Magazine article The Spectator

Caught Out

Magazine article The Spectator

Caught Out

Article excerpt

The cognoscenti will tell you that the best time to visit the south Devon coast is the autumn. The vulgar summer hordes have departed, the weather in September is generally reliable and accommodation is cheaper. Unfortunately for them, word has got out. The lanes round here were more congested with traffic last week than in July and August, and in town the pavements were packed with cognoscenti looking askance at one another.

Mirroring this trend were this year's bookings for the holiday let attached to our house. For three consecutive weeks in July, the flat was vacant, yet from now till the middle of November it's fully booked. Fm not allowed to approach the visitors in the cottage in case I say or do something controversial. My job is to maintain the secluded walled garden, which I carry out diligently, with a slash-and-burn policy, when the occupiers go out for the day. Otherwise, I stay hidden. But last week, owing to staff shortages, I was entrusted with the job of handing over the keys to the first of our late-season tenants and making them feel at home.

A man and two women, all in their mid to late eighties, arrived in mid-afternoon in a Nissan Micra. The man was connected to one of the ladies by marriage, 1 think. He was wearing a hearing aid, shorts and a running vest. While the women transferred the suitcases from the car, the man told me about his war record. He fought mainly in Burma with Queen Victoria's Madras Regiment of Sappers and Engineers. He told me all about that, then he explained then demonstrated each of the many functions on his new four million pixel digital camera, also very interesting. Then he whipped out a diagram of his family tree. He'd traced one line of his descendants back to one Mary Clarke, born on the Isle of Wight in 1704. Was I any relation, he wondered? I liked this guileless, enthusiastic old gentleman very much. The women were quiet and small and very strong for their age.

Early next morning I noticed their car was gone. They'd gone off down to the beach, no doubt for a swim and perhaps a game of beach volleyball. Their lawn was looking a bit ragged, so I grasped the opportunity, while they were out, to mow it. It was already hot and I walked up and down behind the mower au naturel. …

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