It endlessly astonishes me. I'm talking about the friendliness of other people I encounter in my day to day life. People of all kinds.
It's not simply that people will speak to me. They will do things for me, or there are extra impulses to keep up a connection. I'll give you a couple of examples. I've already mentioned the couple at the Fineshade site near Stamford a few days ago, Pam and Michael, who ended up helping me get hitched for departure, very welcome assistance indeed. At Powburn there has been Helen and Douglas. We found we had a definite rapport. I took to them, and they took to me. Both couples let me take a photo of them, to remember them by. In both cases, we sincerely expressed a wish to encounter each other again in the future. Just as with Barbara and Dennis, whom I met at Cirencester last year - they were the ones who treated me to dinner at a country hotel, who really have kept in touch by email in the year since, who posted a heavy packet of Lake District tourist leaflets to me before I headed North this year, and whom I hope to see again at Cirencester, a favourite site for them and me both, in the autumn - these wishes are not empty. Helen and Douglas also proved it.
Just before they left for home in Edinburgh yesterday, Helen came to my caravan. She wanted to leave me Douglas's contact details for emailing and for my next visit to the general area. It was a card. She placed it face down on my kitchen worktop. 'Lucy, don't look at this before we go,' she said, 'And especially please don't be put off by one or two things mentioned on Douglas's card.' Of course, I couldn't prevent myself having an immediate glance. I took in 'OBE' after the name. Douglas was an OBE? Wow. Then, before it, 'Sherriff'. Sherriff? In Scotland, that meant an important man in the legal process, didn't it? I asked her. It meant 'Judge'. So I had spent three days in the company of a couple used to the legal high society of Edinburgh, whom I might well assume were persons of discernment, and able to assess good character. They had decided that despite my appearance, I was made of the right stuff. I wasn't overawed by the 'Judge' bit - I'd become accustomed to legal people and legal processes during my Revenue career, which hadn't been mentioned - but I felt their giving me their contact details, and trusting me with them, was one of the most accepting and flattering gestures made to me so far in my New Life.
But I don't just get along with fellow caravanners. I was shopping in the big Sainsbury's supermarket in Alnwick. In one of the aisles was a lady sitting in a buggy, doing her shopping. We began to talk, as you do. She was eighty, with weak legs, but very cheerful. Her name was Margaret. We chatted for nearly half an hour. I had a lot of her life history by the end. Just as my Mum would have in a similar situation. She'd been widowed for over twenty years. She showed me a photo of her husband and herself on a sunny holiday at Scarborough in the 1980s. He looked cheerful too, a man who took a lively interest in life. But he had died early of heart trouble. They'd lived in Yorkshire when he was alive, and holidayed in those traditional resorts that Yorkshire people rightly enjoy, such as Whitby and Scarborough and Bridlington. I'd been to them too, and agreed they were hard to beat. Being on her own, and being disabled, had not defeated her. She had her buggy. She loved it, like I loved Fiona. She regularly went on coach trips to places she fancied. The local coach company knew her, and made special arrangements to load and unload her buggy. She'd recently been back to Whitby, when some festival was on. Whitby is a hilly place, but that hadn't stopped her. She'd also been to Skipton, up in the Dales. To see family? No, just to see the town. Just for a day out. To prove perhaps that life could be full and rich and varied, and need not house-bound, not just because one had weak legs and was old. I admired her. She had snapped her fingers at the loss of her life partner and siblings, and bodily weakness, and did things. We had common ground: we agreed that living life on your own, whether enforced or by choice, could be turned to very positive ends. It just needed the right attitude, and a willingness to give other people some time and attention. I was sorry to say goodbye.
And then yesterday, when S---, a friend, drove down to meet up with me for lunch and an afternoon at Cragside (a lovely National Trust property at Rothbury), I found myself having a short personal conversation with the local girl behind the bar at the Tankerville Arms at Eglingham, while S--- was powdering her nose after a very good meal. It was so natural and easy. She had a most attractive north-eastern accent. And at Cragside we spoke at length to more than one Room Guide, S--- being just as happy as myself to set aside reserve and potential embarrassment, to forget the prison of one's appearance, and simply enjoy other people and what they had to say.
I suppose the general point I'm making is that in my situation - which may be your situation too - it's terribly easy to fear being out in public, to fear encounters, to worry over what people may think, and to limit contact and conversation to the bare essentials. Indeed, one might avoid speaking at all. But, if only one can equip oneself for prolonged discussion, and permit repeated or prolonged scrutiny, then the difficulties melt away. Most people respond to a genuine interest in them, or what they are doing. And if you are sincere and friendly, and make no pretence, almost nothing about you will stand in the way of a mutually pleasant meeting of minds.It's not about ego, or trophy-hunting, or subjecting oneself to deliberate social exposure, or to find out just how daring one can be, as a sort of masochistic test. It's about forgetting oneself, forgetting one's own social limitations, being unselfconscious, and reaching out to others. Yes, there's an afterglow of achievement, a real sense of payback and reward. But it's properly paid for, it isn't a free ride. And a large part of the feel-good sensation centres on being a straightforward human being, sharing the common lot, and just possibly, who knows, making a tiny difference to someone else's day. Is that a glib observation, a cheap boast? It isn't meant to be.