Alfred and Florence

I have this thing about going on road trips and exploring places I’ve never been to. When I first came to London in ‘85 I went on a road trip due west out of London, the general aim being to try to get to Lands End, because..well because it’s there..  A few evenings later at about 5pm I ended up in Penance, about ten miles from Lands End as I was taking it slow with lots of detours to go see places. In Penance I asked in the Tourist Information Centre if they could find me some accommodation for the weekend. There was some festival on in Penance and every hotel and B&B was full but the helpful chap suggested I stay in a cottage near Lands Ends as there were some available to rent over the weekend. He showed me some photos of the cottage and I thought well yes, would be nice to have a place to myself and go for long walks along the cliffs so I said OK and the bloke made a phone call to the owner so everything was set.

He printed out directions – this was well before Sat-Nav – and off I went on my merry way. I drove the ten miles to the cottage, found it easily enough, brought my gear in and surveyed the place. It was a bit crumby; nothing like the nice photos in the Information Centre and it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for a while…hmmm. I found the bathroom and was annoyed there was no loo roll but lots of half empty shampoos and conditioners. I sighed and went to the kitchen and was pissed to see there were dishes in the sink. So I cleaned up a bit, put everything away and started making some soup I got in the town earlier.

As I’m stirring everything in the pot I see car headlights lighting up the garden outside so I turned the gas down and go out to see who it is. An elderly man and woman get out of a very beat-up old car and is startled to see me. I said hello, are you the owner? And the man say yes but he looks worried.. I says to him did you know there’s no loo roll, someone left the sink full of dishes and the place is really quite untidy..? and he looks at me strangely and say yes, that’s where he was, in the town getting some toilet roll…  And I says to him Oh good, that’s saved me having to drive back to Penance, and then he says ..but ..why ..are ..you ..in ..our ..house??  And I look at him and his wife with this sinking feeling and says this IS Apple Tree Cottage, isn’t it..? and he says where? and I repeat Apple Tree Cottage and he says no, I’ve never heard of it, this is our home…what are you doing here…

and I think oh crap!

So I apologise profusely, explain there’s obviously been a terrible mix up and I go get the map from the Tourist Agency and ask him if he can point me in the right direction. He looks at the map and tells me I’m about five minutes from where I’m meant to be and points me in the correct direction. I gather up my stuff and apologise again and begin to head off but they see I’m cooking some supper and invite me to stay a while.

So I stay for supper, they let me use their landline to phone the Tourist Information Centre and then the proper Apple Tree Cottage and then I chat away with them.. They are called Alfred and Flo and have been married for nearly 50 years, they have children and grandchildren and possibly great grandchildren.. They have been together for so long that they have sorted out all their issues and watching them dance around the kitchen they move and do things like watching one person, as one is laying the table the other is cutting up some bread and neither of them has to tell the other what needs done, they are like an efficient machine, knowing instinctively what the other requires. They are chatting away with me but it’s like watching a ballet quietly being performed in the kitchen, they don’t talk to each other much because there really isn’t a requirement to, all it takes is a little glance to telegraph what needs to be done. And there’s this rawness about them, this openness, this honesty, they have no secrets from each other, they live for each other and there is this sense of being through the wars but are stronger and closer for it.

There have been quite a few occasions in my life when I get a glimpse of the real meaning of life, of how life is, stripped of all it’s materialistic trappings and just shown in it’s raw form, I quite envy them. It’s how it’s meant to be.