CJ Stone’s Britain, May 17th 1997 Guardian Weekend

To be honest, it was more awkward than I had imagined. I was in Poole in Dorset, meeting an old pupil of mine. I used to teach English as a foreign language. The ex-pupil’s name is Vera. She’s twenty four now, and has just qualified as a Nurse. When I’d known her she was eighteen. We’d had this brief, innocent romance. It had mainly involved long walks along the beach holding hands, and deep conversations looking into each other’s eyes. I’d been flattered by her attentions, and she was – as she was telling me now – equally flattered that I took her seriously enough to want to listen to her. But it was one of those times in both of our lives when the lure of simple romance overcame what you might want to call the logic of the situation. The truth is – and we were admitting it to each other now – it was really just a fantasy, though a very enjoyable one at the time.

And now, here we were all these years later, sitting in a café in Poole, looking across the table at each other, wondering what to say. I asked her the time, partly for something to ask, but also partly because I was hoping that the pub would be open soon. She didn’t have a watch on, but she leaned across to a man on a nearby table.

“Excuse me, do you have the time?” she asked in her lilting accent.

The man came over to our table. He was fumbling with his watch, and rather than tell us the time, he showed the watch to Vera.

“Kh-are jhu Kh-English?” he asked. That’s about the best I can do represent his accent. He gurgled his vowels. He was obviously Spanish.

“No, I’m German,” she replied.

That was his cue. He literally shoved me aside and sat down opposite Vera, and began telling her this story….

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