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.