Thursday, 19 October 2017

No hiding place

That last post of mine got me thinking.

Acting on impulse, I had risked an embarrassing encounter. For I couldn't have predicted the outcome.

What had made me do it? Overflowing friendliness? Or over-confidence? Even vanity? You know: a wish to be told 'My goodness, Lucy, you are looking good! How lovely to see how you have blossomed!' Had some rather different comments been held back, curbed by British restraint in a public place?

It was good not to be afraid of the past, and confident about stepping across the gulf of time. I hadn't tried to avoid recognition and walk away. I had taken the bull by the horns. But I should have given more thought to the consequences before relinquishing my anonymity.

There had been a similar episode back in July, while I was caravanning in Lincolnshire on my way back from Scotland.

This time it wasn't former work colleagues, but a couple I used to know until my split with M---. The female half of this couple, F---, had in fact been at school with M--- from the mid-1950s, and I knew her (and of course her husband C---) through being friends with M---. I last saw them both in 2006. I liked them. They had seemed to like me. But after M--- and I went our separate ways, I had assumed I would never encounter them again. Just as with M---'s family, all of whom I'd liked, but could never now be in touch with. The reasons, of course, had to do with honesty and loyalty. Even if these persons had held me in high esteem, they could not have an ongoing relationship with me unless they pursued it behind M---'s back, and kept it secret from her, because if she'd known she would have been terribly upset. That could not be. And in any case, it set up a 'divided loyalty' situation, which most people can't handle. I was very sorry to let them all go, but it had to be so.     

In July however, having not even been near the Lincolnshire Wolds for years and years, I had decided to stop a week there, pitching my caravan at Market Rasen Racecourse. Louth (where F--- and C--- had been living in 2006) was the tourist town off to the east, between where I was pitched and the coast. Louth was a sizeable town, bigger and more important than Market Rasen. It was an elegant town too, eminently worth a few photos. The lively Louth Festival was on. And the most convenient local evening Slimming World meeting had to be there. So I had proper reasons for going to the place.

But what about F--- and C---? I thought about it. It seemed unlikely that I would run any great risk of meeting them. They probably still lived where they had been in 2006, but could easily be on holiday. In any case, would they recognise me, if by chance we bumped into each other?

The Festival meant that much of the town centre was sealed off from ordinary traffic and parking there wasn't possible. So I considered where else to park. The street parking on Slimming World night had been a bit too far from the town centre. But I remembered where F--- and C--- had lived. Now that would be convenient. There were always places to park beyond their house, a hundred yards down the road, well out of sight of their house. And if I were careful and discreet, I could park there and they'd never know. They had never seen Fiona. I could come and go incognito.

Coming in from Market Rasen, I turned into their road, intending to drive past their house and on to where I knew I could park. Then I noticed two things. One: a 'Sold' sign outside their house. And two: they were both working in the front garden.

What to do? If I hadn't seen them there, I would have driven on. But I had seen them. They had been served up by Fate.

I felt I couldn't dodge this. It now seemed terribly rude to drive past without saying hello, however briefly. If I met them later on, in town, and had to admit that I was parked close by, had seen them in their front garden, and yet hadn't felt equal to a courtesy call, I'd have felt ashamed. But what might my reception be? And what about the consequences, for F--- at least?

Well, I've changed. I don't slide away from situations like I used to. I felt as if Somebody Else had set this up, and I was bound to go on with the play, and see what happened. So I parked outside their house, and got out. They were still engaged in their gardening. I opened the front gate, and came up the path. They stopped then, and looked at me with polite enquiry on their faces. I came right up to them.

'Hello! I'm on holiday. I saw when driving past that your house had just been sold. You'll be moving soon. And here you are in the garden. I feel good manners demand that I stop and see you before you go.'

They looked at me, very puzzled. 'That's nice of you - but who are you?' Neither showed the slightest sign of recognition.

'You don't know me? But I know you. It's F--- and C---, isn't it?' They now looked amazed. I persevered.

'I used to know you from some years back. I met you several times. You came down to Sussex once or twice. We last met in 2006, I think. Always with M---.' F--- now looked closer. 'Yes, your face does seem a little familiar...' I gave her a nudge. I gave her my name.

'Ah!'

Oh dear. What now?

'How lovely to see you!'

Phew.

They really were pleased to see me again, after eleven long years. Here they are. They willingly posed for a souvenir photo:


F--- had singing practice to attend within half an hour (in connection with the Louth Festival), so we couldn't chat for long, but they took me indoors - interesting to see how their home had developed - gave me a coffee, and C--- sat with me on their rear patio for over an hour. We talked easily. He seemed quite unconcerned about the potential awkwardness of the situation.

But it really was rather awkward. Before she departed, F--- said to me that she was still in touch with M---, and would have to tell her that I had called by. I perfectly understood. I hoped she wouldn't, because it would only unsettle M---. But the standard of honesty instilled into the Class of 55 at Reigate High had clearly been absolute, and if in consequence F--- felt compelled to report my unexpected visit, then of course she must.

I decided to remove problems for the future. I said that it had been delightful to see them both again, but it might turn out to be our one and only meeting. I couldn't put her into a false position with M---. So, despite the goodwill on both sides, it was probably best not to be in touch again. I didn't know whether this ruled out Christmas cards, or at least Christmas emails (we had at least exchanged email addresses), but probably it did.

They were moving to a courtyard property in the town centre, with no garden to look after, which would free up time for their many leisure activities, and be future-proof into advanced old age. I wished them well, and much happiness.

Well, that was that. A somewhat bitter-sweet reunion, because it could have no future. I didn't like M--- robbing me of friendships in this way. But it had to be accepted.

Still, there was clearly such a thing as the Hand of Fate. Things like this would happen again and again. From time to time Fate would thrust somebody from my past before me, and I'd have to choose between running away and saying who I was. With unknown consequences.

What was the best strategy? Was it sensible to make a self-disclosure when I need not? This time I'd had a friendly reception. Perhaps I would have a friendly reception next time, and the time after that. But one day I wouldn't. One day I'd get a sneering look of disgust, and possibly anger. So really I ought to think a bit before plunging in and revealing who I was. Sometimes it might be best to let the past be dead and gone. But I didn't really believe it. I felt that the effort to build bridges ought to be made. It might well pay off. It would at least enable a conversation long postponed to take place, or a necessary post-mortem to be conducted, or the clearing-away of past misunderstandings. And those things freed you up to move forwards without legacy issues. Even if a future friendship was, for one reason or another, out of the question.

There was no hiding from Fate - or call it the chance re-crossing of life threads. You can try to hide, but there is no hiding place. Sometime, somewhere, the past will intrude to disrupt the plan. It can't be escaped. The intrusion must instead be regarded as an opportunity to correct, repair and enlighten.

And perhaps to vindicate. After all, I am living, walking, talking evidence that I thrived and did not fall. What is can't be denied. The doubters and doom-mongers were wrong. I didn't suffer a psychological implosion. I was right about myself, and right to have faith in my own notions, and I've never been troubled with any kind of regret.

And I've carried on making the decisions that have suited me best, in defiance of some pretty sour predictions - with good health, material comfort, and an interesting life as the welcome harvest. Those things prove something.

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