We arrived more than two hours later than expected, but the summer light from the west of England had not yet disappeared even at dusk. A soft, golden glow was just on the other side of the sunset, which had dyed a flat, calm sea beyond this tumultuous village. We were tourists here, strangers in this small, tight place.
For us, it was only part of a tour, a long weekend that we shared, under the claws of our combined and always demanding careers. I felt totally liberated, that beautiful evening, as we walked on the quarter-mile of dry, steep cobblestones from mandatory parking to the car-free village, deadlines and advertising requirements for once confined outside the confines of this little place. And I could tell from Jenny's springtime that her battles with the bottom sets at Lewisham were now farther away than our three days on the road.
There was a small gift shop, a trinket for tourists, 100 meters from the alley. I bought the newspaper our anticipated departure from St. Petersburg. Ives had denied me, my daily routine of long-established political gossip as an essential feature of my adoption in London life. I explained that we were strangers here, had rolled on the secondary road in the hope of finding something interesting and had nothing reserved.
The shopkeeper told us that we had just three options – the old hotel just down the street, a bed and breakfast down by the harbor or farmhouse near the junction with the main road, where we had off.
"It was different years ago," he says, "when a lot of people were staying, but now they are all day trippers and vacation homes."
The Old Hotel was two hundred meters from the shop, at the head of the steep creek that sheltered the entangled triangle of the village. It was a little beyond the price we had used to pay and had AA stars framed on the reception desk, but we fell for the place and we arrived, just for one night. It was the kind of black and white Jacobean inn, which lacked a straight line could have suggested that it was original. But the beams were hollow and the plaque above the entrance said: "Refurbished in 1958."
"Do you have luggage to bring parking?" the receptionist asked. The name tag pinned to her blouse said, Hilary, Manageress'. "We have a man with a donkey and a sled that will bring him back for you." She did not joke.
I raised our two tote bags and said that it was all we had. She smoked, offering politeness but communicating knowledge tinged with judgment. It was at a time when it was still unusual for a couple to log in without obviously trying to seem married.
We took the key for room number six. There were only eight and the other seven were still hanging on their hooks when we took the elevator – yes, the elevator! – on the upper floor. Number six was at the back, of course, just above the kitchen hood fan and overlooked a closed yard with a yellowed corrugated plastic roof. It hid a panoply of uncovered trash cans, from which a hint of aroma softened the calm air as we opened the windows to encourage the previous occupant's car/">cigarette smoke to leave. We dropped the bags and went down to the sea to soak up the last late spring sun at its location.
The beach was pebbly and small, stacked against a harbor wall that stretched over a good fifty meters into the shallow sea. A couple of clapboard buildings, big rotten, clinging to its prominence, their long history of profit, but their structures all but staying. There were missing doors and a structure did not have interior, the discovery entrance simply revealing the sky beyond. At one point, it is clear that the people of the region had something to gain from life, from fishing, perhaps from petty trading, from smuggling in difficult times, from recovery on purpose, who knows . And then came the tourist, the nineteenth century foreign trade of invention that evaporated when the main road widened and made the place no more than 15 years old. a day trip to this side of Birmingham or London.
As we descended the falsely steep single track that ran through the village, we passed several open doors in search of air at the end of May. After London, everything here was so comfortable, so small, so warm and so harmless, as if the place itself welcomed us into its fold.
We saw only two other people, both going down the path, and each of them offered their greetings. "It's not pretty," Jenny said. "Do not you want to live here?" I refused to answer.
We ate at the Old Hotel. There was nowhere else. We ordered the grilled sole with parsley butter. Potatoes and broccoli were seasonal legumes. It took more than half an hour for the food to appear. We finished the white house bottle we had ordered to go with the fish long before even the smell of cooking went through the kitchen. We had significant chuckles speculating on how long in the Bristol Channel the boat had to fetch our order. We ate. It was not bad, and then we moved across the bar, the four steps necessary to change places we actually redefining customers to the locals. An accordion glass partition separated the zones in theory, but tonight it had been largely open for ventilation. The rest of the evening became a tale of three women, Hilary, Sue and Sandra, all that dreamed.
