Thursday, 13 October 2011

Well Dippers

If you squint at the map, so you can still read the place names, but can't quite make out the distances between them, then Tunbridge Wells is our nearest town. At least that's what we tell ourselves. But whenever we visit, it feels more like slipping into someone else's world.



At one time it was a fashionable spa, a place to see and be seen. As we stroll through the Pantiles, I become a Jane Austen heroine, lifting the hem of my ribbon-trimmed dress to step out daintily over the muddy pavement. As I twirl my parasol, I peek out from under my bonnet,and smile innocently at the dashing, handsome, soldiers passing by.

We dip in and out of shops - boutiques and emporiums for people who live a different life. We covet furniture made for high-ceilinged living rooms in three-storey houses, and sneer at clothes for slim blonde ladies who work in publishing and have more than one winter coat.

When Philip suggests a visit to the second-hand bookshop, I encourage him to go on ahead; I know he'll be gone a while. Last time I trailed silently after him as he tiptoed round books stacked in piles on the floor and browsed through worn-looking volumes on faded wooden shelves. When we finally emerged, I had the taste of books and dust, of other people's lives in my mouth. This time I opt for coffee instead.

The unexpectedly warm weather has sent people scurrying for their summer clothes again. As I sit outside the coffee shop I see a stream of bare legs pass by. Pale-skinned, fake-tanned, bulging calf muscles, thick ankles, all accompanied by the slap-slap of flip-flops on the brick-laid path. There are no cars in this pedestrianised end of town, so people meander by, crossing from one side to the other to peer at the window displays that capture their attention.

A woman sits at the table next to me; she's probably in her early seventies, immaculately made up. She sips at her coffee without leaving the slightest trace of lipstick on her cup - I envy her that skill. She draws deeply on a cigarette, relishing every inch of its journey into her lungs. When I ask her to pass me the sugar bowl, she does so willingly, but seems compelled to apologise. I don't mind other people smoking, I never have, but she hurriedly finishes the cigarette and stubs it out. She leaves almost straight away and I'm left feeling bad for her ruined pleasure.

A man pauses to rest, taking a chair just in front of me. His brightly checked shorts and blue baseball cap are a striking contrast to his middle-aged belly and stubbly chin. I listen to him as he keeps up a constant flow of chatter - with himself and to himself. He recites all the train stations between here and the sea, the route clearly etched into his memory, but several times I see him shake his head and say "I don't know" in answer to a question only he can hear.

Like me he watches the passers-by, commenting on everything he sees. For me, it's written down in my notebook, for him it's spoken aloud.  In many ways we're just the same - remarking on what we see, to audiences real or imagined. We speak to everyone and no-one; each of us dipping into the Wells, sharing what we find.

34 comments:

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Hmmm....could be he has a hole in his bucket.

Billy Higdon said...

I love your last paragraph... and the 7 others that precede it, but especially that well line.

Nari said...

Beautiful and you behaved just as I would expect a Jane Austen heroine to behave.

Susan Cooper said...

Well written. I could feel the air and hear the noise and chatter of the passers by in my mind. It makes me want to go out and set at a coffee shop for inspiration.

:-), Susan Cooper

Baglady said...

Beautiful. I especially love the last two paragraphs, of you and the muttering man.

I completely understand letting P go into the bookshop on his own. Been there...

Erin Joy said...

The vividness of your writing is delightful. What a charming piece!

Sydneylk said...

Great piece!
I wish the weather was warm enough to sit outside at the cafes here, I've been stuck inside. I have to take the window seat, that's as close as I can get. =(
The wording was perfect in this, everything crystal clear and yet so simple. As you envy the woman's lipstick saving abilities I envy your abilities with words.

Beatriz Pedrosa said...

Your last paragraph is just lovely. I bet thousands of others could relate to what you said, but just didn't know how to say it.

Shea Goff said...

lovely.

Andreah Barker said...

Beautiful!

Sandra said...

Oh, but you are speaking to me! I love the way you convey 'people-watching,' and how you write from that experience! And you just say everything so darn perfectly. I read your writing, and I read it again, chewing slowly all the words and tasting how they complement each other so nicely. =)

Suman said...

Lovely piece of writing. The Jane Austen bit was wonderful, almost brought back an Emma to my mind!

Zahir Shah said...

Amazing piece. Your style of writing.. I just love it. I wish I could also write the way you do. :)

light208 said...

Lovely writing. What a great place for me to start my Friday from.

Bobby Stevenson said...

