Thus it is that today I am delivering invitations to the joint Senior Citizens/WI Afternoon Tea that will be held here in the small mountain Kingdom of Trelystan in about 3 week's time. It's not an onerous task - my share of the invitations amounts to 15 envelopes. Nonetheless it's a time consuming one - minutes must be allotted for searching for gates, doors and letterboxes. Time must be built in for explanations and 'passing the time of day'. There are courtesies to be observed and cups of tea to be supped. I am reminded of Robert Frost's 'A Time to Talk'.
When a friend calls to me from the road....I am busy. I could do with being on my way. I have learned though that sometimes it's best just to stand and talk for a while.
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, 'What is it?'
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
My last envelope of the day is for an elderly - no, old - man (let's not mince our words) who has seen much better and more gracious days. He lives alone at the top of a lane in a substantial house - a shabby ill-preserved relic of his mother's days - which is slowly being subsumed into the land from which it came. Outside its grey stone walls ground elder, bramble and nettle gobble up garden. He is to tell me later that he has just planted 160 rhubarb plants amidst this chaos. I wonder why.
I find a door but no letterbox. The key is on the outside. I rap gently - my softest and most unthreatening knock.
Slippered feet can be heard slithering across the floor. The door is opened and I proffer my envelope. 'Will you come in for a moment?' he asks, adding the non sequitur 'I've had a busy day - washing and jam making.'
'Yes, for a moment, yes.' And in I go; over a floor of cream and black encaustic tiles, through a scullery with a single tap over a pot sink to the morning room where a steaming Rayburn hosts a line of pegged shirts and capacious underpants. A straight backed chair is pulled out for me at the table where, had I the time, I could read the newspapers which serve as table covering. A knife and fork are placed at one end of the table. A sweet piece of Chinese pottery, incongruous amongst the muddle, catches my eye. I wonder what is for tea.
We talk. The day's news - the once nimble and professional mind still has a good grasp of current affairs - and of his health and isolation. He politely but firmly declines the invitation to Afternoon Tea. 'I've always been asked but have never gone and I don't think I shall this time either. People, you know, such numbers, don't really want to be among them. Never been one for company. Thank you all the same.'
In this self-imposed isolation friends and family are aged and infirm but mostly dead. (He cannot keep up with the multitude of youngsters which have the family genes.) Few visitors or outings cross the horizon and these days the post man no longer brings the milk up from the gate such is his impatience to complete his round.
There is the question of how long he can stay here alone. He threatens himself with Going Into A Home but so far the question of The Cost has been a deterrent as have qualms about Other Residents. For how long he will be fit enough to stay here is unknown. He seems to manage.
All around him the known world crumbles, crime and violence, knives and frightening youths. 'His' day was 8 decades ago or more and they did things differently then. I can only agree.
'Perhaps I will be found dead in my garden one day'
'That would be rather a fine way to go' I volunteer. He nods.
As I leave he gestures rather elegantly and precisely for me to turn the car around then stands and watches as I head back down the lane. The grass growing between the narrow wheel ruts is so long that it brushes the undercarriage of the car.
When I reached the road I had a feeling that if I took a backwards glance I would see that the grass had already grown green and lush over the lane behind me and that the house had melted down into a mess of weeds and trees. If I stopped the engine and rolled my window down I would hear nothing but silence broken by birdsong. No one passes this way any more.