It has been difficult to feel free and happy this year, for reasons that need no explanation. One of the more uplifting highlights was an afternoon out on the bike in late July.
I stopped after 6 miles in the Essex village of Writtle, at the Wheatsheaf, a little old pub with a decent beer selection. One cold lager later, I took a slow ride out to Fyfield, about 8 miles away, for a second chilled beer in the back garden of the Black Bull pub. So relaxing. The ride back – on roads with virtually zero traffic – was ecstatic beyond words. Everyone should cycle, mildly drunk, through deserted countryside. Where inner magic meets outer glory.
I probably should have gone home, but the sun was still high in the sky, my mood was dancing, and I thought to myself: “More of this moment is necessary.” Back at Writtle, I decamped at the Rose & Crown, opposite the Wheatsheaf. The garden was half-full, and a third lager beckoned.
I parked my bike at the back of the garden, away from anybody else. Coming back from the bar with another cold beer, I noticed an elderly woman at the nearest table. Grey-haired, maybe in her late 70s, she looked up from her notebook, in which she carried on writing for the next hour. There was definitely a resemblance to the Australian feminist writer Germaine Greer.
Vibrating with happiness in the sunshine, I recalled watching a 2011 documentary on Germaine, a month or so previously. In this, she said she would continue to live in Essex for the rest of her days.
The woman had her back to me. Deep in thought as she wrote.
A discreet photo proved irresistible.
I listened hard as she talked occasionally to her well-behaved dog. Was I kidding myself that she sounded half-Brit, half-Aussie? She had said in 2011 that dogs ruined bluebells. Maybe age had brought the need for a loyal companion.
There was no certainty, so I could not be starstruck. Nonetheless I got to thinking about Germaine’s blunt maverick streak – and her good looks in younger days. How she would bait TV presenters and men in general with a mixture of sassiness, wit and radical ideas.
I fetched myself a fourth beer, deciding to use a very quiet back route to Great Waltham that would add 20 minutes but remove almost any threat from traffic to a drunken cyclist. As I returned to my table, the woman was ordering two coffees from the garden waitress.
Two. A singular type of request. Who orders two coffees?
I wanted a frontal photo. I wanted to talk to her, to find out. But have always been respectful of the privacy of others. And I might slur a few words, due to the alcohol. Then of course there was the Covid-19 distancing guideline. In any case, why would she welcome any intrusion, given her absorption in her notebook? If it was Germaine, she was surely enjoying the anonymity?
But when she stood to leave, and looked over, I had to ask: “Has anyone ever said you look like Germaine Greer?”
The accent was believably Essex now. “Well then I had better see what she looks like.” Said with a smile that had more than a little craft.
The woman and her dog then walked away with a slight stiffness that would characterise many of her age group. I remembered that Germaine had been struggling to walk in the documentary, anticipating a hip operation to ease the discomfort. Nine years on now.
So maybe I fleetingly met Germaine Greer. She always had guile. And it is not hard to imagine her scribbling away in a pub garden, concepts flying around as she observed humanity.
Whatever, it was a cracking day out. And I got home in one piece.
PS I just googled Germaine Greer’s dog and found this. I think it’s a different dog. Maybe she has a new canine? Or maybe my well-lubricated imagination was working overtime!