Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Six by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter One by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Two by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Three by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Four by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Five by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Six by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Seven by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Eight by Mark Colbourne
Willingworth Farm: Letter Six
When the song of summer begins to clearly sound, I sincerely believe that Willingworth Farm is the most beautiful place in the world. Obviously, this is a matter in which I am far from bipartisan, but who – having feasted their eyes – would argue against me? The surrounding countryside glistens luminous and reborn. The fields stretch with a daring confidence. The hedgerows bloom beneath the sunshine. Norman and Margaret, in contrast to this youthful vigour, were guests of a more mature standing. The leaves on life’s majestic tree had unquestionably crisped to an autumnal brown. But still, it was an unqualified pleasure to welcome them into my home.
No longer wishing to suffer the disadvantages of going “abroad”, Norman and Margaret would tour the country enjoying weekend breaks. Little and often, as Norman confided to me with a rakish wink, a twinkle in his eye undiminished by the years. Well into retirement and with their children having long flown the nest, I failed to see anything wrong in this choice of lifestyle. Although dear Margaret, as I could not help but notice, was slightly struggling to match Norman’s friskier pace.
Their days were a blend of short walks and brief visits to nearby areas of interest. They would return to the farm at regular intervals to allow Margaret the chance to rest. I decided to provide them with an afternoon tea. Although this was an extra not included in the original price of their bed and board, it felt as if my renumeration was simply the opportunity to watch this wonderful couple sit in the window of the kitchen, looking out across the world, comfortably sharing a snack and the private vocabulary that had built between them over a lifetime. Seeing this, it was only natural that my thoughts should turn to Barbara. If she had stayed, would our future have been comparable? Would our dotage have been blessed by a similar, gentle intimacy? I like to imagine that it would.
On the morning of their second day, I discovered Margaret in the living room. She was alone and sitting, silent and still, in the armchair. As I walked through the door, the realisation of her statuesque presence actually caused me some surprise. I softly spoke her name. There seemed something ever so slightly peculiar in her demeanour, as if she were lost in a trance. She didn’t respond to my first prompt and so I ventured forth again. It was only on my third attempt that I finally broke through. She looked up towards me as if slightly shocked before her features tightened into a flustered embarrassment.
“Oh, I’m sorry, dear,” she said all too quickly. “I think I lost myself for a few seconds there.”
The moment had a profound effect upon me. I’d paid witness to something that had either passed Norman by or – for reasons of his own – he had chosen to ignore. I feared it to be the latter, and this placed me in a rather awkward position. Should I have said something to Norman? Would that have been an act of intrusion or merely correct? I could see that his wife was suffering. Perhaps a cold facing of the facts was exactly what the man required? And sometimes sobering sentiments are more agreeably considered when presented by one who sits outside the immediate family circle… But no, the shackles of courtesy by which we British are forever bound held me in check. Instead, I kept my counsel and watched as they tootled away in their car that afternoon for a few hours in Belminster.
On the final night of their stay, I offered them dinner. Margaret insisted on nothing too substantial. Sadly, I suspect this lack of appetite had little to do with either modesty or manners. Norman, however, failed to notice his wife pushing her food ineffectually around her plate. Instead, his inquisitive mind kept me busy with constant questions about the surrounding area. I must admit that, despite my concern for Margaret and the near constant interruption of phone calls asking for people who were no longer here, it was a stimulating discussion which I greatly enjoyed.
Eventually, even Norman could no longer turn a blind eye to how tired his wife had become. It was still relatively early, but hand in hand they retired to make the long walk upstairs. I was left to clear the plates and wash up. My mind was coloured by thoughts of a morbid shade; mortality, decay, a love that endures despite all that life inevitably becomes… Standing at the foot of the stairs and staring up into the darkness, I wondered whether it was possible that there are indeed times when the cruelest acts can also show the greatest kindness?