Brave New World

This charm­ing com­plete story by Maggy Whitehouse is set on the coast of Spain.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

An up­lift­ing story by Maggy Whitehouse

THE sim­ple, sin­gle-string pearl neck­lace in my hand per­fectly matches the al­mond blos­som petals that are fall­ing all around me. Old pearls can be all dif­fer­ent kinds of sub­tle shades, though not, of course, the range of syn­thetic colours you can get to­day.

My mother’s cul­tured pearls have a gold light in their white­ness, but this pretty lit­tle neck­lace is al­most sil­very, with a touch of soft rose.

It brings a breath of Eng­land, of history and of fam­ily as I sit in the gar­den of my lit­tle Span­ish ha­cienda, in the shade of the al­mond trees.

This is my grand­mother’s pearl neck­lace, bought for her 95 years ago at the end of the Great War.

It is another per­fect day here in the beau­ti­ful Alpu­jar­ras, cool, sunny and fresh with a turquoise blue sky over­head. Al­mond trees flower here in Fe­bru­ary, a won­der­ful por­tent for new life.

They say you can see the coast of Morocco on a clear day from this vil­lage, high in the hills, but I never have in the 12 years I’ve been look­ing.

Dur­ing the two months I’ve been here on this visit, I’ve screwed up my eyes and gazed ev­ery day as I walked back from the vil­lage, look­ing out over the pre­cip­i­tous hill­side to the seem­ingly end­less sea which merges into the sky on the hori­zon.

As I walked back down the hill to­day, I for­got to look. I was too in­trigued by a lit­tle pack­age from Eng­land and by the pearls that slid into my hand when I opened it.

Just see­ing them made me cry, but so many things do at the mo­ment. I am try­ing my best to make a mo­men­tous de­ci­sion.

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” they say.

My plans were all about liv­ing to a happy old age with Ge­off, but it’s seven months now since my hus­band passed away.

It’s a sim­ple choice that I have to make now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. I can ei­ther move here, to Spain, where Ge­off and I were so happy, or sell the ha­cienda and re­turn for good to the house in War­wick, which is full of sad mem­o­ries. I can’t af­ford to keep both homes.

Here I can en­joy the won­der­ful weather, im­prove my Span­ish and so­cialise with my friends in the vil­lage and among the dozens of ex-pats who live around us.

I can talk to fam­ily and friends at home

I had a big de­ci­sion to make – but some­times courage is found in un­likely places . . .

on Skype. There is no need to be lonely at all.

I al­ready knew a good amount of Span­ish from our trips here. I think that it’s only po­lite, if you have a home in another coun­try, to try to speak its lan­guage.

So I’ve buck­led down over the years and stud­ied, and now I’m pleased to say I can man­age most of the time.

Ev­ery­one in this lit­tle moun­tain vil­lage knows me, and they knew Ge­off, too. There are lo­cal peo­ple to chat to ev­ery day and they look out for me, which is very kind, know­ing that I might need some help here and there.

I could be very happy here. I would have enough to live on from selling the house back home, food is cheap, and with low-cost flights I can go back to Bri­tain when­ever I want to, as well as hav­ing fam­ily and friends de­scend­ing on me in droves for some sun­shine.

IT’S not my chil­dren who are stop­ping me. They are grown and in­de­pen­dent, and although I’m the fond grand­mother of two en­gag­ing lit­tle imps of three and eigh­teen months, I don’t need to be in the fam­ily’s pock­ets ev­ery week.

It’s Mum. At eighty-six, she doesn’t think she’ll be up to tak­ing flights to Malaga. She was shocked and up­set when I told her that I was even con­sid­er­ing leav­ing the UK, and that I was plan­ning to stay three months in the vil­lage to see if I could be happy in Spain.

“You’ll be lonely. You need to be with the fam­ily!” she cried.

When I in­sisted on try­ing out my plan, she acted with great dig­nity, which only made me feel more guilty.

Mum doesn’t want to use Skype or write e-mails, so dur­ing this trial we talk on the phone once a week and she writes me letters about sim­ple, English things. She’s do­ing re­ally well. Bet­ter than I am.

This morn­ing’s pack­age con­tain­ing the pearls came from Mum. There’s a let­ter in there, too, but for the mo­ment it’s enough just to run the pearls through my f in­gers.

I’m so lost in the gen­tle lus­tre of pearls and blos­som that I sink deep in a reverie, all the way back to my child­hood when Grandma al­ways wore this sim­ple lit­tle neck­lace.

Grandpa bought her the pearls to wear at their wed­ding and she loaned them to me for mine.

Grandpa was a cap­tain in the Suf­folk Yeo­manry. There are deep lines in his face on their wed­ding pho­to­graph. Like my dad, who was in Bomber Com­mand in World War II, Grandpa never talked about his war.

The pho­to­graph shows that Grandpa wasn’t a spring chicken, but nei­ther was my grandma. She was twenty-six when she met him, which in those days was se­ri­ously on the shelf.

As I weave the lovely pearls be­tween my f in­gers I re­mem­ber the day Grandma told me the story of how they met. It seemed a big ad­ven­ture to a lit­tle girl of seven . . .

****

Grandma’s name was Sarah Dawkins. She lived with her par­ents in the lovely Suf­folk vil­lage of Sax­mund­ham, and if it hadn’t been for a Zep­pelin crash­ing nearby in 1917, she might never have mar­ried at all.

But, as she told me her­self while I sat on her lap by the f ire in the old house, her bed­room faced north, and at about one o’clock on June 16 she was wo­ken by the sound of gunf ire.

Anx­iously she looked out of her win­dow and saw light in the sky. It looked like a blaz­ing f ire just a few miles away.

