Small World and Other Stories

I don’t know about you, but Tom and I are not prone to spur-of-the-moment trips. I know, it’s very sad. But, perhaps we will get better at it once the children are well and truly grown, and the business doesn’t require constant attention, and our short-term memories start to go a bit so we can’t remember what else we should be doing instead.

But, even we go mad occasionally.

Take, for example, that time when we woke up one morning and decided to go to Cornwall. Just like that. Tom had worked there as a young journalist and wanted to show me the haunts of his youth. We had no one who needed us to be home, we had nothing else we had to do, and we were definitely in need of an adventure. So why not?

Before we could come up with a reason why not, Tom, Scrumpy the dog and I all piled into the car and off we went.

Now, travelling in a small car with an enormous dog of indeterminate breeding for a long distance might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but we had a great time. Especially Scrumpy, who spent the entire journey with her head hanging out one window and her tail poking out the other. Every now and then she would let out a yelp when she saw something of interest pass by, but mostly she spent her time just taking up space. A lot of space. And drooling down the side of the door, of course.

I had never been to Cornwall before and I soon understood why it’s so popular. Thanks to some geographical quirk, which may or may not involve the Gulf Stream, it is the warmest place in Britain, with palm trees growing in abundance,  breathtakingly rugged coastlines and wide, open vistas. Not to mention all those pubs with roaring fires and friendly locals.

Photo courtesy of John Marquis

In short, it was a great weekend and we were sorry when we had to start thinking about heading home. So sorry that we decided to postpone it a little and go for one last walk, to stretch Scrumpy’s legs a bit and perhaps tire her out for the journey.

We hadn’t gone more than 20 feet when she discovered a nice pile of fresh fox dung and, for whatever reason a large, black dog might think reasonable, immediately dove into it and started rolling around. We ran to grab her, but it was too late. Much too late. The smell of fox dung is something that has to be experienced to be believed. Think skunk, but without the pleasant overtones. Scrumpy apparently loved it and clearly saw no problem with spending the next several hours in a small car while smelling like an incontinent vixen.

She was alone in thinking this. Tom and I looked around wildly for a solution. Luckily, one was walking by at just that moment. The local vicar had seen what had happened and, once he finished laughing, invited us back to his house, offering tea for us and a nice bath for the dog.

We accepted before he had a chance to reconsider, or to consider what his wife was going to think about the plan, and before we knew it we were sitting in his pretty vicarage overlooking the English Channel, drinking tea, eating scones and talking about life.

We were surprised to realise that his wife was American and wondered how she had gotten from a small town in Texas to the middle of Cornwall. It turns out that she had met her husband when he was living in New York, in a seminary across the street from where my father had grown up. What an amazing coincidence, we decided, and what a small world it was, we all agreed.

They went on to tell us that they hadn’t lived in New York for long, because his first parish was in a little town on the eastern shore of Maryland, a place called St Michael’s. Now, that’s when things really got strange, because Tom’s grandparents had a farm in St Michael’s and he had spent much of his childhood there. In fact, he had been baptised at the local church. The church where our host was the priest. At the time that Tom was baptised. And was, as we eventually figured out, the person who had baptized him.

Imagine meeting the man who had baptised you, all those years ago and miles away. How amazing is that? I know everyone says it, but that’s probably because it’s true. It really is a small world, full of wonderful coincidences, and the remarkable thing is how often we find out about them. We certainly wouldn’t have found this one if it hadn’t been for that particular combination of Scrumpy, the fox dung and the spur-of-the-moment trip to Cornwall.

Not to mention a good-hearted vicar and his American wife.

Now, before you start wondering why a man who had baptised Tom in the first half of the last century was still wandering around the parish, issuing invitations to strange people and their smelly dog rather than being happily retired somewhere, I should confess that this happened almost 30 years ago.

Yes, I find it hard to believe too. But why, I hear you ask yourselves, am I telling you this story now? 

I suppose it’s because I have been thinking about it all day.

Well, not ALL day, but ever since that point in the day when we discovered that the drains were completely blocked and that to unblock them, the nice plumber who arrived so promptly would need to get to the manhole.

The manhole which, until we built the extension, used to be outside the back door but is now in the dining room, under the floorboards.

The floorboards that used to have a trap door in them so that plumbers and other interested parties could get to the manhole in case they ever needed to. A trap door that apparently vanished when we had the floor relaid last year but which no one noticed was missing, until today, when I flung back the rug that was supposed to be covering it and discovered….nothing. Well, nothing except dust and pine needles and the credit card I had reported missing. And a few other, less recognisable things.

But, definitely no manhole.

The very nice plumber informed me that he would be back as soon as we sawed a hole in the dinning room floor. The even nicer man who had laid the new floor said he couldn’t imagine how something like that had happened but not to worry because he had a saw. And Tom and I started dreaming about walking out the door, getting into the car and leaving it all behind us.

Perhaps that’s why I have been thinking about that long-ago day in Cornwall.

Or maybe it’s the smell.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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10 Responses to Small World and Other Stories

  1. Cousin Margie says:

    Great story, but never noticed that the smell of a skunk had overtones until you pointed it out. Hope your drain is working now…..thanks for a wonderful start to a new week.

  2. Mim says:

    Was about to say why didn’t you call in on your way but I’m rather glad it was 30 years ago because I couldn’t cope with a dog smelling of skunk/fox….neither could I cope with blocked drains. Do hope all will be righted soon!

    • Eileen Riley says:

      They are cutting a hole in my dining room floor as we speak, which is why I’m sitting at my computer in here. Seriously, does this happen to everyone or is it just us?

      • Adam says:

        Maybe not everyone, but certainly us too.
        Small world? Yes, as a chiropractor and transported boat thief confirmed to me once, but that’s a story for another time.

  3. I loive in the States but I was visiting a church in West London with my sister some years ago, and was surprised to find the vicar was American. We got chatting after the service and it turned out that he was usually the vicar in charge of the church in Mamaroneck, NY, next to my husband’s office. My husband used to rent the church car park during the week…I guess God really does move in mysterious ways…

    • Eileen Riley says:

      Either that or vicars are just more mobile than the rest of us. How many more of these connections do we not find out about? I’m from New York and live in London, you’re from London and live in (or at least near) New York…bet we know lots of people in common!

  4. Susan Okaty says:

    This is the first time I visited your blog, and I’m so glad I did. Your writing is marvelous, and I loved this story. I’ve never been to England but would love to go, and maybe we should consider a trip to Cornwallmas part of the itinery. I think spur of the moment trips are some of the best kinds. Once, when we were first married, I told my husband that I was longing for a lobster dinner. He said, “I know just the place.”. Three hours later we were on Cape Cod, enjoying a delicious lobster dinner.”

    • Eileen Riley says:

      Thanks very much Susan. Cape Cod sounds absolutely wonderful. Last spur-of-the-moment trip we made, I wound up cycling along a swollen canal, on a dangerously muddy path, in torrential rain, on a bicycle with thin, racing tires and no lights. Or brakes. We did, however, wind up in a nice tea shop afterwards, where we dripped all over their floor. Happy days.

  5. Brad says:

    Share your blog with Marty, he wanted me to pass along that you made his day.

    Careful, you might be a Tolstoy yet. =)

    Brad

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