Thursday, 8 January 2015

A guest at my table - George

It is always difficult moving house to a new area: You feel yourself floundering as you try to find your bearings and make sense of your surroundings and your place in it. Having moved house many times over the years I am used to this sense of rootlessness and the necessary time it takes to feel 'at home' once more. But it is never easy.

We moved house one bright warm sunny day in May, leaving home, friends and community in a small town on the edge of the Cotswolds and headed South West to rent a little house in a village by the sea in Cornwall; leaving our not-very-nice-looking house, within travelling distance of England's silicone valley, to sell itself.

It was the right decision. The sun was smiling on the Cornish hedges and never had I seen so may wild flowers clustered together in such variety, as if a whole army of florists had been at work the night before to garland the hedgerows for our arrival. The pure sea air, the rarity of seeing a car around the headland and the blinding sun against the blue no doubt fuelled their growth.But I was still in awe.

With a baby, a toddler and another not quite old-enough for school, it was a blessing to be able to go down to the beach each day and play in the rock pools. Looking over the bay towards the island with its stunning white lighthouse, I felt as if it was the very first thing I saw when my feet touched down on Cornish soil. And the purity and brilliance of it has never left me.

At that time of slippy, slidey, feeling around for a place to be, we made friends with a gentle giant of a man called George, who, for reasons different to mine, also found himself cast adrift on the tide.

He was a farmer who had come from 'up country' many years before to work a farm several miles away inland. His children were much older than mine and, as we talked, they were happy to take them off to look for toads in the boggy land beside the fields.They seemed settled and accepting of the changes in a way that children often do far quicker than the adults around them.

George's wife had left him and he had been forced to leave his farm and come and live in this tiny tucked-away cottage on the kink of a windy road set against a blanket of golden fields. Everything ripens earlier in Cornwall, it seems....and finishes sooner.

As he told his story, his back against the smouldering hearth and passing a hand through his thick black curly hair, he was still smiling that gentle, almost 'simple' smile over his round ruddy cheeks. But George himself was no simpleton. He understood and accepted more than I would have thought possible. He, himself, was a devout Christian; but as I listened I wanted to get angry on his behalf. He accepted everything - the deceit, the betrayal, the destruction of his family. The only thing he struggled with was the loss of his family farm, which had had to be sold and split two ways. He made his living looking after someone else's cows these days; his own animals long gone. And still he smiled; even as the tears rolled down from the crinkles of his eyes as he remembered taking his animals to auction  somewhere over near Truro.

Ours was a special kind of friendship which owed much to a mutual feeling of being somewhat lost at sea and in need of a compass. Perhaps, he would say, he had his bearings in nightly instalments from above. I was less sure what was in store for us but only trusted that it somehow felt right - like coming home. Having grown up in small villages and now finally cut the ties that bound us to our town life, I felt I could finally breathe again. And breathe I did the pure oxygenated air, and the night-time sky without its orange extending haze obscuring all but the most persistent of stars.

In time George made a new life for himself; bought a house in town, married his lodger and had a new twinkle to his eye - little Georgina. His lodger, who had seemed the most unlikely to be his type, with her fierce haircut and nose stud, turned out to be an earth  mother and morphed, and they took to managing the transfer of wholesale vegetables from local farmers to farm shops and grocers in the area.

Somewhere in all of this we lost touch, as some friendships do along the way, so it is good to know that he is coming to supper tonight to catch up with the multiple of episodes that have happened in both our lives since then; and on reports of his enigmatic godson.

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to say I really enjoy reading your atmospheric blog. I too love Nigel Slater and his writing - although you're right when you refer to lack of ingredients in the rural north compared to his local delis, and specialist shops! Helen x