The hotel bar is the only place to drink, so it's a pub, with its regulars. Half a dozen men are collectively and resolutely committed to preventing the top of the oak from rising, their elbows planed firmly, including its continuous stay on the ground. They spend the time of the night with what appears to be a predictable set of platitudes. "I bought the D-reg because I thought it would work cheaper in the long run, with smaller and other maintenance bills … … But you bought to do more than that kind of thing yourself and then you I would not have to pay anything … … yes, i know, but i just do not have the time … you just go beyond the first turning point … … Beyond the egg farm where my brother used to work … … they are really cheap if you get them buy by the bag … … heavily bloody, you make fun of yourself … "
She is forty, she is sixty, completely repentant what she sees before her, yet totally resigned – or condemned – to serve her every need. It is rather large and rather square, both on the face and on the body. She was like that since she could remember it. Black hair, cut quite, but not very short and swept by a wave at the front showing that she spent a little time washing and straightening before starting to work behind the bar from the Old Hotel. On the other side of the argument is a series of slobs, one of which we only seem to see from the back. Its head is triangular with the apex at the base. A pair of key-in-keyhole ears go beyond. He was probably called "wing-nut" by his classmates at school. I resist the temptation to grab an ear key and twist it to see what it could unlock. From the conversation to the bar, we can clearly hear, the answer is certainly not much.
million. Ears is a bit of a leader, he thinks. He rarely lets pass any conversation shared by others without his own comment inserted. He is wearing a heavily stained boiler suit and a pair of Doc Martins who have had better decades. His skin is rough and dark, but probably not by the sun. His head is shaved, but shows a shadow on the edge of his baldness. He seemed to be driving with his head, as he pointed to highlight every bulky word he was talking about.
At some point, there seems to be a lull in the conversation. Mr. Ears picks up one of the damp cloth runners from the bar and throws it at Sandra. He thinks it's very funny and pushes his neighbor in the ribs while he throws. Sandra is seriously amused. She tries to say, "Please, do not do that" just when he raises his arm, but it's only halfway to the "Please" at the moment he threw it. To say that she is not amused, is to minimize the fact that it fills her eyes. But still, it's a life.
Her son helped with the dishes in the under-equipped kitchen. He is fourteen, at least that is what Sandra immediately chooses to tell us when he appears. She gravitates towards our end of the small bar, placing the maximum distance between her and the group we are learning now includes her husband, Mr. Ears. Darren, the son, is like her, the same shape, but with brown, not black hair. I feel Jenny conclude that the mother is dyed. Darren is still his mother's boy, not yet his father's threat. Knowing that she will have to put the place in the shelter tonight before she leaves, she makes him wipe the tables and stack the stools, meant to be unused tonight. Mr. Ears, with his triangular head and ears as a key ring, smiles a little while drinking whiskey.
He orders a drinks tour for himself and his companions. He opens his theatrical leather wallet almost theatrically, then draws a face that deigns to surprise when he finds it empty. Sandra's expression is both conscious and tired while she loathes reluctantly when she turns her back on him, writes a debt acknowledgment and places it in the cashier. There is no doubt in his own name. She takes a little penny in the change. of the nugget, which she offers and he pockets, click the coins against a set of keys in her deep pockets, as if she ensured that she had fallen to the bottom. A few minutes later, he needs another recharge that costs eighty-five pence, but he produces only twenty-five of his pocket. Sandra composes the rest of her purse, her lips squeezing a silent curse as she manipulates the crate.
A minute later, Hilary appears from the kitchen. She gives Sandra a brown envelope. A slight smile confirms that these are wages, sometimes for the week. Sandra immediately extracts a note, deposits it in the cash register and recovers her debt acknowledgment, which, after having attracted the attention of her husband, tears into small pieces and ditches in an ashtray, an ashtray that she will have to clean later. . Mr. Ears barks and growls a little, maybe feeling a pose in front of his mates, but later we are told that he really wants to have the paper intact so that he can read the amount to verify that Sandra do not fiddle with it and organize to keep something for itself. "Never trust business people," he said aloud to his companion, "but never vote against them! He's laughing.
Sue follows Hilary from the kitchen. We know her name immediately because Sandra greets her, as if she has not seen her for weeks. His white jacket with side buttons identifies him as the person who grilled our fish. This is a very good cook. We enjoyed our sole, I tell him. She says thank you, but she immediately indulges in personal depreciation, apologizing for the fact that she has never had any training. Her words are like a magnet for other women, who immediately move to our end of the bar, as far away from the premises as possible. Sue then talks to us about a coffee fudge cake that prompted a guest to suggest him. The ladies laugh, including my Jenny. Her husband, however, was the one who tasted how to cook the fish. Everything is in salt. After all, they live in salt water, is not it?
