My holiday is now almost over: three more full days, then I'm back home. Three weeks of travelling around on my own, without a soul to talk to? Hardly! I'd say that no day has passed without chatting to somebody, whether it's people - generally couples - staying on the same site with me, the owners of the sites (whom I know well by now), people in shops and public buildings, people in pubs and places to eat, people I ask for directions, people I just happen to encounter in the street. Something starts us talking, and I find it's a rare person who doesn't appreciate a few words on some topic close to their heart. I do seem to have inherited some of my Mum's knack of engaging people in conversation. Looking back, I think that until she fell ill - when she then wanted peace and solitude - Mum had a positive hunger for discovering like-minded people and forming bonds with them. Bonds that seemed to endure. Without the inhibitions of a relationship to stop me, I think that I'm developing exactly the same hunger for human contact, exactly the same outgoing attitude, and indeed exactly the same self-confidence and self-assurance to reach out in that way. It's come to me a bit late in my life, but now I have it, it would be a dreadful thing to waste it.
There is of course a great danger that I could turn myself into a garrulous nuisance. But it's good to talk, somebody has to break the ice, and the effort is usually rewarding. I believe in making efforts like that, just as I often find that getting out on a rainy day is so much better than sitting at home, and (as if effort earns the approval of the gods that reward those who get off their backsides) getting out in the world vastly increases one's chances of happy encounters. I suppose this is the attitude of an inveterate optimist. I admit it. I'll give you two examples straight off, from this very holiday.
Last week, while in North Devon, I set forth in rain for Appledore, a pretty place that hosts its own annual Book Festival - with some big-name authors and media personalities this year such as Kate Adie, Michael Palin, Lynda La Plante, Jonathan Dimbleby, Peter Snow, Kate Humble, Ann Widdecombe, as well as the likes of Pam Ayres and a host of others. It's a bit bizarre that such people come to what was once just a little riverside port, famous only for building boats. But Appledore is now well-established on the book festival circuit, and each year, for a week and a half, packs in not only the presenters and authors, but thousands of ordinary people like me who can pick events to attend from a brochure at very reasonable cost. This year Michael Palin would cost you £10, for instance - although all tickets have long gone, three months back! In 2012 I paid £54 to attend five book festival events, including an all-day women's fiction-writing workshop. In 2013, I've had to miss the Book Festival entirely, but I'll make quite sure I'm there in 2014.
It's worth it just for the buzz. The place comes alive, thronged with people strolling from one event to another, from morning to evening, animatedly discussing what they have seen, or expect to see. And of course you keep on meeting the same faces. And with that comes opportunities to make friends. It's so exciting.
Obviously the Festival is underpinned by a small army of local volunteers who pin up posters, and 'this way' notices, and usher people, and take good care of the speakers. I met several of these volunteers time and time again, until we began to exchange those 'what, you again?' smiles. But I was nevertheless amazed that anyone could distinguish my face from the multitude of other faces whizzing hither and thither. I certainly never expected to be remembered in 2013, one year later.
But one lady called Andrea did. Admittedly I bumped into her more than most last year - she volunteered for everything, and outside the Festival period had a regular visitor-reception spot at the lifeboat station - but she must have had an amazing memory. This year Appledore parish church was celebrating its 500th anniversary, so I wandered in. A chat with the ladies on the door, a quick word with the chap testing the sound system for the imminent Festival, and there was Andrea. Recognition was instant and mutual. I said, 'It's Andrea M---, isn't it? How are you?' She was clearly astonished that I'd recalled her full name, but you could have knocked me down with a feather when she replied, 'And you're Lucy!' Well! How can this happen? We had a good chat and caught up on family news. Her daughter had just got married, and she showed me the pictures. Funny how people will share their lives with you. And this delightful reunion took place only because I had ignored the rain, and got out and about.
Readers of this blog may recall a post titled Libby in March last year, when I met (and enjoyed a couple of sunny hours with) a lovely lady over lunch in Sue's Pantry in Sidmouth, who just happened to be on holiday there, but whose home was up north. This year, on a dull and wet afternoon in Axminster, it was an equally pleasant local lady called Lorraine. Axminster is a small inland town not far ftom Lyme Regis, smaller than Honiton a few miles away. But it has a nice atmosphere. And it has a department store called Trinity House, which is much on the lines of Wroes in Bude, though without the glorious view of the Atlantic that Wroes has from its café. Well, Trinity House had its pre-winter stock on display, and there, in several sizes, was a stylish black jacket by Tigi that would be just right for smart wear in towns, either over a dress, or more casually with jeggings and boots. It was a versatile garment, suitable for most things except rough stuff like muddy country walks. Perfect for the autumn. I tried it on, but was not quite sure which size looked best. It cost £50. Not peanuts. Hmmm. I didn't want to make a mistake!
So walked away, and drove out into the misty Dorset countryside, ending up in Beaminster, where I'd bought a jacket last year (there are high-class boutiques in every country town). No luck there though. It was getting murkier, spitting with rain. I could have gone straight back to the cosy caravan, but instead decided to have a second look at that black jacket. It sort of called. So it was back onto the winding cross-country Dorset roads, and it wasn't until 4.00pm when I got back to Axminster. Shedding brolly and cardigan, I tried the jacket on again - but was still not sure. It was a sizing problem.
Then I noticed a tallish very slim woman hesitating over a dress nearby. I smiled at her and suggested she tried it on. She clearly lived locally, but was buttoned up against the rain, in between buses perhaps, and I quite understood that she wouldn't feel inclined to take everything off, just to try on a dress that she liked but wasn't going to buy that day anyway. It cost £50 also. However, she took a keen interest in my jacket, and willingly gave her opinion on its look and fit. Although I was on the plump side, and she was slender, we were much the same height. She was size 10/12. I thought a size 14/16 should be right for me, but she could see my back properly, which I couldn't, and thought that I needed more room under my arms. Surely not size 18/20 then? So big! Not at all, she assured me. Just numbers. It was the fit that mattered. So I put on the size 18/20.
She looked at me critically. 'That's right for you. It's a lovely jacket.' I knew instinctively that she had good judgement. I said to her, 'I trust you. I'm going to buy this.' We then congratulated each other on deciding on at least one successful purchase. It had truly been a joint effort. She held my eyes. 'My name's Lorraine,' she said. 'I'm Lucy,' I replied. We agreed to look out for each other at 4.00pm on Wednesdays in Trinity House. Then she left for her regular bus, and I went to the till. How I wish we could meet again, but it was my last afternoon at Lyme Regis until next Spring. When down again, I will however keep that 4.00pm appointment, just in case. If I make the effort, I feel sure that I will be rewarded. And I have reason to think that we will not forget each other during the winter months.
So this is one way in which I make friends. I also seem to have been a hit with a couple on site at Lyme Regis, Pat and Trevor, who live in Anglesey. Pat has given me their address. I will write to them once home. Maybe seeing them will be an objective on my Welsh Tour, when it finally takes place!
You'd expect me to be living a solitary existence, with only my own kind for company, now wouldn't you? But it isn't so. I have more chances to be with people, and talk meaningfully with them, and to get something good out of it, than I ever had in my old life. I'm not naturally given to analysing why things are as they are, but generally 'being Lucy' must lie behind most of what life now brings to me. And so I'd have to support any suggestion that doing what you really need to do, or being what you really need to be, is a key factor in finding fulfilment and possibly happiness, so long as you avoid selfishness.
That and taking a chance on the rain stopping, and the sun bursting through, if you venture out!