Tall and elegant hollyhocks
against a honey-coloured stone wall
Such vibrant blooms and swollen buds full of promises.
HOLLYHOCKS AND HONEY-COLOURED HOUSES
The houses and the hollyhocks are still there, as beautiful as ever, whenever I return, but I should really start at the beginning.
When I was a young working girl, I used to go by train to my workplace. It was all so charming as I lived in the country and the train was accordingly old-fashioned with wooden seats and the ticket-master smiling and friendly. The train went rather slowly and stopped at every single village station and there was plenty of time to enjoy the passing countryside.
Several times a week, I found myself in the same carriage as an older gentlemen. He was tall and elegant in a understated way. Silver white hair, impeccably combed, a debonair moustache and well-chosen clothes with an eye for colour coordination. He wore a panama hat in the summer with a black band. That was my favourite!
During the whole of the month of May, it has always been a sort of tradition, I like to have a bar of soap which is perfumed with Lily of the Valley. Accordingly, I have a very small bottle of Muguet perfume which I dab on my wrists and at the base of my throat.
It was one of those mornings in May, that the elegant old gentleman stepped onto the train and sat in the free seat opposite me. The windows of the carriage were open and my travelling companion said to me: "What an amazing scent of Lily of the Valley, is it blooming already?" As other people got on the train, he suddenly lent forward slightly and asked me if I happened to be wearing the perfume! "Yes", I said and we both laughed! From that day onwards we always said hello to each other and enjoyed exchanging a few words.
I often wondered where the gentleman on the train lived and one day I found out. As I was coming back from an early evening walk, I saw him take a key out of his pocket and enter a house in my favourite honey-coloured stone with hollyhocks growing tall and elegantly against the walls. Such perfect flowers for this gentleman, I thought.
I have since moved away from this beautiful area and my daily trips to work in a little country train, but whenever I visit the villages that are part of my childhood and young adulthood, and see those honey-coloured stone houses adorned with hollyhocks, I remember with much fondness the older gentlemen and send up a special thought to him wherever he may be on his continuing journey beyond this earthly existence.
This story is based on real-life facts.
The twentieth century writer J. B. Priestley wrote of Cotswold stone that – “The truth is that it has no colour that can be described. Even when the sun is obscured and the light is cold, these walls are still faintly warm and luminous, as if they knew the trick of keeping the lost sunlight of centuries glimmering about them.”
The Lily of the Valley tradition
during the month of May.