“Have you seen Noel recently?” I asked my mother, who was sitting in the back of our car.
Long ago, when I was single and lived at the gallery, Noel was my neighbour; and when I left, and Mum bought the property, he became my mum’s neighbour for a couple of years until he moved into another house that had been left to him by a dear friend. At the time of our friendship Noel had been retired early from his teaching post in Exeter.
He was a clever, witty and good-looking man of around sixty, and he had a soft spot for me. We shared a love of art and books. He had a vast library and helped me with research for my Art History course (well before I had a computer). We went together to art galleries and yacht clubs. Many was the occasion I had dinner with Noel and his bachelor friends, Frank and Walter – both old enough to be my grandfathers (and then some!). He had urged me to go to the town of Bath (Somerset) with him. I didn’t go.
“No, I haven’t seen Noel for years,” answered my mum.
“Nor me,” said Chris, “I used to see him around the town… but not for ages. Of course, he never acknowledged me. He just couldn’t accept me. It’s a shame because I would have enjoyed his company – an interesting man.”
“I wonder if he’s alright,” I said, not expecting an answer.
“He was very fond of you – wasn’t he?” Mum observed.
“Yes, and I of him but he was too old for me…”
That conversation took place last Sunday, just three days ago.
Yesterday evening Chris and I were driving home after visiting a friend in the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital, and we were discussing food – we were hungry. The car rounded the corner at Cockwood Harbour (one of our favourite places) and we noticed with astonishment that the harbour was full almost to bursting with the high tide.
“We could scrap the idea of fish and chips… and have a bowl of chips at the Anchor?” I suggested.
Chris agreed and took a side road which brought us back to Cockwood. We parked and walked around the harbour – the light is beautiful on summer evenings – and the reflections on the water were wonderful last night. It was too cold to sit outside and eat so we decided to go home for beans on toast instead. I continued to take photos as we dawdled back to our starting place. A man, standing alone by the harbour wall, had his phone camera out also.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he began with a broad smile. “I love it here!”
“So do we!” I enthused.
And that was beginning of a long conversation. Earlier, the jolly stranger with the nice face and smile had been feeling unhappy and decided to lift his mood by going to the harbour and having a beer at “The Anchor”. It transpired that Alex came originally from Norfolk but, quite by accident, one and a half years ago he fell in love with a house he saw for sale in Dawlish and he bought it, although it is his second home. It is a large house with a wonderful garden… along West Cliff Road… The house belonged to Noel, and before that, Walter.
How is Noel?
The new owner didn’t know the circumstances, only that Noel was revered and missed by all his neighbours. To me, Noel will be forever charming, witty, generous and gentlemanly… in loving memory.