Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The American on the Truro train

On a Truro to London train, I met a retired trial lawyer from San Francisco. He lived there from 1963, a time and a place ‘where it was good to be a single.’ But in his late forties, with the latest woman he’d been seeing heading back East, he began to wonder whether he was getting to an age where ‘no-one gave a damn any more’ and he might turn into a sad figure hanging around bars hoping for action that would never happen.

It was approaching Christmas in 1985. A niece rang him. She knew an Englishwoman – more specifically a Cornishwoman – who was living in Detroit, where she was editing a magazine. She was going to be spending Christmas in San Francisco, and it seemed to the niece that the uncle should meet her.

The uncle allowed himself to be persuaded and phoned the Englishwoman at her home. The call was taken by her then seven-year old son, who ‘for the only time in his life took a message correctly. He’s never done it since and he’s 32 now.’

As arranged, the lawyer called at the flat where the Englishwoman was staying. She sent someone else to answer the door, in case she couldn’t stand him. The man who opened the door said ‘who are you?’ gruffly.

‘I’m the uncle,’ came the reply.

They went out and liked each other. They met again on Boxing Day, at which point in his words they ‘hit it off’. I’m not quite sure what he was implying but he did add that there was nowhere open for them to eat, so perhaps he meant that they were forced indoors and indulged in more than polite conversation.

He suggested they should meet again. She had a pretty packed schedule, but said she would try to get him an invitation to a dinner she was going to. He turned up and found that of the eight people there, he already knew two, one of them a former client.

It soon became clear to the others what was going on between the two of them, particularly when she announced that she didn’t want to go back to Detroit as planned on the 31st, and not just because she didn’t like Detroit. There was, however, a problem.

‘I can’t cancel,’ she wailed, ‘I have a plane ticket.’

‘Of course you can,’ explained a doctor who was present, ‘you have terrible earache.’

She stayed on another week. He was introduced to the delights of organising babysitting so that he could meet his new girlfriend.

Eventually she had to go, however. So he went down to the local TWA office. A strike was under way; for the first and only time of his life, he crossed a picket line. ‘What you’re doing,’ he said, ‘is temporal, but this is important.’

He laid $1000 in cash on the counter and said ‘give me as many round trip tickets to Detroit as this will buy.’

The answer was ten. This meant that for the next several months they visited each other every other weekend. That phase ended only when, in the early summer of 1986, they married.

San Francisco
Today he’s in his seventies. They share their time between a place near San Francisco and another on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall. ‘If you’d told me when I was young that I would end up living in Cornwall I wouldn’t have believed you. At the time, I didn’t know where Cornwall was, let alone the Lizard peninsula or the hamlet of 50 people where we actually live. The most active business in our village is a hole in a wall, the village post box.’

Urban life in the The Lizard, Cornwall
At least it explains why we met on a train up from the lovely Cornish city of Truro.

When you're crossing the country, you may meet some interesting people

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