Yesterday the weather-man said that we’d have a frosty misty morning – and we did. He also said that the mist would clear and that we’d have some bright sunshine later in the day – and we did.
Jojo and I were out walking in that bright sunshine. We’d been here and there (dreaming of a better life and what it might look like) and now we were walking along the avenue of beautiful lime trees on the southern edge of the park. We’d passed three tubby ladies and their dog. The dog was an average kind of dog – the kind you’d find anywhere. He was called ‘Horace’. Then we’d seen Horace completely lose his rag and bark furiously at a squirrel high up in one of the lime trees. The squirrel had the brass neck (from Horace’s point of view) to chatter back at him. Then the squirrel dropped some husks of nuts down onto Horace and Horace went completely berserk. The tubby ladies shouted out: ‘For goodness sake, stop that Horace – it gets you nowhere.’ They had to backtrack and drag Horace off home.
We moved on and then, up ahead of us, we saw an old lady. She was as light and slender as a pixie and she had real style. Maybe it was all about her shoes: they were red and had creamy white souls. Or maybe it was her cream-coloured leather gloves, gloves that matched the souls of her shoes. Or maybe it was her hair – an angel’s kiss in the bright sunlight.
When she saw Jojo she stopped and cried out in delight. They knew each other.
And so began a conversation. It wasn’t the usual kind of conversation: it all took place in French. For this was ‘Madame Ladbury.’ And Madame Ladbury – an old English woman – was a real bijou of a person. She might not have spoken French for ages but she was determined to find her words and assemble her sentences. Madame Ladbury first told us where she was now living. Then she talked about the precarious state of her offspring; she told us how she was soon to be a great grandmother. She reflected on her most recent visit to Paris – and as she searched for her words she would hold her head in a gorgeous gesture of cultured despair. And when Jojo asked her about how one of her daughters was faring – she looked imploringly to the heavens – and said (in French) ‘Oh, it’s dreadful.’* We didn’t get any more details. But we didn’t need them because whatever Madame Ladbury said was like a sparkle of diamonds on black velvet.
When it was time to go, Madame Ladbury held my hand. I could feel the softness of her leather gloves and the strangely seductive press of her tiny fingers through the leather. She held my hand for ages. I didn’t want her to let go. But she did.
Later, Jojo told me about Madame Ladbury. ‘She was in my French class a few years ago. She’s a real character.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘She’s perfect.’
And as we walked I home thought about that special charm of the old-style gracefully eccentric English.
* Note: She said: ‘C’est epouvantable.’