There is a bench outside a supermarket. It nestles beneath a section of ancient stone wall, preserved when the shop was built where a chicken farm used to be. An old lady sits there, late seventies, maybe eighty. She is alone. Her grey hair is in a bun. She wears a crisp, light-coloured raincoat, reaching to her calves. At the side of the seat is her shopping trolley, covered by its tartan lid. As I pass I see that a cigarette gently burns in her right hand. She is motionless but seems utterly alive. Neatly tucked into the side of her shopping trolley is a Remembrance Day poppy.
I am glad that it is warm and sunny today, for there is absolutely nowhere indoors in that town that the law would let her sit and think, and look back, and have a quiet cigarette.
Up here, with the sea on three sides, the law’s writ begins to dissolve. Where the path winds down towards the beach, below drifts of half-wild hydrangeas in bloom, and amid spicy scents from great rosemary bushes, there is a traditional tea shop, with a waitress serving home-made scones. It isn’t the only place of refreshment on the path.
The old lady enters and orders a pot of tea – and finds that she is welcome here to light a cigarette to have with it. And, as she looks around, she is greeted by a crowd of friends and loved ones long unseen.
Close to the sea.