I went on a visit to Kent the other day. On a coach, with a society where I’m a committee member. I was unaccompanied, which is always interesting because I don’t know who will sit next to me; usually another unaccompanied female because, I have observed, men do not have the confidence to travel alone unless it is an all-male thing.
I knew the elderly lady who sat with me, but not very well. We exchanged greetings and some desultory conversation, but, I’m sorry to say, I slept quite a lot on the way down – I don’t sleep much at night so a coach soon sends me off. When I woke up she was reading the local paper, which I eyed surreptitiously, rather wishing I had my own copy.
During the day I chatted to a variety of friends and also spent some time alone, which is what I usually do. I cautiously prefer not to feel like a hanger-on and also like being on my own, at least part of the time.
On the way home, we had all enjoyed the day and my neighbour and I chatted. To be accurate, for some time she spoke and I rambled. Even if this is your first visit here, you might sense that I am rarely lost for words and often talk rather too much. But we got on very well. She is a lady in, I suppose, her late 70s; widowed, living alone, childless. After a while, she started to talk to me in a more confiding way and I, for once, mostly shut up and listened.
I don’t mean to say that she confided matters that she wouldn’t tell others, just that, maybe, she said things one doesn’t feel the confidence to say often. She spoke of her late but very happy marriage, the ways in which she felt she had changed over the years and her feelings about her present and her future. Simply but movingly, and I did appreciate knowing that she felt able to tell me these things.
English people have always had a reputation for reticence and for not expressing their feelings. That has certainly changed in the last few years and, although it makes for a less polite and respectful society, it also means that we feel able to talk about things that matter to us. Of course, sometimes one can talk to a person one hardly knows more freely than to a close friend. But she turned from a pleasant old lady who tended to be almost the last on the coach and regularly got lost, to a friend, and I enjoyed and appreciated her company. At the end of the journey, she thanked me for my company and I thanked her for hers and kissed her goodbye.
I’d had to do the vote of thanks for the organiser as we neared Norwich; at least I have learned now not to stand at the front when we go round a roundabout. The first time, I fell down the steps and was deservedly laughed at; I was grateful not to have broken my neck.