Well, I went into Axminster on Wednesday, three days ago, around 4.00pm, to see if I could encounter Lorraine again (the lady who helped me buy a black jacket in the Trinity House department store last September), but it was not to be. I suppose a chance meeting was incredibly unlikely. But I say: nothing ventured, nothing gained. We should have swapped phone numbers. Tsk.
I went back to the caravan to cook myself an early evening meal, then headed for nearby Lyme Regis for a stroll. I parked high up, walked down through the terraced gardens to the Cobb, did my French Lieutenant's Woman impersonation, then proceded towards the town centre with a glass of wine at the Royal Lion Hotel in mind. The tide was the highest I'd ever seen at Lyme Regis. I met a family group and we discussed this; and also the stormy seas during the winter. Lyme had taken a real battering from the sea. While it must have been thrilling to watch the waves break over the Cobb, the sea water, crashing down, had unseated cobbles and the mortar that held them in place, so that several badly-affected areas had been coned off, or even fenced off, pending proper repair. The Cobb is a massive structure, but nothing can resist the pounding of the sea!
By the time I left the harbour, it was beginning to get dark. There were still a few people about, but not many, and I very nearly had the walkways entirely to myself. In a big bad place like Brighton, I would have felt alone, exposed, and distinctly uneasy. But it's very hard to imagine being accosted, or pounced upon, or coming to any harm at all, in supersafe Lyme Regis!
Thursday - two days ago - was cloudy and wet, so I drove to Dorchester, to get some more odds and ends for the kitchen at home at the department store there, Goulds, and at Steamer Trading. Isn't that odd - I haven't bought any clothes at all, only things for the house! I must be ill or something.
I even managed to avoid buying clothes in Sidmouth yesterday - despite twice going into Fields, the rather top-drawer department store there. (It must be quite clear by now that I'm a big fan of the independent stores you find in smaller country and seaside towns!) Even in a very upmarket secondhand clothing shop I bought nothing. This shop had a strict policy of selling only prestige or designer labels. I overheard the shop owner speaking to a lady who had come in to enquire about selling some posh togs she no longer wore. Provided they really were good labels, she (the owner) would put them on the rail and, when they sold, the proceeds would be split 50:50. Apparently it paid to insist on handling only the very best stuff: she claimed a 90% success rate in selling it. It helped that the asking prices were pretty reasonable for the quality on display - although not of course charity-shop reasonable.
I'd also popped into Fat Face, as I generally do when in Sidmouth. They had a lovely long blue dress I yearned for, priced at £45, but not in my size 16. Someone else had grabbed it first! The girl working in there commiserated with me, and offered to order it in. I explained that I was on holiday and leaving for home next day. At this she gave me a look, saying that surely she'd seen me in there before. I exclaimed what a good memory she had! I was in her shop twice last year, and on the second occasion a friend of hers had also been there, and the three of us had talked about hair care for a while. She remembered it perfectly. She said she wasn't good at names - who is? - but she remembered faces, and had recognised mine. Just as Gemma had, at Wroes in Bude, some days earlier. To cap this, I next went into Sue's Pantry, a café I always make a point of visiting. Well, Libby wasn't there, but the pleasant Thai lady who runs the place immediately asked me where she had seen me before. We had quite a chat. She had it in her mind that I had a young son, and I said she was definitely mixing me up with someone else - but then, as I tucked into a nice crab sandwich washed down with a pot of tea, I recalled she'd said exactly the same thing on my previous visit last year, which at least proved that she had genuinely recognised my face, even if a mistaken association with a child had persisted in her memory.
Funny thing, this business of being recognised after a gap of six months, or even two years in Gemma's case. I pondered whether there was something remarkable about my face, something that stood out, but there was only my nose - and plenty of women have even bigger (or stranger) noses. Was it because women as a rule examine you with great care, and such scrutiny helps to fix you in their minds? The Thai lady did say that I had an unusually friendly face that made her want to talk to me. Maybe that had something to do with it. Certainly, you see an awful lot of dour, sour or belligerent faces around - and indeed blank, vacant and expressionless faces - and all of them are either instantly forgettable, or so offputting that you'd rather not bring them to mind again. I was glad to have a nice face that apparently drew people to me, and helped to keep me in their active memory.
I'm sure this isn't just about me. I suspect that anyone in my position has a Certain Something about them that makes people take notice, in a good sense. A certain air of independence, of self-confidence, of having shed a boatload of attitudes and inhibitions and 'rules' because - the New Life being what it is - such attitudes and inhibitions and rules just get in the way and hold you back.
I do admit to cultivating a captivating smile and a cheerful manner that encourages conversation, and possibly deeper engagement. Clearly it is working! But then, surely, if someone like me wants to win friends, and get people to assist them, and generally to overcome the potential (always there) for troublesome and awkward situations, it pays to make an effort, and be proactive. And I like to think that I am merely following obvious good practice where Getting The Best From Ordinary People is concerned.
Sidmouth really is a very nice town. It even has a Waitrose. I went in there for a few things. The last time I did, about a year ago I think, the man on the fish counter unconsciously misgendered me, which took the shine off my visit. He was there yesterday. I went over to him, to see if there was anything left that I could buy to pop in the freezer in the caravan. Some haddock perhaps. He served me with perfect friendliness, but it was 4.00pm and no haddock was left. Some sea bass, madam? No, I was cooking some sea bass that very evening. Have you any more of those fishcakes that you just sold to the lady before me? I'm afraid not, madam. She had the last. (Checks in fridge, to confirm it for me) Never mind then: thank you for looking. Thank you, madam. Ah, that's much better. The man has redeemed himself!