It was a bright light that sank down slowly over the hori­zon, then it van­ished, but she was eaten up by cu­rios­ity and found it hard to get back to sleep.

Grandma knew her par­ents would never al­low her to go out alone on such an ad­ven­ture; women didn’t do that kind of thing back then.

“But I re­ally wanted to know what had hap­pened,” she ex­plained to me. “So I made up my mind to get on my bi­cy­cle at f irst light and ride over be­fore any­one else was awake to stop me.”

I shook my seven-year-old head doubt­fully. It sounded rather scary to me.

At four a.m., Sarah Dawkins put on her mack­in­tosh over her night­gown, wrapped a scarf round her neck and tip­toed out of the house.

She got out her bi­cy­cle and cy­cled north in the di­rec­tion where she had seen the f ire. She fol­lowed the main road to­wards

her friend Letty’s home, a farm with sur­round­ing f ields four miles away.

In those days peo­ple were used to do­ing a lot of cy­cling, so Grandma thought noth­ing of the dis­tance.

When she got there, she didn’t know what she was see­ing.

“It was like a strange, burned skele­ton in a f ield,” she said. “Hor­ri­ble and rather fright­en­ing.”

The wreck was a Zep­pelin called the L48, which had been one of four air­ships sent to bomb Lon­don. It had suc­ceeded and was re­turn­ing home when it drifted north­wards be­cause of the wind.

It had been fly­ing too high for our air­craft to at­tack it, but it had to drop down to a lower al­ti­tude be­cause its com­pass had frozen and its crew didn’t know the di­rec­tion in which to steer it. Lower down, the Bri­tish air­craft were able to hit it.

With its tail ablaze, the Zep­pelin be­gan to fall to earth, the f ire light­ing up the sky as it spread through the whole struc­ture.

It fell so slowly that it landed softly at Holly Tree Farm, just four miles from Sax­mund­ham. Three of the Ger­man crew man­aged to jump out of the gon­dola as it hit the ground, but their fel­low crew mem­bers died in the f ire.

Later on, hun­dreds of peo­ple came out to see the wreck­age, but at f ive in the morn­ing the only peo­ple there were sol­diers, guard­ing the smoul­der­ing re­mains.

“I’d never seen any­thing so big. Or so strange,” Grandma told me. “I jumped off the bike and asked the f irst soldier I saw what it was and what had hap­pened.” The soldier was Cap­tain Cyril Len­nox. “We liked each other right away,” she said, smil­ing.

They ex­changed names and a lit­tle back­ground, but then Sarah had to go home so as not to be found out.

Later that day, the news of the crash was be­ing spread all round Sax­mund­ham and Sarah man­aged to per­suade her fa­ther to drive her over to Holly Tree Farm to see if their friends were all right.

Luck­ily, when they ar­rived, there was a very help­ful cap­tain with the Suf­folk Yeo­manry who came straight over to them, in­tro­duced him­self po­litely and asked how he could help.

When Great-grandpa had asked what he wanted to know and ex­plained that they must go to see if the peo­ple at the farm were safe, the oblig­ing cap­tain in­formed them that some of the de­bris was be­ing stored at the farm and it was con­se­quently out of bounds to the public.

“How­ever, I’m sure a visit from a friend would be most welcome af­ter such a shock, and it would be my plea­sure to es­cort you,” Cyril of­fered.

From then on, it was only a short step to Letty’s fam­ily invit­ing Cap­tain Len­nox to have a cup of tea with them all, and within half an hour Great-grandpa was quite aware that Cyril and his daugh­ter were taken with each other.

As any sen­si­ble man would do, he en­cour­aged the re­la­tion­ship, and there he is, stand­ing proudly next to his wife and daugh­ter in that lovely old wed­ding pic­ture.

The lit­tle pearl neck­lace is round Grandma’s neck in the sepia pho­to­graph.

IGIVE a sigh. It’s such an un­usual story. With­out that dis­as­ter and Grandma’s feisty at­ti­tude, she and Grandpa would never have met.

Grandma died two days af­ter my twenty-third birth­day and the lit­tle pink-hued pearl neck­lace went to Mum, to­gether with all the rest of her jew­ellery.

Mum had plenty of her own pearls by then, so she never wore them.

I loved them and would wear them when­ever Mum let me. I liked them be­cause they were real pearls when fake ones were all the rage, and be­cause they had that lovely pinky glow.

At last, I open Mum’s let­ter. It’s very short. Dar­ling Lucy, I found these at the bot­tom of my jew­ellery box and re­mem­bered how you al­ways loved them. I thought you should have them to re­mind you that you are de­scended from a very coura­geous woman who found a whole new life of hap­pi­ness be­cause she chose to be brave. You are just as brave, Lucy, and I am proud of you. Wear them to re­mind you how loved you are and I will see you soon. With much love, Mum. Yes, I am de­scended from a brave woman. From two brave women.

Not the kind of brav­ery that changes the world or stands up to tyrants, but a kind that de­serves to be ac­knowl­edged all the same: the courage to make the best of ev­ery day.

Through the gift of these pearls, Mum has given me her bless­ing to start a new life in Spain.

With hands shak­ing a lit­tle, I clasp the pearls and look out across the sea. On the far hori­zon is a tiny brown line that I have never seen be­fore.

I stand up and brush the petals off my lap, shad­ing my eyes with my hand to see bet­ter. Yes, there’s no doubt about it, that line is not the sea. It must be land.

A sigh rip­ples through me and I am sud­denly deeply con­tent. There is shop­ping to be done and house­work. The vil­lage f iesta is only three weeks away. I’m sure I could do some­thing to help.

I will go and ask Sanchia who runs the vil­lage bar tonight. And while I’m at it, I’ll stay for a drink and toast my new friend, Morocco, who came out of hid­ing to welcome me home.

The End.

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