On the way to my session with Christella Antoni the other day, I passed a restaurant I used to go to with my Guernsey friend R---, and some others. That was in 2009, 2010 and 2011 - so it had been over two years since my last visit. More cash-strapped times had come; and if R--- and I now decided to eat out, we tended to choose somewhere in the countryside, or in Lewes or Haywards Heath perhaps, and not in Brighton. But it had more than once occurred to me that, given a reason to celebrate something, it might be nice to patronise D'Arcy's Restaurant again, and say hello to Paulina. Here she is, in a shot I took of her in January 2010:
She was chatty and very pleasant, looked after us, and we always had a nice time. I liked her. I took a visiting friend to the restaurant late in 2011, and we both had another good meal. Possibly to my friend's great astonishment, Paulina and I held an animated catch-up conversation. But that was the last time I saw her.
Until last Sunday, a bit before six o'clock. As I walked by, I glanced into the restaurant (as I do every time I pass that way), but as before I couldn't see her. There was however a blonde girl adjusting the seating outside. Oh, somebody new, I thought. She happened to turn, saw me, and then greeted me with a big smile. 'Hello! How are you?' I immediately realised who it was. But she had changed! Her hair was different - worn long, down to her shoulders, with a fringe. And she was clearly very pregnant. She asked me to come inside and speak. We did for a couple of minutes, but then I explained that I had an appointment just a few minutes ahead, and couldn't linger. Come here afterwards, she said. I promised to. And I did. And, over a free coffee, we swapped news for nearly an hour.
Obviously I can't mention anything here about her personal or business life, except to say that she was by now five months into her pregnancy, and that we were able to discuss the progress of it, and the scans, just like any two friends might. She brought me up to date on her private life, and I did the same. I showed her the best shot of myself holding Matilda. She asked after R---, and I said she was well, and promised to mention Pauline to her when we were next in touch.
It was a warm and close experience, and I was reluctant to depart. I considered staying for a meal, but I couldn't afford a Dover sole that evening.
I said I would pop in next month, to find out how she was getting on. The baby is due around the end of May, and she wants a water birth at Brighton Hospital. If I am not already away on my Welsh Tour, I could go and visit her, and see the new baby - I'm a dab hand at visiting people in hospitals now, after all. Meanwhile, I told her that she looked wonderfully young and healthy. We implored each other to take care.
Take care. Yes, it was not an empty caution. She was a mother-to-be, a fundamentally important person. She must certainly take care. I had nothing to compare with that role, no obvious responsibilities of any kind. Still, my much smaller life might mean something to others. It was worth care and attention too.