Sharon, this was the last thing I read last night and what a pleasure it was. You always do it, put me in your pocket and take me on an adventure. I know this sounds trite but if I were bed bound I'd want your descriptions to colour my life - you have the gift to put me in the place in an instant. Funnily enough I may be that muttering man (it has been said before). I've bought my ticket for your next journey :-)

Hat Karaoke said...

Great post, thanks for sharing, it is very good for my essay. David Mark

The Beach Hut Cook said...

A wonderful captured moment. Thank you.

Pat said...

You've got me all nostalgic. My shop was close to here overlooking the common. I used to watch the rats to-ing and fro-ing on their courses. Put me right off picnic on the common.
I hope it hasn't gone all up-market and smart. There was a lovely dingy decadence about it back in the sixties and seventies.

Pat said...

P.S. It's reassuring you note an eccentric gentleman which T.Wells has always been famous for.

ND Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ND Mitchell said...

This was like stepping back in time. I really liked the way you described the man and your empathy comes through very clearly at the end. Thanks for writing.

Raymond Alexander Kukkee said...

Sharon, your writing style is amazing. I enjoy your posts. Very well done, highly readable, funny and entertaining. The BEST. ~Raymond

Nessa Roo said...

Sounds like you had an interesting visit. You know, I never mind other people smoking, either, and it always surprises me when they become apologetic about it.
A very vivid and enjoyable post.

Debbie said...

People watching. I love that too.

Dicky said...

Lovely piece of writing from you as always. I find myself jotting things down in my notebook when I'm out. It becomes a habit.

Ferdinand said...

Wow...this story is very nice. I just started blogging and your blog inspired me to further enhance the way I should blog. Thanks.

Spencer Park said...

A great piece of writing - even if your Emma style was just a little too like Jane Austen for my tastes (it brought back long forgotten struggles with Emma whilst studying English Literature - I hate that book with a passion!)

Samantha said...

Enjoyed every word..you paint such a clear shot.

Sharon Longworth said...

mybabyjohn/Delores - don't we all have some cracks or holes somewhere?

Billy - thank you. I'm so pleased you liked this - and rather ridiculously flattered that you went back and counted how many paragraphs there actually were!

Nari - too kind - but I shall sleep happy tonight thinking that, at least for one day, I could have been an Austen heroine!

Susan - thank you. Coffee shops are great for people watching aren't they? Come to that, anywhere is good for people watching - one of these days someone is sure to get quite annoyed at my staring and scribbling!

Baglady - thank you. And I knew you'd understand about the bookshop ;)

Sharon Longworth said...

Erin - I'm delighted by your comment! thank you.

Sydneylk - thank you so much.

Beatriz - thank you. I don't think there can be a better thing to achieve than being able to write something that others can relate to.

Thanks Shea!

Andreah - and thank you too!

Sharon Longworth said...

Sandra - you flatter me, but I'm so glad you found something to chew on!

Suman - thank you. And now I have an urge to go and re-read Emma!

Zahir - I'm so pleased you liked this - thank you for being so kind in your comments.

light208 - hello! That's a lovely thing to say and I'm very flattered to think I might have helped you have a good start to the day.

Sharon Longworth said...

Bobby - I've come to look out for your comments - they're always so supportive and positive, and they always make me feel like it's worth carrying on with this writing malarkey. I'm honoured and flattered by the things you say - and I really hope that we can travel in each other's pockets for quite some time.

Sharon Longworth said...

Hat karaoke - glad to have been of service!

The Beach Hut Cook - thank you. But more importantly - how do you get to be a beach-hut cook? sounds like an ideal job to me - well it would be without the having to cook thing...

Pat - gosh, I'de missed somewhere along the way that you had roots back in Tunbridge. I've never seen any rats there (well not the animal version anyway) but it's certainly still full of eccentric gentlemen.

ND Mitchell -thank you, and I'm so glad it struck a chord with you.

Raymond - that's a smashing thing to say - thank you.

Sharon Longworth said...

Nessa Roo - it's odd isn't it - the smoking thing? I think, for me, it's probably got nice associations with my Dad smoking when I was a kid.

Debbie - there aren't many better ways to pass the time. Enjoy!

Dicky - I sometimes go back to a notebook and have absolutely no recollection of writing what I find there. I'm always glad if I manage to capture it immediately, as I know I'd forget too much otherwise.

Ferdinand - good luck with your new blog - I hope it brings you as much pleasure as this one has brought me.

Spencer Park - Oh dear, I'm sorry if I prompted such unpleasant memories. On the other hand - thank you for mentioning Emma again - I really am going to have to re-read it now...

Samantha - thank you!