July 1977

The young couple entered the neat bungalow with respectful wariness. Neither knew the retired lady teachers they were visiting, but Cassandra’s late grandmother had taught with Miss Ponsonby, and her companion Miss Atkinson. Both ladies had been very kind to Grannie in her last illness. Now a teacher herself, on her honeymoon with James, Cassandra had long felt an obligation to make a formal visit to these two, and had finally persuaded a reluctant young husband to turn off the M5 near Taunton, and head into the Quantocks in search of them. Genteel spinsters living together for decades would, Cassandra knew, invite knowing looks from male colleagues in her staff room, but she dismissed this thought as unworthy as Miss Ponsonby, tall, grey-haired and slender, moist eyes shining behind rimless glasses, ushered the couple into a crowded sitting-room. Miss Ponsonby turned to her companion.

‘Agatha and I have been so looking forward to meeting dear Maudie’s grand-daughter, haven’t we, dear?’

Miss Atkinson was occupied in trying to decide which chair James should sit in. It was, evidently, a decision of some moment, as she dithered between the two.

‘She’s a little deaf, poor dear,’ explained Miss Ponsonby. ‘But you must tell us all about yourselves-- you come from Nebraska, I think you said?’

‘Saskatchewan. And James is from Toronto.’

‘Ah, yes, so you said. Silly me. Quite a different country!’

But Cassandra found there was little opportunity to tell them about themselves. It was not that the ladies were not interested in their guests. If anything, they could not do enough for them. The energetic Miss Atkinson, a shorter version of her friend, kept bobbing up and down from her chair to disappear into the kitchen to attend to the scones, while Miss Ponsonby’s unsteady grasp of the teapot (’We usually use the brown betty, but it won’t do for four!’) gave James cause for alarm. He flinched when some hot tea, undetected by Miss Ponsonby, dribbled onto his trouser leg. A tentative conversation proceeded by fits and starts. Both ladies were easily distracted by the logistics of the lavish feast they had assembled in the small front room. There were sausage rolls and fruitcake, egg-and-watercress and ham sandwiches, and clotted cream and jam with the scones.

Ensconced in his comfortable armchair, and agreeably full of scones and cake, James surveyed the fussy furniture of the room with good-humoured detachment, and prepared to listen patiently to Miss Ponsonby’s observations on how much life had changed over the years in this isolated part of Somerset. In the face of protest from Cassandra, he had laid aside his admittedly selfish desire to drive straight through that day to Basingstoke to return the borrowed MGB he had been driving with such brio to the friends of his parents who had so kindly lent it to him. There was nothing, he thought, to compare with driving a genuine British Racing Green MG at high speed on twisting English back roads. He still had more of the same to look forward to. Life was good. He could be benign to the old ladies. Miss Ponsonby stopped in mid-sentence.


Picture by Charles01 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Peter was born in England, spent his childhood there and in South America, and taught English for 33 years in Ottawa, Canada. Now retired, he reads and writes voraciously, and travels occasionally with his wife Louise.
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