My local village is really just a crossroads and a not very successful one at that.
An ariel view shows it as an untidy spider with a long bendy body.
Hills and streams prevent the ‘cross’ being exact, so the road entering from the north has to travel around a bend before it meets its opposing one, which then travels down steeply until it crosses a river, rounds another bend before climbing up and out of the valley.
And maybe because the first road missed its chance, another road further along, tries its luck and arrives where the village pump stands, but now you would have to walk back the way to find the opposing road and as you do you will pass my favorite cafe.
When I moved to the area, the village boasted only one functioning pub, a second one, due to its location on the bend I just mentioned, stood a better chance of business, but had been closed long before I moved here.
One day, when I was cycling by, I noticed a builder’s van half parked on the narrow pavement half on the road, and some workmen were hauling bags of saws and electric drills out of the van and in through the doors of the old building. (You notice much more when cycling a bicycle).
The next time I passed, a man was up a ladder painting the exterior. The ladder was taking taking up the whole width of the pavement and a second man was standing at its base holding it steady.
I was wheeling my bicycle at the time and although they offered to move the ladder for me I refused. Instead, taking a deep breath, whilst pushing all thoughts of superstition aside, I passed underneath it.
This gave me the excuse to stop and make my enquiry.
Yes someone had bought the pub. Yes they expected it to be finished in a few weeks.
But that was all they could tell me.
I hopped on my bicycle and cycled speedily down the hill, across the bridge and up the other side to where my younger daughter lived.
‘I think the old pub is going to open again’ I said excitedly. (Not a lot happens in these parts you see.)
‘So I’ve heard’ my daughter replied. ‘But they say it’s going to be a cafe not a pub and I hope that’s true. It would be wonderful to have a place to sit and have a coffee between pickups’. (My grandchildren attend the school just down the road).
I began to pass OUR pub/cafe more frequently, keeping a sharp eye on it’s progress.
It was coming along nicely.
The exterior wall was now painted a soft grey and the window frames, a contrasting charcoal, were gentle and inviting and interesting.
I became more and more curious as to what it would be.
My daughter still betted on a cafe but I wasn’t convinced.
Becoming impatient again I took another spin up that way and saw that a vintage bicycle had been added as decoration.
Leaning nonchalantly against the grey wall, its basket was filled with flowers.
Surely this was a sign of its nearness to completion.
I didn’t have much longer to wait.
The day after the appearance of the old bicycle, a glorious aroma of fresh coffee, danish pastries and newly baked bread wafted down the hill , across the stream and up the valley.
My daughter had been half right, It WAS a cafe but also a bakery.
Our favorite place is the long table at the small deep window which looks out across the road at a pair of old black wrought iron gates secured by a heavy lock. This gateway leads to a deserted garden filled with a large overgrown orchard and the sad rusty remnants of a wheel barrow and lawnmower.
I know this because one of the joys of being out on a bicycle is that you can see the gaps in hedges and hidden pathways that you may not notice when driving a car and I have explored this area thoroughly.
But back to our cafe.
I was sitting recently having a coffee there with my daughters, listening to them chat about this and that, watching my grandsons concentrating on their cinnamon swirls when it hit me!
An incredible sense of contentment.
And then it dawned on me!
It had all worked out so well.
After many years of living away from each other in different counties, different countries even, we had ended up settling down within a few minutes of each other.
Now we could meet up at the drop of a hat and my four grandchildren were near at hand, so I could see them frequently.
I sat, not moving, letting this feeling of well -being settle over me.
I always said that once my children had grown up and become independant, I would do the most wonderful things.
I had planned see the world from the saddle of my bicycle.
Or maybe I would travel across the steppes by horseback.
Spend time at a buddhist retreat high in nepal even or work as a nurse in some disaster zone.
It’s not that I didn’t do wonderful things with my children.
I did all the usual ones ! The storytelling. The drawing and painting. The making and doing.
But I remember it was baking they loved most.
As every surface in the kitchen turned white with small floury hand prints and the floury footprints patterned the floor so widely that even the dog couldn’t keep up with the licking and cleaning up of them, they went sort of into a baking trance. Being in ‘the flow’ is how it is termed these days.
Creating and recreating creature upon creature out of pieces of dough, which became greyer and more inedible with the overly enthusiastic handling they got, my children spent hours, heads bent in concentration, until just as I would be about throw the lot in the bin and making a fresh batch, the artists would decide they were satisfied enough to allow their work be laid out on a baking sheet and placed in the oven and had no problem afterwards consuming their well browned offerings even interring them proudly into their lunch boxes for school the next day.
We also did our fair share of wild camping and exploring.
But I had planned on self time once they were independent.
What I hadn’t reckoned with though, was the darwinian bit of my brain or whatever it is that is that makes us want to ensure the continuation of our genes.
That deep instinct which you have no idea about until you have grandchildren.
One would imagine that by having two daughters and they having sons, that my brain would recognise how well secured my genes were and I would be free to pursue my dreams .
It is surely our new right that, as we no longer drop dead at forty five, worn out by childbearing (as was our role in the past) and with our longevity and good health due to an easier lifestyle, better food and medical assistance, we owe it to ourselves to head off selfishly and do what pleases us.
But I am unable to do that.
It’s not that I don’t trust my daughters and son in laws to keep my grandchildren safe.
It is something more primal.
or maybe it’s just very simple.
I want to spend time with my grandchildren.
Lots of time.
I try to explain it to friends who have no grandchildren and who admonish me for my loss of adventurous spirit, but I can’t.
And I am sure there are probably lots of grandmothers who say yahoo, kick up their heels and head off before the dust settles on the birth of their first grandchild.
I am at a loss to explain the strength of my grandmotherly instinct.
Maybe I have inherited too much of this gene thingy.
I’ll just have to go with it so.
And look at that, It’s eleven o’clock! I’m off down the hill, across the bridge and up the spidery road to meet them all for our sunday morning coffee at our favorite cafe on this sunny spring morning.
(the magical secret garden of my local village)