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