Along the lane to the church are several cottages, and in Church Cottage, the one nearest the old church, a pretty white painted cottage dating from the 19C, its front door festooned with red roses and white honeysuckle, lives Mr Bartholomew.
Mr Bartholomew, always known by his full name, is a retired bank manager, now in his mid-seventies. A tall gent with somewhat military bearing, and it's said by those who knew him when he managed the bank in the nearby market town, that he ran the operation like it was a military unit. Not a man who suffered fools gladly, who could be a bit gruff at times, nor a man who leant the bank's money willy-nilly, yet for all that, he was much respected, and liked by his staff and regular customers alike. He has been retired over ten years now, giving up his flat above the bank to live out here in the sticks.
Because he is called by his full name, don't get the idea he's a bit of a snooty old gent, or reclusive in any way. He just seems a man who commands respect somehow. It's true that he keeps himself pretty much to himself, doesn't go to the local more than once a month for lunch, isn't a member of any groups in this village or the others around here. He's a regular visitor to the library, and a glimpse through his front door, open on a sunny morning whilst he works in his front garden, will reveal a hallway lined with bookcases, so we know he's a reader. And should you pass him out walking in the village, or on an errand to the post office perhaps, he will always smile and say 'Good day', but makes it clear he's not a man to hang about on the street having a mardle, as they say in these parts.
We also know he's a keen, and very good, gardener. Not only are there roses and honeysuckle around the door, but neat flower beds filled with cistus and hydrangea, old fashioned pinks and lavender... the smell is quite heady on a warm day. There are no weeds daring to poke their way through the Norfolk Red bricks laid in a herringbone pattern, that makes up the path leading to the front door. Behind the house is a well-stocked vegetable garden, with wigwams made of old branches, up which grow purple podded and green runner beans, amongst the peas held up with twiggy pea sticks, nasturtiums grow alongside salad crops and leafy cabbages. Green and red tomatoes tumble out of hanging baskets and grow in his greenhouse. He has a small orchard of trees, one each of cooking and eating apple, a pear and a plum, fruit bushes too with different currants. Nothing grown in large quantities, but enough to keep him supplied. The garden can only be properly seen by those who are lucky enough to be friends with Mr Bartholomew.. the rest of us can just glimpse it through the yews in the churchyard.
In his garage sits an old Volvo, which he lovingly washes once a week, spending hours on the inside and the outside, putting most of us to shame. Well, all except for 'OOH-ME-BACK', one of my neighbours who sometimes walks almost bent over like an old man (yet he's far from being old) and at other times manages a sprightly walk to the local. But if ever anyone asks how he is, his reply usually starts with 'Ooh me back's been playing me up again', hence his name. Yet he can spend a whole day cleaning his car, surrounded by buckets, cloths, hoover, and rubbish bag.
Anyway, back to Mr Bartholomew.. of course we were all curious about him. Rather like Jane Austen we assumed that as he was a single man in possession of, well if not a fortune then a portfolio of stocks and shares and a good pension at least, he would be in need of a wife. Maybe he had had one, 'been there done that' kind of thing. Maybe he was a tragic widower, though he didn't look tragic. (Though what does a tragic widower look like? Gaunt? Big sad eyes constantly red-rimmed from unshed tears? Unkempt? Certainly none of these fit Mr Bartholomew). Maybe he still had a wife, tucked away somewhere... a mental hospital, suggested the same drama queen who thought him a tragic widower at one point. Short of asking him of course, there was no way any of us would find out. A man of few friends, and none of them local for they all arrived in cars, sometimes staying for a few days, so clearly not from these parts, not a man to invite confidences nor offer them, so all we could do was guess, and imagine.
But then something happened to Mr Bartholomew. Those of us who notice these things, namely the drama queen, who I shall tell you is Elsie Drew, self-styled purveyor of village news aka gossip-mongering, has said that every Thursday evening he has been seen in his sitting room window, looking out. How does she know? Well, that's choir practice evening in the church and what better place to gather 'news' than when a group of people are gathered together like this, so not surprisingly, Elsie belongs to just about every group and society hereabouts. Sometimes he goes in the church and sits, listening to the choir practising. He has also taken to going to the library on a certain day, at a certain time, has joined the local history group there which meets once a month on Monday evenings.
It seems he is rather taken with one of the newcomers to the village, who belongs to the choir, the local history group too. Miss Asquith, a retired school teacher in her early seventies, arrived in the village in the autumn of last year, having left her home in the North of England for a new life in the area she had always holidayed in with her late husband. (Thanks must go to Elsie for this information!) As with most villages, once the dark nights set in, although people still go about their business, curtains are drawn early and a lot of it goes on unnoticed. Mr Bartholomew keeps his open on Thursday evenings, and on Sunday mornings, as the choir and other church-goers saunter past, he can be seen sitting reading his paper, or pottering in the front garden. He has been seen smiling, ever so sweetly - and for a man of his bearing this comes as somewhat of a surprise - at Miss Asquith, who returns it, sweetly, which is more becoming a lady of her bearing, a smidgen over five feet, slim build, well-dressed, pleasant, open happy face. Of course, Elsie has them married by now... the rest of us will just sit back and see what develops, but it gladdens the heart to see love, possibly, blossoming for a couple in their seventies.
Of course, not everyone is interested in such matters, some people are too consumed with their own lives. Take 'Forever Young' for example. She disappeared for a few days recently, and we all awaited her return, if not with bated breath exactly, with some interest shall we say. Because whenever she has gone away for any length of time before, she has always come back not quite the woman she was when she left. Some of the changes were not evident to anyone except her 'intimate' friends shall we say; after all, who wants to go flaunting their cellulite (or sudden lack of it) in public? And most of us could have done without the graphic description of the gunk that was sucked out of her by this medical version of a Dyson apparently. But the flap of skin under her chin disappeared, and we all noticed that. Then she acquired these perfect bag-free eyes all of a sudden. A breast implant job meant she was away for a longer period and was quite happy to flaunt the new boobies as she called them on her return. This time she came back protesting her innocence, she had just gone to visit an old school friend she said, with a stiff upper lip. Of course she hadn't had botox, she said, still with a stiff upper lip. Perhaps she'd have done better to stay away longer, let the swelling die down a bit. Because it did, and there was hardly much difference really, though she said it improved her kissing technique.. which was too much information really!