Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

The weatherman had forecast a cold front arriving speedily from the east during the course of the day. As soon as our two guests arrived we eagerly debated this with them.

It seemed incredible. The sea was sparkling under a cloudless sky and the sun was getting hotter by the minute. The lovely settled weather we'd been enjoying looked set fair to continue. Had we heard right, we wondered?

But our guests had heard the same forecast, and the weatherman had sounded as unequivocal to them as he'd sounded to us. The proprietor of the hotel they were staying at, clearly a man with his guests' best interests at heart, had heard it, too, and he'd taken the trouble to warn them about the predicted change in the weather during breakfast. In case you didn't know, the weather is the staple of our conversation here in these coastal retirement villages. The weather, that is, lightly garnished with news of the latest illnesses and deaths.

I poured the teas and passed round the cake. We had a china teapot on a tray, and cups and saucers, and a bought jam sponge, and silly little cake forks to eat it with, and paper napkins decorated with holly leaves left over from Christmas.

They visit the area for three days every spring, Joan and Jack, to visit friends and lay flowers on various graves. And they always make a point, every year, of calling in for a cup of tea. For this house was once a residential home for the elderly run by my parents, and Joan's mother was one of the last residents. The cake was added when we realised the occasion had evolved into a yearly ritual.

I remember Joan's mother very well. She had tons of class and a Benny Hill-type sense of humour. During the war she was one of those young Air Force women who plotted the vicissitudes of the Battle of Britain by leaning across a huge map and pushing markers around on the end of a long stick. And when she wasn't doing that she was raising the pilots' morale by dating as many of them as she could fit in. Her enjoyment of the war reached such a pitch that she couldn't take anything seriously ever again, and she looked back on those war years as the time in her life when she was most truly and wonderfully alive. …

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