Apple Tree Cottage
21 September, 1978
Yes, that’s him. That’s George. Over there at the end of the bar, by the wall, under the calendar. It’s still showing last month’s picture, by the way, but it’s a country scene I’ve always liked, the man sitting eating his sandwiches under an oak tree, his back resting on the massive trunk, his gun laid down and his dog sitting by him, alert, waiting for a piece of bread. Anyway, that’s him. He’s in most evenings, and his dog sits on the floor by his stool. We haven’t seen her for ages, though. Not since well before the summer.
Stan, the postman, told me about it one evening in this very bar. It’s a sad little story in its way.
They started all right, as everyone does. They were happy with the novelty of each other’s company, still finding out little bits of the other’s past, still floating a foot or two above the ground, and that’s why all the world loves a lover. It was all new for both of them. He was bricklaying and doing well, as hard-working young bricklayers can, with overtime most evenings, double time on Saturday mornings and the occasional job on the side. Then he started working for himself and he did well. You could in those days. At that time there was plenty of work for those who wanted it. She decided she wanted to study. She said she had always wanted to take a degree, and she enrolled on a Business Management course. Three years it was, and no grant for it or anything like that. He had to find all the money, and he did so, willingly. That was what being married meant. At first it was “her little interest”, and then it helped them when she did all his tax returns for him, dodges and all. In fact, she decided to specialise in tax affairs. She began doing the tax returns for quite a few of us, for no man who works with his hands enjoys sitting down to paperwork in the evening when he’s tired. He was proud of her, as we crowded round her, and she sorted out everyone’s problems and was the centre of attention.
But then, and whenever you hear a “but” you know things are going to take a turn for the worse, but then, I say, she began to stay at college more and more and to mix with the type of students they had on the business course, and they weren’t our type at all. It turned out she felt more at home with them and with their different pubs and different jokes. Jokes matter. We are put in groups by the jokes we make as much as by our job or the way we talk.
She began staying at college late, going over this and that with the other students, typing some notes in X’s flat and using some books over in Y’s, and George getting home at nine in the evening exhausted from concreting all day, and no one there, and no food in the fridge, and him paying for the course and all. She would arrive home breathless at ten, happy from the study and the talking and the odd drink. He didn’t like to say much and, I suppose after a kiss or two, all was well, at least at first. But things went on, and things got worse, and their lives grew more apart. She wasn’t worried if he got that contract for building those two new bungalows at the other end of the village, and he couldn’t understand why she had to study so much for her exams.
He couldn’t see it for a bit, what was happening, I mean, and those of us who tried to tell him, joking like, felt bad for bringing it up at all. And then she started staying away overnight to study, well, as she told him, it was hardly worth her coming home so late and then getting up early and travelling back again next morning, and then came the weekend courses, and that’s when he saw things clearly at last and since then he’s been going downhill. He wasn’t the type to make a scene, and she waited till she got her degree, and it was all paid for and then she left him. She explained it all to him quite logically, and took half the possessions they had bought one by one, and no more than half. She did it all very properly and was helped by a friend of hers who was a lawyer. The house was sold, and she took half the money, and he went and took a room over at Mrs Chester’s, and she bought a new flat in Clifton, you know, the posh part of Bristol. Mrs Chester does good meals and has four people in, and he’s all right there, he says.
The divorce is going through now and this same lawyer friend of hers is organising that too. She keeps George up to date with how far it’s gone and shows him where he has to sign, and apparently it won’t take much longer. She’s working for some accountants now in Hopkirk Street, where all the banks are, and she’s doing well apparently. At least she drove down here in a light blue Mercedes the last time she came so I suppose she’s doing well.
So, there we are. That was what Stan told me one evening here in the Crown. It’s another sad story on a postage stamp, and another regular for the public bar.