‘My brain is addled’.
A third bout of Covid during the summer has left my mother in a fog, short-term memory has become patchy at times, but recollections and anecdotes remain clear
‘It was after the war. We used to get men calling at the farm, something to eat, somewhere to sleep. Apparently, they left a mark on the wall outside to show that the next passer-by would receive a welcome.’
The men she described, we called tramps, but I do not remember it as having a pejorative meaning. A tramp was simply someone who tramped along, dressed in old and sometimes ragged clothes and carrying his few possessions in a bag or bundle.
If they arrived at the Crossman farm at Pibsbury, they would be given bread and cheese and tea and milk and would sleep in one of the stone barns.
There is a story that one cold night, my grandfather took pity on a passing gentleman and allowed him to sleep on the settee in the living room, where there was the warmth of a log fire. On discovery at there being an unexpected house guest, my grandmother flew at my grandfather, did he not realize that they could have been killed in their beds or had all their valuables stolen?
The story became a matter of pride for my grandfather.
In more recent times, one gentleman used to call each year with a chapel family in the hamlet of Henley.
Strongly evangelical Christians, they attended worship each Sunday and expected visitors to join them.
One summer Saturday, my mother, a hairdresser by profession, received a call. The gentleman had arrived with the family and he had been given a bath and clean clothes and they would be grateful if my mother would give him a haircut. My mother explained that she did not generally work on Saturdays, but was prepared to make an exception.
The gentleman went to chapel the next morning looking altogether different from the appearance he usually presented.
My mother’s recall of the gentleman is of a man who was educated and cultured, a man who had seen much in his lifetime. The gentlemen were always enigmatic figures, no-one was ever sure from where they had come or where they were going. What had caused them to take to the road? What family or friends had they left behind?
Perhaps there are still gentlemen out there, somewhere, tramping along.