table (not actually a table, a tall piece of wood which balances a lamp and half a cup)… but there was a large black watch on its back in place of the cup.
His watch. He’d be needing that this week. Moral dilemma: do I dash down and try and catch him with it or ignore it and say sadly, “Oh dear,” when he calls later and says, “I’ve forgotten my watch”? It was sunny, so I decided to at least try and see if he was still in the car. Jumping out of bed I snatched up the watch and ran down the stairs. The car was running but it was still in the drive. I yanked open the backdoor and half ran, half tiptoed towards the car. The pavings were cold on bare feet. The next second I banged straight into a tall man in uniform and heavy boots.
“What are you doing?” he was half laughing though.
“Your watch – you forgot your watch!” I said and then looked down at what I was wearing. Small pants and a strappy top. It might have been fine in Cyprus, but a frosty November morning in England? I don’t think so. Dashing back inside, he followed me in still laughing and asking if I’d seen the group of schoolboys walking down the road past the house. The final scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary popped into my head. “Crazy girl!” The trouble was I hadn’t thought it through.
This morning was another case in point. I had timed the trip to London carefully, allowing time for traffic and buying a ticket at the station, as well as collecting my train ticket from the machine. I parked the car at the far end of the car park, away from other cars because someone is worried it might get scratched (it’s newish). I was hoping I would have enough change for the parking machine, which was back into the centre of the car park. I stared hard, hunting for coin slots…card slot? Then I read the sign – pay on line or with an app or by phone. Great. Would the other machines take cash? The time was ticking. I hadn’t allowed time for this. The other machines were a lot further down the car park so I decided to phone the number to pay for parking by phone. How hard could it be? I listened while a nicely spoken robot man asked me for information. Next I needed to tell him the car registration number – which I didn’t know. Phone at my ear, large bag and a carrier bag full of advent calendars (the Real one ofcourse) in each hand, I trotted back down to the other end of the car park towards the car, reading out the number just in time. But now the demanding but polite robot man wanted the car park location code… which was on the machine. I scooted back towards the parking machine, rushing past a bemused school boy in a half jog with my rustling bags and a phone still pressed to my ear. I was desperate to reach the machine in time to impart the next piece of information and glanced up nervously as I spotted a train had just slid in beside the platform. “Crap, I’m going to miss my train at this rate…” and other such sentiments were going through my head. But I was now being asked to key in numbers from my credit card and I hadn’t even picked up my train tickets yet. The voice was still talking to me…”press 1 for ‘yes’ and 2 for ‘no'” but I’d completely forgotten what he was asking! After another tricky moment with the train ticket machine and more codes to key in, I eventually received a text to confirm I had paid for parking and train ticket in hand, I headed for the platform. Miraculously I did catch the train.
Apologies to all schoolboys who may have been disturbed by these morning mishaps – as ever, I didn’t think it through.
Damp sparklers and soggy rockets! That’s what the weather forecaster said last night and it looks like it might be true. The skies are grey and the kind of fine misty rain that England does so well looks set to stay. It’s a day for sitting beside a log fire (if you’re lucky) and making soup and mugs of hot chocolate after a walk with the dog – or cat in our case. He proved himself ‘more dog than cat’ by joining us on a walk beside the sea the other day. The problem is he’s pants at fetching sticks and won’t swim out when we throw stones in the water.
Although it’s November 5th and the mantra is “remember, remember”, I’m trying hard not to remember balmy clear nights with fireworks and entertainment in Cyprus last year with no rain to dampen the party spirit. Instead I am cheering myself up with thoughts of train journeys and pop-up cafes.
The other week I discovered a little gem at the local train station in Emsworth. Arriving with time to spare at this quaint Victorian station, which has a Railway Children look about it from the platform, I thought it would be too small to have a café. But a blackboard just inside advertised coffee and cakes at Carriages. I wandered in to the former waiting room which has been transformed into a Cath Kidston style café with spotty plastic table cloths, bunting and pot plants, all in pastel shades of pale pink, yellow and duck egg blue. I was so surprised about it not being ‘Costa’ or another chain that I wondered if they’d even have takeaway cups. No fear, there was a smiling barista happy to help and a row of tempting cup cakes lined up along the counter. We chatted about her new venture to acquire the empty rooms and start up a traditional café on the platform. I was only sorry there wasn’t time to sit at one of the pretty tables to soak up the café charm – another day hopefully. Standing on the platform a cup of latte steaming in my hands I felt so pleased that there was somewhere like Carriages and that a couple of people could still start up a ‘business with a soul’ in this little community. I’m sure it makes commuting a happier experience.
