Serena (not her real name) is what you call a woman with a good heart – if you can get to it through the brambles.
She has an advanced case of passive/aggressive and I am of the opinion that, when you put the seductive passivity of various enquiries to one side, you’re just left with aggression, the verbal equivalence of repeated lefts to the jaw.
She nobbled me one afternoon – hasn’t spoken to me for a year, put me through the catechism of “was I all right ?” not pausing to listen the replies, told me how much happier I’d be in the seaside town she couldn’t wait to move to and now can’t wait to vacate, condemned me to a further 15 years of life (I do hope heaven takes precedence over Serena !) but I kept my temper more or less. When she went off to find someone else to browbeat, I put the receiver down and did something I have not done for 20 years or more: I screamed.
Fortunately, my next caller was one with whom I can always share a good laugh so I confessed all, and she responded in between giggles that the vision of me screaming was alone worth the call. So, no harm done. As Mrs. Overall (one of Julie Walters’ finest creations) remarked, “It’s God’s way of keeping you humble” and it works.
48 hours later, I collected the post which has been reliable throughout the pandemic. And I looked at writing which seemed familiar and opened the envelope to a card from Joan and Alan (their real names) whom I met 20 years ago on the second of two occasions that I “sang for my supper” on a cruise.
By the time of the second cruise, the famously named British proprietors had sold out to an American holding company, the food was less remarkable, the accommodations less luxurious and there were all sorts of problems starting with far too many separate incidents with waste disposal to other more serious complications. But we went to several places I had never dreamt of going and for that alone, I remain entirely grateful.
Joan and Alan and I met each other and spoke occasionally, always easily because they are enormously likeable. And when we were due to come into Venice, Joan asked me if I knew the city. When I demurred, she told me it would be worth getting up in time to watch the arrival which remains one of the most magical things I have ever seen, for the buildings seem to float on the water. We said goodbye affectionately (you know who you like) and we’ve exchanged cards every year ever since.
So there is this dear woman writing out of the goodness of her heart to hope that I am well and managing in the time of the lurgy and the lockdown, that my son is OK, that my eyes aren’t bothering me and ending “Keep in your thoughts and mind how lovely Venice was when we saw it together all those years ago. Memories like that never (underlined ) fade.” I got their number through directory enquiries and when we spoke it was as if we’d seen each other two weeks ago up the road.
We exchanged as we have always done stories about things we admire and things we admire a lot less and Alan came and joined in on the extension. I don’t think we spoke for so very long but if it had been winter, I would have been warmed and as it wasn’t cold, I experienced the warmth in another way, in a sense of deep almost reverential comfort, like a trusted gentle hand when you were a child, the colour of a young animal’s fur or catching the smell of something long cherished and half remembered from long ago as you go by, your adult self.