A heavenly experience!
The grumpy middle-aged man settled into his seat at the back of the bus. It was the best place for him, pressed against coolers, his camera case and a temperamental box of chocolate cookies that kept slipping to the floor
Why was he so grumpy? Well, he thought he had better things to do on Saturday than look at old churches and cemeteries as part of St. Mary Abbots’ 100th birthday celebrations. And so he resigned himself … grumpily … to his fate and began to realize there was nowhere on Earth he would rather be.
He – actually, I should come clean now and say I – found myself surrounded by wonderful people who quickly illuminated the journey with their humour.
At first, being terribly English, awkward and prone to nervous gaffes, I remained on the fringes, preferring to tune into other people’s conversations for my listening pleasure. I had a blast.
First I heard about the childhood trauma of those whose faces were cleaned by their mothers’ spit. Of course, the ritual is even more agonizing when performed in public, especially before school friends.
“Our mum was the queen of spit baths,” one woman said.
Later I heard another mum story, this one about an 86-year-old who became a text wizard after breaking a bone in a fall at home.
“She crawled to a phone, but didn’t call an ambulance. Instead she rang a relative and said ‘could you bring my washing in from the outside, I’ve just had a fall.’ When she returned from hospital, we attached a cell phone to her and since then she won’t stop texting.”
Ah yes, memories and anecdotes. That’s what this trip was about. Or so I thought until we passed a liquor store.
“I could kill for a six-pack at the end,” a man yelled.
“At the end?” another man replied. “Why not at the beginning, and then in the middle?”
It was typical of the banter, not always appropriate for pews on a Sunday, but good and wholesome today. At Willow Wilde cemetery, there was more.
A cryptic “enter at your own risk!” sign greeted us.
As I searched for hidden dangers, a woman called out: “Enter at your own risk … look what happened to those inside.”
Her husband shushed her, but she repeated the joke and I laughed. This was Pythonesque humour, a little bit off, but not really so.
There was only one drawback to the ride. What with the wind, chatter and laughter, I struggled to hear tour guide Doug Gibb’s microphone commentary.
Was I the only one scouring the fields near Belvedere for a fairy? It turned out Doug was talking about an old ferry.
As my Englishness deserted me, I became more involved in the conversations. I was introduced to my nearest neighbours.
Aunty Mary, who is nudging 80 but looks 60, was full of tales. She told me about grandpa Alexander, who sailed to Canada from Scotland with someone called Aikenhead and another chap. One day in the wilderness they thought they saw a partridge and fired.
“The partridge turned out to be a hornets’ nest,” she laughed. Naturally, those hornets were unimpressed.
As she reminisced, someone interrupted her.
“Look, over there. That’s where the crime was first committed.”
She pointed at a church, so she must have meant her wedding. We all guffawed for the umpteenth time.
Talking of weddings, Ruth and I had by now struck up a healthy rapport.
“I’m going to adopt you,” she said.
“Don’t let her,” her companion cried. “She will only make you fat.”
Yes, it was that kind of day. A day of fun, laughter and silliness mixed in with serious stuff. I don’t remember an outing so enjoyable.
So thank you, Rita and Jim. And thanks Aunty Mary for the great entertainment.
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