When it comes to going out for morning coffee, afternoon tea or a light lunch, we are spoilt for choice in this area. There are several coffee shops attached to garden centres, some in old converted buildings, a couple in bookshops, but my favourite is one owned by Violet, and attached to her studio/gallery where she displays work by local artists and craftspeople. Here at various times of the year you can find examples of batik, watercolours and acrylic paintings too, felting, wood-carving, hand-knitted bags, wonderful cushion covers in silky fabrics, and the pottery done by Violet and Laurie, a tall, willowy blonde in her fifties who hails from California.
Out of season it's quiet, which makes it an ideal meeting place for the knitting group I belong to, along with the aforementioned Laurie, my good friend Rowena, Lizzie the freelance writer, Sue who's married to the vet, and Daisy who, together with her sister Esme, spinsters both, owns a village store in one of the other villages in this area. When we're not meeting at Violet's, we meet in each other's houses... summertimes in gardens or summerhouses with the buzzing of bees, splashing of fountains, and birdsong accompanying the clickety-clack of our needles, the occasional giggles breaking into the gentle hum of conversation, drinking sparkling wine or iced tea. In winter we might meet in Laurie's large kitchen, all sitting around her big old table by the Aga, mugs of home made soup to hand, or in Sue's conservatory, a huge iron edifice attached to the old vicarage where she and vet husband Peter, three children and several pets live in what looks like continual pandemonium to an outsider.
Anyway, out of season like now, it's usually quiet in Violet's coffee shop, nobody to bother us and nobody for us to bother, so it was with a sigh of dismay that I opened the door, walked into the warm, cinammony smell of the coffee shop, and espied the Two T's as they're known, sitting at one of the tables, papers and OS maps around them.
I should perhaps briefly introduce them to you.... they have an almost-unpronouncable surname, one you have to be really careful saying or you'll end up making an embarrassing blunder, so people just started calling them Mr and Mrs T, or the Two T's. They see it as their job to keep these streets safe for the rest of us; they initiated the Neighbourhood Watch schemes in all areas of this village; they were instrumental in getting community police introduced to the villages around here and a mobile police station to visit one of them as well on a regular basis; they were involved in the setting up of a team to keep the green areas planted, weeded and generally tidied; they bought several benches and had them placed at strategic spots in the village for people to just sit a while; in short, if there's anything good going to be done around here, then the TwoT's will be in there somewhere, rallying the troops, getting things done. A nice couple, but despite all their involvement in the village, nobody really knows anything about them, they tend to keep themselves to themselves when not embarking on some village project or other.
Anyway, it looked as if they were up to another scheme now and I was a bit worried our liveliness would distract them, but as I moved over to where two tables had been pushed together to accomodate the six knitters, they gathered up their papers, almost furtively as if they didn't want me to see them, and hastily made their exit.
I smiled over at Laurie, sitting with her first cup of coffee. There was an air of excitement about her, she looked as if she couldn't wait for me to sit down, flapping her hands at me, beckoning me over, making sure I sat close to her. It seemed she had been privy, accidentally, to some juicy titbit of gossip, had been keeping it to herself all week trying to decide what to do, whether to speak out or not, and wanted to tell me now, before her courage failed her and she once again began havering as to whether to spill the beans or not.
Looking over her shoulder to make sure Violet wasn't around, she leant in towards me and I almost expected her to adopt a phony French accent and utter those immortal words...'Listen very carefully, for I shall say this only once.' Of course she didn't.. but what she did say certainly had me listening carefully.
Last week her car had broken down, she'd had to leave it with Vic at the garage but needed to get into Norwich, so had to go on the bus. She lives away from the centre of the village, at the other end to our wonderful Phoebe, in a beautiful converted barn. Luckily there is a bus stop not too far away, and alongside it, a rather dilapidated red telephone box. As you can see from the photo, it's a bit lop-sided, sadly in need of paint, but even so, has much more character than these glass and plastic things that BT replaced them with. (Perhaps the Two T's ought to have a campaign to restore these red telephone boxes, most villages around here have at least one of them, all falling into disrepair, but still operational.)
As she was waiting for the bus, the phone in the box began to ring. This is one of those dilemmas isn't it... do you answer it or pretend you can't hear it? Worse if it's in a busy public place, but here, isolated really, easier to ignore it. However, Laurie is an inquisitive soul and of course, had to answer it. Before she had chance to speak, this rather husky male voice at the other end spoke. 'Look babe, I can't speak long.. she who must be obeyed is due back any minute, said we had to be at someone's place by six and you know what your sister's like about time-keeping. Anyway, I'm going to have to cancel tomorrow evening.. I know, I know... I promised this time nothing would stop me coming over, but it can't be helped, it's a work thing babe, sorry. We'll get together soonest babe, promise. And when we do....' and here he made a deep growly noise which he presumably thought was sexy but sounded more like a St Bernard with laryngitis according to Laurie. Then he suddenly hissed 'Bye babe' and the line went dead.
Laurie said she put the phone down when she saw the bus coming, but something about the voice was bugging her all week. She was sure she recognised it she said, and then last night, it came to her. She knew who this man was, knew who the 'she who must be obeyed' was, and her sister too. And we all knew them!
I was about to urge her to tell me more, when the little bell tinkled above the door, and in walked Sue and Daisy, and the moment passed. 'Later', Laurie hissed at me, smiling in greeting to our friends as they neared the table.
Well, 'later' hasn't yet arrived.. Laurie has been called away for a few days, and so here I sit, wondering who I know who has a sister, who's particularly fussy about time-keeping, and more importantly, who could possibly be married to someone cheesy enough to call a woman 'babe'?