(This is the fourth in a series that begins with A Night in Steerage.)
One of the features of the day I spent in Bristol was that I didn’t have to know anything. I didn’t have to look at timetables or figure out where stops and stations were. I didn’t even have to know what time it was. Sue did it all.
Neighbors David and Marian gave Sue and me a ride to Wells, knocking hours off our travel time. From Wells we traveled up green hill and down atop a bus to Bristol Temple Meads station. We followed signposts to a ferry dock for the ferries that run back and forth through the Floating Harbor, a diversion of the River Avon that runs through Bristol. We had just missed a ferry and had a 40 minute wait for the next one, a situation that called for tea. Feeling peckish, Sue had a snack and I had a meal.
Then we boarded the Matilda ferry and drifted calmly past the city. It was overcast, warm and muggy but with a cooling breeze. There was no loud music, no guide yakking at us. We could have been floating on a cloud. It was heavenly.
We disembarked at the SS Great Britain, a 19th century vessel that sailed all over the world as a passenger and then a cargo ship. It was built by a man with the unlikely name of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Sue and I wandered through the ship trying to keep ahead of a class of school children. Neither of us likes to read and inspect everything so we travel well together. Sue is a photographer; she took photos. I did all the interactive stuff for children.
It really is a beautiful museum with lively information and unusual features such as the rats in the kitchen. I saw them running back and forth behind a screen and jumped back in alarm. I stared for a long time trying to fix whether they were actually real. Even when I saw and heard the mechanical cat poised to catch one, I wasn’t convinced.
“They even have rats in the kitchen,” I said to Sue.
“Well, they would do, wouldn’t they?”
Another snack (me) and meal (Sue) at the SS Great Britain café and we were back on the ferry, this time the Independence, which wasn’t as nice as the Matilda. One of the operators, standing upwind, had quite ripe armpits. Sue called them pongy.
We were both highly entertained by an older woman sitting with her very English-looking husband. I can’t explain what I mean by that other than to say he looked like someone out of P.G. Wodehouse. He wore a hearing aide, which I imagine he turns off quite a lot.
“Warehouse apartments,” the woman read off the side of a building. “Now I wonder what that can mean. I know what warehouses are and I know what apartments are but I wonder what warehouse apartments are.”
I looked idly at the sign. It did indeed advertise Warehouse Apartments. I closed my eyes and breathed in the freshwater smell. Like a lake in summer. A flock of seagulls had congregated over something (probably) disgusting in the water ahead of us. When our boat interrupted them, they whooshed up and filled the sky over our heads. I watched their paths as they swirled above us like giant noisy snowflakes.
A small voice interrupted my reverie.
“I don’t imagine I’d want to live in one. I expect they’re quite small and very expensive. But how could they be warehouses? That’s the part I don’t understand.”
I looked at the husband. He seemed in his own world. The ferry made a stop. New people got on. I asked Sue where we were. The armpit moved away. The boat carried on.
“You store things in warehouses. How would you get an apartment out of that? I’m sure they’re expensive whatever else they are.”
When we got to Temple Meads, Sue whispered to not let the pongy armpit hand us out of the boat. “We should go to the chemists and get him some deodorant,” she added.
“Give it to him in lieu of a tip.”
Sue asked, “Do you think people find our conversation as boring as that woman who kept going on about the warehouse apartments?”
“Did you hear her, too?” I asked. “First of all, no. I think people find our conversation scintillating.”
“Yes, we raise it to the level of armpits.
“But seriously, what was that about anyway, the business with the warehouse apartments?”
“She obviously couldn’t get her mind around anything other than they were going to be expensive. Maybe she thought they’d still be full of cartons and boxes!”
“Wherever would she put her teapot?”
We both got the giggles and the warehouse apartments became the joke of the day. As we waited for the bus home, another verbal wanderer was having trouble getting her mind around a sign with the words Expats on the side of a bus.
“If they’re Australians, they can all go home, I says.”
“Ask her if she has a sister,” I whispered to Sue.
We missed the last bus home from Street. Whereas other people might need to call a taxi, we had Wendy who always stops to see Pamela in Glastonbury before she comes home. We took the bus to Glastonbury. This contingency plan had been arranged ahead of time and I didn’t have to know anything or be responsible for anything. It was lovely.
Sue and I went down the road between the two cafes to the Glastonbury Care Home. Pam had gotten her hair cut the day before and she looked adorable. When she saw us, she grabbed our hands and wouldn’t let go.
Again her sentences began in English and petered out into something only Pam could understand and even that might be locked away from her. She was fixed on something about England and Monday. Then Margaret showed up in the verbiage. Nobody knows who Margaret is.
“It was beautiful!” she enthused. “And if hick mere mean England she alt pore Monday for Margaret.”
When there was a break, I leaned in and said slowly, “Pam, what’s a warehouse apartment?”
The long day ended when Wendy showed up and we all went to Wirral Plaice for fish and chips.