A damp reality

Wednesday February 22, 2006

First business of the day was to contact our buyer and get the straight story on the question of the tree that our agent raised yesterday. It transpires that the agent had generated a wind egg from a molehill. A single branch of a magnolia tree was, it emerges, identified as a potential hazard to the roof of a workshop at the back of our buyer’s garage. Five minutes with a pruning saw had already removed it.

Our buyer was very cross that we’d been alarmed needlessly, and undertook to clear the situation with her solicitor. We were already happy but when, later in the day, we had a voice message to the effect that the solicitor had checked it all out and given his assurance that all is well and that we’re still on course for an exchange ‘by the end of the month’ our minds were set completely at rest.

All of which was a considerable relief to me, and a not inconsiderable relief to Graham as my worry lines disappeared.

“I said you were worrying needlessly,” he said.

“Yeah. I know. Can’t help it.”

“Right. Lincoln?”

“Yup. Lincoln it is.”

Leaving Dolly the Mega-cat snoozing happily by her favourite radiator, we jumped in the car and set off for Lincoln, where Graham had a 12:00 appointment for an eye test before obtaining a replacement pair of reading glasses.

It was not the most favourable of days for an outing. Cold, grey, windy and drizzly, with a rain that was hovering on the edge of becoming snow. I’d checked out the best route and had been directed to go via the new roundabout up at Partney, joining the A158, which took us all the way to the outskirts of the city and neatly on to the A15, which leads nicely into the centre. A good, smooth run, taking just an hour from door to carpark.

First port of call was Starbucks. It’s impossible not to visit when you’re a long way in space and time from the nearest branch. Sadly, the place is now way overdue for a redecoration, scuffed, scruffy, and in need of a jolly good clean. The service was poor, and the people working there seem to be drifting, rudderless, in need of a bit of good management. Even so, the place was heaving, and we had difficulty finding a table. We were not comfortable, and stayed only long enough to swig down coffee, which is the only redeeming feature of a faded establishment.

You can’t afford to take your eye off the ball in catering and I’m sure they’ll recover. For the moment, though, I have no regrets that we’re unlikely to be revisiting.

I sat happily enough on a comfortable chair waiting for Graham to have his exam and select a new frame.

“Which one would you go for?” he asked.

“What are the prices?”

“Not going to tell you. If you know the prices you’ll choose the cheapest. Stop messing about and help me.”

“Ok,” I said, and pointed to a pair that looked best on him. “That one. By a mile.”

“Thought so.”

“How much are they?”

“I’ll tell you when I’ve got them.”

So he paid up, was told the new spectacles would be ready in about an hour, and off we wandered in pursuit of lunch.

We chose to eat in the Bridge House restaurant, a four or five hundred year old Tudor building that straddles the river and is a much favoured eating place for both locals and tourists. You go there for the experience of sitting in an ancient window overlooking the river and the main street leading up to the cathedral; the service is good, and everything is clean, but the food is less than special. And not very hot.


Bridge House, Lincoln


Poet at lunch


I stood for a while afterwards, watching the flock of swans ornamenting the river while gulls screamed overhead.

“Ready?” Graham said when he returned from a comfort call.

“Yes. It’s too cold to stand about.”

A collection of
poems by Billy Collins

In short order we collected the new spectacles, I gasped at the price and we celebrated by visiting the new Waterstone’s bookshop where Graham splashed a couple of his Christmas book tokens on new science fiction.

I gifted myself with a paperback collection of poems by Billy Collins. It was the title that attracted me, and diverted me from choosing a slim volume from the rather precious collection of British poets on display. American poetry is seldom precious.

As we drove up the hill, past the cathedral, I remarked that it’d probably been the last visit I shall ever pay to the city.

“You don’t feel bad about that, do you?”

“Nah. It’s a city I loved as a young man but it’s far too hilly and steep for my legs now.”

“You did at least get to visit the cathedral while we’ve been here.”

“Oh, yes, and very fine it is, too. But the one in Exeter is on the level rather than at the top of a hill. Far more suitable for me now. I shall visit once we’re resettled in Somerset, and listen to the choir for a couple of happy hours.”

“Good. Not my cup of tea but I know you’ll enjoy it.”

On the way home I had another of those roadside inspirations and started thinking about a new poem. Once back indoors I jotted down the key phrases, took a short nap, and then settled down to write it out, working through several versions before dinner, and another couple afterwards. It still has a way to go but I’m happy enough with it as a work in progress:



Driving through the shape-haunted dusk
from Lincoln to our fen-side home
I saw an old woman by the roadside,
black clothed, stick bent, with
a heavy basket slanting her shoulder.

Passing, she shifted, reshaped,
and became a battered sign defining
the boundary of Hagworthingham;
I drove on, regretting the resumption
of Lincolnshire reality and the loss
of a half-seen gloamy phantom.

John Bailey
February 2006, Lincolnshire



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