My walk to work is generally a very pleasant one but then I am lucky enough to live in the Pearl of Dorset. Although the joy has been dampened over the past 18 months as I find the now ingrained custom of distancing yourself from others, both physically and mentally, quite alien to my personal bonhomie. The social rift that has been created by the enmity people now seem to feel towards one another, I hope will gradually mend over time.
And that’s the thing about the Jurassic coast, coastal erosion aside, it stands there like a battle weary sentinel who has seen it all before and who watches from afar with the wisdom and knowledge that only comes with age; never offering advice or making recommendations, just doing their thing as they were millions of years before the human race came on the scene and as they will long after we’ve gone. There is something solidly reassuring in its unwavering permanence all of which I take in as I stand gazing out to sea, trying to absorb the vast openness before heading down into the enclosed underworld of my cellar office.
You see I often have enough time to wander down to the sea because of parking; in order to get a parking spot on one of the few remaining streets in Lyme that doesn’t have restrictions, much to the chagrin of the residents, I have to get there just after eight before the rest of the local hospitality trade arrive. Of course, I could and really should, walk to and from work, but the half hour run down hill in the morning is counter-balanced with the hard slog of the return journey back up the hill at the end of the day, and that’s the killer.
Anyway, having inhaled the salty aromatherapy of the fresh sea air, I turned on my heel and headed to my place of work and as I walked along one of the paths, my peripheral vision detected an elderly but spritely chap walking along an adjacent path that would soon converge with mine.
In the spirit of all things covid and not wishing to invade his space, I reduced my speed but evidently he was of the same mind because our paths literally crossed, or to be more precise, joined, but in the spirit of glasnost and perestroika, we said our ‘good mornings’, that I was about to follow it up with a very straightforward, ‘I will speed up so we don’t have to be within any kind of unreasonable proximity’, but my thoughts of observing covid protocol were quickly erased as he immediately struck up a conversation and we exchanged brief observations of the awful weather.
Then not wishing to curtail this newfound freedom of actually speaking to a stranger, he asked if I lived nearby, and I, not wishing to fess up to my laziness in not walking the distance, told him that I lived in nearby Uplyme to which he replied he had holidayed there once in the hot summer of 1976, “it was so warm, I remember asking if the caravan was always so stuffy.”
We both laughed in that gentle quietly polite way you do when something is mildly amusing, but by then I was caught in the riptide of this nouveau social interaction, and I shared with him that I also remember that year as I was a young child living in Nottingham at the time.
This casual exchange took on that kind of comfortable camaraderie of strangers who are just being friendly. Remember those days? Then in the last few yards that were left before I reached my destination, he gave me a Kodak moment, telling me his life history in the space of three minutes.
Southampton born and bred, following a near miss when a bomb had fallen but not exploded, on a house two down from them in 1941, his father decided to send him somewhere safer and with relatives in the area, sent him to Chideock for the duration of the war. After the war he returned home and in adult life spent 30 years working in London but ever since that evacuation, he has returned to Lyme often because he loved it so much.
I was very reluctant to cut the conversation short, I had the feeling that he, like me, wanted to be liberated from the binds of the social sterility we have been conditioned to adopt and would have happily continued chatting for some time, and this reminded me, not for the first time, that we all have a story to tell, but sadly many of them will never be heard, especially in the wake of our covid enforced social deprivation.
So next time I shall throw caution to the wind, welcome the opportunity to reach across the corona abyss with a cheery ‘good morning’ and happily delay my descent into the gloom of the office for the chance of enjoying an exchange of what used to be normal human interaction.