Early morning pot of tea on the table between our beds. Washed and shaved in the bedroom (h. and c. laid on!) I dressed first. When Ella and Lois rushed playfully in, John was clad in a shirt and nothing else!
A glorious breakfast – and all this involved a charge of only 10/-. Rucsacks loaded we swung along the footpaths. From the summit of Leigh Hill we were able to see the gleam of sunshine on water – the English Channel, far to the south. We tramped through woods, macs strapped outside the ruckers. Lunch at the Stephan Langton, Friday Street. A man with an affected voice at the next table was laughing loudly, so I laughed uproariously at nothing in particular, until he was subdued.
On we went, Mr Hammond carrying his suitcase. 76 year old “Pa” plodded on, chuckling at the boisterousness of John and I. Joan Yeatlee often walked alone, picked gorse, yellow gorse and fastened that, also, outside her rucsack. Ella always leading, finding the way, sometimes consulting John, who also had a map. (So Lois was older than myself; 30 or 31 perhaps…)
Tea at Dorking, then the cars. Lois drove the Zephyr to New Malden. She is very “game” and always has a go at the job in hand. (“You little horror!” she exclaimed as I viciously switched headlights onto the rear of a car which had overtaken and dazzled us.) We left Lois with her relatives at New Malden. Queer people… John disembarked at Staines, obviously intrigued.
“Pa” and I drove homewards through the darkness. He sat in the back and talked; rugs around him. We travelled fast at first, but as the car began to pass around the north of London, my passenger’s conversation became interesting. So interesting, so personal, that I sat still, listening well, whilst the Zephyr’s speed dropped to 30. Whilst that gentle, clear voice flowed subtly, I could have driven indefinitely.
First, he discussed myself. Was I in a position to marry? Of course one had to find the right girl… A rambling club was the right place to find decent, straight girls, wasn’t it? I agreed but made no comment. Still he mentioned no name. (30, 30, 25, 30. Epping Forest.)
Did I realise that perhaps many girls joined rambling clubs etc hoping to find straight, decent men? I pretended amazement. (If only I could describe this infinitely clever conversation word for word!) (What was he aiming at. Lois was his friend. He’d noticed I was attracted… Was he probing? Matchmaking?) (We came to the Southend Arterial Road. Still the Zephyr crawled at 30.) Now, Miss Rogers for instance; did I notice how she took his arm to guide him when the path was rough? She was a nice thoughtful girl. (Ah! I’d guessed correctly!)
But gradually he changed the subject to himself, so delicately that at the last I was not even faintly surprised. Normally I would have been shocked, almost disgusted. (For I’d guessed wrongly!) He wanted to marry again. Although he was 76 he felt like a man of 50. Of course one had to be careful in choosing a wife… He must be in love and so must she. (Suddenly I knew everything! But I had to hear him say it, so I probed… gently…) Oh, yes, he wanted a woman young enough to have a child. Forty? No, about thirty or so. Of course, she must love him, or marriage was a mockery…
(The Zephyr droned along at 30, towards Laindon.) Yes, he thought he had found the right woman – if she loved him. He’d said to Miss Rogers a few weeks ago, “Now, if I were 25 years younger I’d be courting you.” Oh, she had made a non-committal, half serious reply. He had given her presents, which she accepted. Her family liked him. She was always very kind. Miss Rogers. Oh of course, he had to be sure of his ground before he asked her definitely. (The car turned off the main road, into Eastwood. 10 o’clock.) Yes, he had enjoyed talking to me about it. He hoped I would tell him about my love affairs, when I began. Naturally it would be someone younger than myself… that was best, wasn’t it?
He would send me a book of his poems; “Let Nothing You Dismay”