Another incident that makes me wonder just what image I present to other people!
I'm making my way home now, staying for three nights on the Crossways Caravan Club site, in deep countryside east of Dorchester. You can tell it's deep. There's a mobile phone signal, usually, but Mobile Internet and Digital Radio seem to come and go with the breeze, and are marginal at best. Not good for a girl who wants to blog, or wants intelligent radio programmes in the evening while she processes the day's crop of photos!
The site, by the way, must be quite beautiful in the summer - if the sun is shining. It's essentially a large wood with well-mown glades in it (where you can pitch) connected by a circular driveway. There are deer in the wood, and they wander about freely. I'm in a more open part called The Heath, and I look out onto a mixture of silver birch trees and pines. But, apart from the lousy Mobile Internet and Digital Radio signal, there are three other problems. One: the site is close to the railway line from London Waterloo to Weymouth, which has a remarkably frequent service. Two: although I can't see it, there's an active gravel pit not far off, and the lorries can be heard all day. Three: the heathland hereabouts must contain a lot of clay, because when it rains puddles quickly form. And it's been raining on and off since my arrival two days ago. I think it'll be sunnier today - a trip into Swanage, perhaps, and then a look at Lulworth Cove - but I don't expect the greensward I'm on to dry out much.
But back to my theme. I went into Dorchester yesterday. My first stop was Goulds department store, for a spot of lunch, and to see whether they had a decent oven pan. I wanted a deep one, heavy-duty, for use at home and in the caravan, the old pan now looking tatty. I found what I wanted: a Stellar 'James Martin' pan, just right, and non-stick too. For only £12. What a good price for something of such quality. You can pay much more than that. Like £30 upwards. At the till, the lady popped it into a big plastic bag. But she didn't charge me for the bag. As you know, from 5th October (the previous day) it had become the law that 5p must be charged on all bags, subject to a variety of exceptions. No-one was yet used to those exceptions. However for some reason - it wasn't because I knew all about them - I wasn't expecting to be charged 5p for the bag, and she didn't. But later on, at Waterstones, where I bought an Ordnance Survey map, it was clearly going to be extra to my bill. I was all set to decline any bag. I didn't need to. The very pleasant girl on the till simply didn't offer one. That suited me - the map was small enough to tuck into my red handbag. I suppose that many goods will now be purchased unwrapped. It will become the norm.
5p is a paltry amount, but many, many people will want to avoid paying this charge. Will we become a nation of habitual shopping-bag toters, meaning proper stout canvas or oilcloth bags? Men and women both? Or will it become usual to take away goods without any kind of bag at all, relying entirely on the receipt for proof of purchase? How does this work with Contactless Payment, where you don't necessarily get a receipt? I heard that this could quickly become a nightmare for shop security staff. Will shoplifting incidents rise by 70%? On the other hand, 70% fewer plastic bags littering the land will be most welcome.
Eventually I found myself at Waitrose, with a fair number of items in my trolley. And I'd left all my shopping bags in Fiona, three hundred rainy yards away. Tsk. I'd have to pay extra for some plastic bags. That wouldn't break the bank, but the green principle had taken hold. (The bags would be used as bin bags in the caravan, and so in that sense recycled, but it would be better not to buy them at all) Then I saw a larger 'Waitrose' shopping bag on sale at 80p, made of lightweight oilcloth. Now that was worth getting. It would be a handy permanent standby in Fiona, large enough for all kinds of uses. So I picked one up.
At this point, the man in front of me at the checkout turned around and spoke to me. He said he was going to carry the few things he was buying away in his arms - no way was he paying 5p for a plastic bag! He thought however that the attractive oilcloth bag I had picked up was a nice solution to my own bagless predicament. But 80p! Definitely a posh price. In fact - he said loudly - he was one of those large hearty older men, full of wisdom, who air their views in a voice that all will hear - I could have that bag with me when I went to church.
It was a nice bag, in tasteful shades of green, but to say it was suitable for a church service was praising it way too much. And yet he wasn't joking, nor pulling my leg, not that I could see. He meant it. And he had assumed that I was a staunch churchgoer.
It was that part, my supposed churchgoing habit, that amazed me. It's true that I visit lots of country churches - but that's to see some history, or some architecture, or for genealogical reasons, but in any case to take photographs. Not to worship. My friends include two or three people who are committed Anglicans, but I have no faith myself, and I keep a respectful distance from all religion. I see religious belief as meeting a profound human psychological need; as a mode of thinking that - for as long as human beings have existed - has comforted, consoled and sustained, and given countless lives a direction and a purpose; and as a powerful personal reason to aspire to higher and worthier things. It has also been misused and has caused extreme harm. And no religion has ever prevented some very bad things from happening, such as natural disasters. Still, it has often inspired moral and spiritual growth in those who follow it, and religious charity has been the saving of many a life.
But it's not for me. Attending a church service is something I always avoid. I have in fact never voluntarily attended an ordinary church service. I would feel a total hypocrite if I did. And I had thought that this insistence on going my own way, of living by my own rules, was pretty obvious just by looking at me. But apparently not so!
Once again I am faced with public perception that runs counter to my own. Not negative public perception. Quite the reverse. I seem to be taken for a pillar of society. Old-fashioned, possibly out of touch, possibly full of Old School prejudice - but a senior person to be taken seriously.
This is much better than being, say, a figure of ridicule. But I want to be thought a free spirit. A caravanner. A shoot-from-the-hip photographer. Someone who cuts it over a nice meal, who likes their glass of wine, who breaks rules. A lady with an edge. A cool cat who pads softly down her own path. And not in any way Conventional and Establishment. That's so sad a judgement. And yet it must be what people see. Thank goodness that man in Waitrose hadn't spotted me with Fiona! Volvos are such safe and unexciting cars, aren't they? I'm sure that the most responsible churchgoers drive nothing else.
But I soon fell back into my complacent life of sin. By the way, I used that new pan the very same night. I'd defrosted a whole turbot, gutted for me at Morrisons in Bideford a few days back, and having melted a knob of butter, and seasoned the fish, I gave it half an hour in the oven at gas mark 6. It emerged succulent and in every way delicious. It had new potatoes and tenderstem broccoli for company on the plate. Yum.