I met another bit of beautiful British entrepreneurship a few days later after a walk along the cliffs in Dorset. It had been a sunny afternoon, one of the last warm autumn days as it turned out, and we’d enjoyed a picnic with a panoramic view of Harry’s Rock with Poole and Bournmouth in the distance. We decided to wander down to Studland beach before heading home and I was wishing I’d packed a thermos of tea or coffee. I needn’t have worried. At the bottom of the lane just beside the beach was a little shack with it’s blackboard sign for tea and coffees propped up outside. It was almost 5pm but the café was still serving tea and not just tea, but tea in proper mugs that you could enjoy on the picnic benches overlooking the beach. At the top of the slope leading onto the sand beside a beach hut was a large container filled with buckets and spades and beach toys. Instead of a price for hiring or buying, there was a little notice which said, ‘please borrow and return – we like recycling.’ I was impressed and touched all at the same time. This seemed like a local family offering a brilliant service for visitors and locals alike. A young girl from the cafe was tidying up the buckets and spades to pack them back in the beach hut and I helped pick up a few left on the shore. There is something special about letting people borrow things without a charge and it was incredibly refreshing and simple. It made me want to live somewhere like that, where it isn’t all about money and charges.
Although we may have to contend with soggy sparklers and a smoking bonfire tonight, at least there’s plenty of tea and other charming seaside cafes to seek out in the future. I’m looking forward to sampling many more. There should be a ‘rough guide to UK seaside cafes’ – now there’s a thought…
I may have overdosed on train journeys. Last week I chose one of the worst days possible to ‘take the train’. What should have been a four hour journey turned into a six and half hour marathon, which included swapping from train to train to avoid landslips and fallen trees. During the journey you inevitably become closely acquainted with a clutch of strangers, who you exchange sighs and sometimes smiles with as train announcers crack jokes and flustered guards repeat reasons for the delays. About 5 hours into the journey that famous English sense of humour proved it could soar above adversity, when the train announcer finished his update on progress south by telling us our lifejackets were located underneath our seats. There was a ripple of laughter, which did help lighten the heavy atmosphere in the carriage, as people were murmuring into their phones to let loved ones know when they might actually arrive at destinations. I was laughing, but I did wonder for a fraction of a second if lifejackets were stored on trains…but no, that would be silly, wouldn’t it? I resisted the temptation to check under my seat.
The English sense of humour and the cheeky banter is one of the things that help us through those rainy, dreary days. And nowhere has better banter than Nottingham. Apart from being one of the best shopping centres in Europe it’s also irrepressibly friendly. Having travelled on trams and buses around the city, it’s the only place I know, where people pass £5 down the crowded tram to pay the conductor who can’t reach them and then pass back the change over people’s heads, without a second thought. ‘Hey up me duck’, what’s odd about that? That’s what’s so brilliant about public transport. You’ll probably get asked where you’re going if you have a large bag or a rucksack. If you look lost, there will inevitably be a clutch of passengers to chip in and tell you when to get off. I once joined in a kind of monopoly game using public transport around the city. We were armed with clues about each destination we needed to reach. The passengers realised we were on a mission and it wasn’t long before they were all chipping in with the best stop to get off and directions about how to get to the next location.
The banter is on the streets too. Last week as I sauntered past a white van and three workmen in high vis jackets peering into a large box full of wires at the side of the road, I noticed an older couple stopping to chat with them. The man exclaimed loudly, “but how on earth do you know which wire goes where?” I half wondered if he was their supervisor, but he wasn’t dressed quite right. The workmen were shaking their heads and seconds later there was a burst of laughter and I realised he was just stopping to have a joke with them. The other people walking past smiled as the couple sauntered off down the street, leaving the baffled workmen to their rewiring. I couldn’t see that happening in London.
Now back in Cyprus, I’m realising our sense of humour and the ability to tease people we don’t even know, is one of the things I value in life. No matter what your problems are, someone sharing a joke with you can lift your spirits. Laughter really is the best medicine because there’s nearly always a funny side to any problem.