She was there again the other day, standing looking out to sea. I remembered her name and called it out. She turned to face us, slightly bemused. How are you? she asked him in Welsh. She’d married a Breton. Do you remember? He is dead now. I think of Lucy Snow and Monsieur Paul in Vilette. Is it cold enough for you? he asks her. She hugs her oversized red coat to her. At least it’s not raining, she replies, do you know I’m ninety-three?
Norman Wisdom on the radio. He is dead now too, I think. A thick, treacly voice. A voice that smiles. He is talking about his life. His parents had divorced when he was young. He was sent from orphanage to orphanage. He survived, joined the army and learnt to perform. He remembered reaching third on the bill and during a curtain call hearing a woman’s voice shouting his name. The voice got louder and louder, so much so that the manager brought him to the front of the stage. Later, in his dressing room a porter announced there was someone to see him. It was his mother. She was the one who had been shouting his name. I never let her out of my sight again, he said, never.
Take a photo of him, she said over the phone, holding a piece of white paper. Yes, that’s it. He’s going to write down a word that encapsulates how he feels about the coming election. He was left-handed and I watched as he slowly formed the letters. What’s it mean, I asked. It’s Welsh for ‘excited’ he said, smiling for the camera.
We took the day off. It was nice. The sun shone and we drove slowly, climbing the hill to the hotel. The sleepy hotel with its lounges flooded with warm sunlight. The guests hobble about with sticks or loll on sofas doing crosswords and pouring tea from heavy silver pots. I listen to their gentle babbling more than content. In the corner a man is talking across a divide of sofas to another guest. Tanner’s claret is the only red wine I will drink, he is saying, though I am not connoisseur. (He pronounces connoisseur as ‘connis-sewer’.) They know I won’t drink anything else so they get it in specially. An elderly man sits down at a table next to us. He nods his head in greeting. Lovely day. I’m coming up again tonight for a meal, but I thought I’d still come up for lunch. For my tongue sandwich, he says. He nods again and asks if we would mind if he opens the window before settling down to his crossword.
Sitting on a bench in the sun, by the flagpole, watching two robins, I felt happy. Then a party of delegates from the Welsh Ambulance Service disgorged onto the tarmac through the French windows, laughing and cat-calling as they posed for a photograph. Time to go, he said. Time to go home. Come on. Come on, poppet.