Maybe because we are strangers, Sue wants to talk. It is clear that people on the other side would not be interested in the fact that she often has to cook for about thirty people in a kennel size kitchen. Hilary, Sue and Sandra are clearly not happy with their fate. Hilary, above all, seems tense and discouraged while Sue tries to explain the facilities to the back. When she invites us through the bar to inspect where she works, Hilary seems disturbed, even threatened. "Look," says Sue, with an arm gesture, "There is a microwave, a gas stove of the year and a freezer that would not serve a family of four."  Hilary reminds us of the good side of the bar There's not a lot of work here, she tells us.We make visiting the kitchen was clearly more than her job was worth, so she changes the subject. "C & # 39, is nice here, but I have the impression that life goes beyond me … I'm from town, I'm from Walsall, I really like being in London, but my boyfriend is a shepherd and there is no call for them to Mayfair. "
But she makes sure we record that Sue is working in the kitchen for next to nothing, and the owner, who often reviews, said that he would not be here to give helping out tonight because he was sick, so that she knew very well that in fact he and his wife had been invited to dinner by the Cowan's on their farm.
"At this time of the year, when the sky is clear and the l '. The air is fresh and the weather is nice, you might think it's a really nice place to live. Give me a modern bungalow with double glazing and central heating every day, nights like these, I'm almost happy to work here, at least it's hot. "The words have been qualified by a wink at the regulars." But then you have to sit here and endure the garbage that we talk about a lot all night … Honestly in the winter, in the nights dark, there are times when you would like you to be far away from here. because the fact that the owners never want to put money in the place .. attractive .. But then you get up in the morning and the sun shines and the sky is blue and you can see through at Lundy Island and you walk the dogs C & # 39; s is while she changed … A neglected duty resurfaced from a forgotten cell … A moment later she came back from the reception, she had another brown envelope for Sandra, who smoked while taking It could be heard the word "bonus", but there was a question mark: by then we had decided to and as we came out of our stools, we had only time to ask him good evening.
The next morning, we went for a walk again, there was really nowhere to go, exc ept where we had been. You could go up or down. Up was back to the car. Down was at the sea. We chose down. Up would come later. We walked along the harbor wall, past the dilapidated hutches to look at the flat calm that lay beneath a gray but light sky. There was a buzzard, an intruder, screaming when the seagulls pecked. We watched the chase for ten minutes or more while local breeders ensured that the unwanted stranger was well and truly escorted out of their fix.
As we got off the ramp and back on the shingle, a British Telecom van appeared from the city. We assumed that he must have a special distribution to drive the main street, a privilege reserved only for businesses. At the bottom, the driver stopped and then started backing up. It was clearly only a change of direction, as there was nowhere along the main street to turn once you entered the village. A group of men to our right noticed the noise and broke with their silly task of trying to move a rusty old hulk through the shingles with makeshift levers. It was the hint of rotation that attracted them. It was someone who did not know the place. It was a potential profit. A hint of forward motion in the pickup truck dissolved in an engine stroke as the rear sank into the body into the loose stones.
Crowbars discarded, the guys surrounded their captive in seconds. "He understood …" grumbled Mr Ears, who was one of the first to arrive. He recognized us from the bar and spoke directly to us, but the words were for the benefit of the van driver. He scratched his head several times as his comrades appeared. They also mumbled as they squatted to inspect the depth of the problem. The driver of the van and his companion were out of their seats, their doors slamming in the pebbles. Mr. Ears then said a lot, but I just said a strange word. He scratched his head again. "It's really not my day today," he said to me casually.
After a few minutes, our small crowd was still surrounding the prey when the Land Rover appeared. Mr. Ears told us that normally, we had to go back to the parking lot for travelers who could not walk up the hill. "He also serves as a tow truck for boats," he said. He tied a small thin rope to the tow bar and then chose a suitable place to attach it to the Telecom van. A whistle to the Land Rover produced a crawl. The rope is broken, of course. Mr. Ears scratched his head again. He clearly had to work hard today. A companion left to find a heavier rope, which was duly attached. The Land Rover grew up as the van driver managed a scream of his engine. There was a rustle in the back of his van and then it was free. There was a series of applause. A note was proposed and Mr. Ears took it, but clearly expressed his belief that it should be larger. "The things I have to do to make a living," he said as he passed us two, pulling and rewinding the rope that probably belonged to someone else. As British Telecom climbed the slope in second gear, we headed to the Old Hotel to pick up our luggage, leave and leave. Jenny and I shared a joke about Mr. Ears, referring to elbows and assholes.
Sandra was waiting for us. She had a canvas bag in her right hand and her son's hand in her left hand. He was really a very young fourteen. Clenched against her thumb, and pressed against her son's fist fingers, was a brown envelope, presumably the envelope that Hilary had handed her as we were leaving the bar. The envelope was torn and only one sheet of paper was detached. Jenny stayed with her while I paid the bill and took my bags.
"She wanted a lift in town," said Jenny when I came back. She had the bag. They accused her of taking money at the cashier. She goes. I glanced down the hill, but there was no one in sight … Mr Ears was still there, approaching, when we four, all strangers now, we were set out for the car.
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