Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Five 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 Five by Mark Colbourne
The past few days have proffered something of a fresh experience. My first single male has been hosted – and not, it has to be said, by design.
On Friday, Trevor arrived at my door. A little earlier than anticipated (if you’ll forgive me a moment of pedantry) and conspicuously alone. Somewhat taken aback and peering quizzically over his shoulder, I began to question whether my recollection of accepting a booking for a Trevor and Harriet had not simply been the imaging of a senior moment. Laughing heartily and pushing past me into the hallway, Trevor explained that Harriet had decided literally at the last moment not to accompany him on his personal pilgrimage to follow in Sebald’s footsteps. I hadn’t the faintest idea what the man was wittering on about.
So there we were, Trevor and myself – an unlikely couple to say the least. Each morning he would venture out with a little brown rucksack on his back and ankles bolstered by chunky walking boots. For the first time since commencing this usually enjoyable sideline, I felt as if someone was intruding in my home. Ridiculous, I know, as he was openly invited through a standard commercial agreement, but Trevor had a peculiar ability to set one ill at ease. He made constant jokes where humour was notable only by its absence and, in the deafening silence which invariably followed these egregious bon mots, would fill the void with the sound of his own laughter. This, I’m afraid, I can compare only to the honking of a riled goose. He also revelled in the irritating habit of turning up whenever one was least expecting him.
A for instance: on the second day of his stay I was mixing concrete in the barn. Now, the barn – as I had explicitly detailed during the induction and house tour through which my guests are meticulously guided upon their arrival – was absolutely, one hundred per cent off limits. Also, I had watched Trevor leave the farm right after breakfast. Supplemented by his fleece, a Thermos of Bovril and some self-made sandwiches unattractively wrapped in sweaty clingfilm, he had bidden me good morning with yet another inane quip: “I’m off to find out what the North Sea”. I had, quite naturally, anticipated that he would be gone for the remainder of the day and accordingly began to tackle the tasks I had planned. Trevor, however, was nothing if not full of surprises.
“And what are you up to in here?” His nasal whine even managed to overpower the motorised churn of the concrete mixer. I switched off the machine, failing to disguise my fluster.
“Trevor!” I barked. “What are you doing back? What are you doing in here?”
His initial announcement had been made from the doorway of the barn. Somehow, he seemed to translate my astonishment as a bizarre invitation to step across the threshold and pursue a more intimate discourse. “Well, I’ve had myself a good old morning in the fields. Only so much coast you can walk along, isn’t there? Thought I’d pop back here and see what my favourite landlord was up to.”
“I’ve a great deal to do, actually,” I seethed. “And I did tell you that the barn was private. There’s a lot of work going on in here.”
“Oh yes, I can see that. You’re just about as busy as a bee, aren’t you?”
“And with all the tools and things, it’s not particularly safe.”
“No, I imagine it’s not. Not safe at all.”
A moment of rather uncomfortable silence passed. I was absolutely flabbergasted that the man wouldn’t seem to take the hint and leave.
“You’ve been getting a lot of phone calls,” he said, seemingly apropos of nothing. I begged his pardon and he continued. “I’ve heard you. There seems to be a lot of wrong numbers. People asking for a different farm. Asking for people who aren’t even here.”
“Yes. And what of it?” I waved my hands to dismiss the notion. “There must be a mix up somewhere. Lines get crossed. It happens in this part of the country. We’re not in the big city now, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, I’m well aware of that,” he said, somewhat gnomically, before commencing a study of my concreting technique with an intrigued eye. “You’re tucked away from everything here, aren’t you? All by yourself. All secluded.”
And then, without a further word of elaboration, he span on his heels and returned to the farmhouse, leaving me alone with my concrete and thoughts.
Later, I was in the kitchen preparing to dine. Trevor had not enquired about an evening meal and I had no desire to extend an invitation. No, I was perfectly satisfied with my own company, thank you very much. Trevor, however, had other ideas. Intruding upon my supper, he crept into the room and took the seat opposite me. No excuse me; no do you mind. The man had the manners of a swine.
“That’s a good deal of work you’ve got going on in that barn,” he said, picking up precisely where our earlier conversation had fallen away, as if the time elapsed had been mere seconds rather than hours. The room was illuminated only by the lamp in the corner and the left hand side of his face fell beneath shadow. I asked what he meant. “The concreting, the digging… I imagine that you barely have a moment to yourself.”
I explained that repairs were required. Foundations. Reinforcements. Running a farm was a constant war of maintenance.
“Harriet’s expecting me back home tomorrow,” he continued with a quite bizarre swerve of discourse.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“Just that I’ll be missed. That’s all.”
With that enigmatic declaration, Trevor rose from the table, tucked in his chair and climbed the stairs to his bedroom. In the subsequent silence, I became aware of the suddenly deafening sound of my own breathing. I sat and wondered exactly what on earth I was going to do with him. Trevor, oh Trevor… Precisely the sort of guest whose moment of checking out could not have arrived too soon, but what methods lay at the proprietor’s disposal to expedite that magnificent moment to the fore?