I didn’t react when my mother’s solicitor wrote to inform me of her death – hadn’t known how to react, if I’m honest. I’d presumed she had died many years ago. I lost my father when he was sixty seven, back in 1959. Not racing, as I’d always feared, but as a spectator. It was the excitement that killed him. My mother was his junior by eight years. Who would have expected her to live another half a century? She must have been, what…? 108 years old to my 87. It hardly seems possible.
I had no idea she’d known where I lived. Even old friends had failed to track me down to Shere, a small Surrey village hemmed between the A25 and the North Downs. A ramshackle scattering of overhanging gables, timber beams and crooked elevations, dotted around the ancient churchyard of St James’s.
Clear waters from the Tillingbourne trickle idly through, dissecting Middle Street in front of the award-winning public conveniences complete with their ivy-trailing hanging baskets. Here, a short walk with the dog in tow, pausing on the bench to feed the white-tufted ducks followed by a paper and a pint qualifies as a good day out.
At weekends our tranquility is shattered by the rumble and roar of Harleys and Morgans. Noisy Americans in search of the quintessential English experience get as far as the stocks outside the White Horse before being lured inside by chalked promises and rumours of smugglers. Do I share the right of the locals to be disgruntled when I too sought a timeless retreat? I like to think I do my bit by lending my name to the petition to make Church Square traffic-free. (I can so rarely park outside my own house – a double-fronted affair with a dubious history as the local vicarage and one-time brothel.)
But a resident of only twenty two years, I am still eyed with suspicion, as if it were my ill-gotten money that funded the housing estate at Pathfields that continues to defy the architect’s prediction that it will ‘weather in.’