Saturday morning between eleven and one.
Neighbours, friends, acquaintances,
people like us,
people one knows.
There is wine. 'French only, I’m afraid', says the host.
'Chardonnay or claret'.
I opt for Chardonnay and set my glass down on a handy table.
Soft drinks for those who don’t want alcohol.
Especially in the morning.
The hostess offers nibbles.
Mini sausage rolls, vol-au-vents, cheesy bits, tiny squares of ham sandwiches,
crusts carefully removed.
'How have you been', we ask.
‘Haven’t seen you for ages’.
‘You’re looking well.’ Obligatory.
'Did you have a nice Christmas?’
We talk about computers and IT,
to show that we are by no means past it.
We are all of retirement age,
although some still work at their chosen profession.
Mostly part-time. ‘To keep my hand in’.
'A little extra cash for holidays and treats'.
One says ‘You know how I love 18th century walnut furniture.
I have my eye on a long-case clock. Very expensive, as you’d expect.’
‘Yes,’ I say.
My knowledge of the value of long-case clocks of any century
Looking across the room you see someone you don’t recognise.
Could it be? It can’t be! Yes, it is. Michael.
Goodness, hasn’t he aged since last we met.
He felt my stare, we make eye contact.
He smiles. Ah, yes, a smile makes all the difference.
‘Are you planning a holiday’,
once a favourite opening gambit
as you make your way around the room, mingling.
A year or two ago the answer was ‘yes’;
details followed, a warm feeling of anticipation in the air.
There are fewer now who will undertake the rigours of travelling.
There is much rueful commiseration.
‘The furthest we get is the hour’s drive to the hospital for check-ups’.
‘What with appointments at surgeries, dentists, clinics there’s hardly time left
to get away for a few days.
One just about manages to see family’.
But we are computer-literate, we said so.
The world comes to us now, just a click away.
Legs aching, feeling faint from standing,
I make my way to Andrew, who’s been ill; he's sitting down.
Gratefully, I sink down next to him.
Andrew has no time for small talk.
‘How’s the writing going’, he asks.
I tell him I’ve given up.
He rouses himself, is concerned.
‘That’s bad’, he says, ‘you must continue’.
I make a plan to ask him to lunch.
Time’s up. The morning is over and we kiss our hosts good-bye.
On the way out I see Colin. A quick word, must have a quick word.
‘How are you,’ he says. ‘Are you well?’
I look back at the room.
‘Sometimes I could weep’, I say.