I went to London a few weeks ago for A Very Important Meeting. I arrived far too early and walked surreptitiously past my destination to make sure I was in the right place, whilst adopting the nonchalant air of one who is merely passing. There was a pub at the end of the road and I tried the handle to see if it was open. An old lady was standing on the pavement nearby, watching me with interest.
“It doesn’t open till eleven.”
“That’s a pain.” I said. “I wonder if they’d let me use the loo.”
“They don’t allow it.” She replied with such authority I understood she’d asked the very same question of the landlord.
We stood for a little, stamping our feet to warm them up, and I saw with surprise my companion was wearing odd shoes. I don’t mean that they were strange (although they were a trifle unusual) but that they didn’t match. She had a black boot on her left foot and a scruffy white trainer on her right. As I looked a little closer I realised she had even more extraordinary clothes under her coat, which was pulled tightly around her frame with a long piece of twine. Not so much boho-chic, as hobo-chic.
This isn’t a post about homelessness – this isn’t a blog about politics – but I was taken by this woman in a way I have never before been affected. She looked like somebody’s granny. Somebody’s slightly mad, possibly a bit smelly granny, but a granny nevertheless. I wanted to take her home. My husband and I share an enthusiastic fondness for old people, but I had a sneaking suspicion he wouldn’t appreciate a London souvenir in the shape of an elderly female tramp.
I wanted to help her, but I didn’t know how. She wasn’t asking for my help – at least, not directly…
I knocked on the door of the pub and waited for the landlord to open up.
“I’m terribly sorry. I know you’re not open yet, but could I possibly use your loo?” I gave a winning smile and he rolled his eyes.
“C’mon then, love.” He held open the door and I stepped inside, beckoning as I did so to my adopted grandmother.
“It’s okay – he says we can use the loo!” I held the door open for her despite the furious face of the landlord, incandescent with rage yet quite unable to articulate his disgust.
Granny Hobo and I made our way to the Ladies’, where Granny spent a quick penny and then proceeded to have a stand up wash at the sink. I hadn’t quite bargained for top to toe ablutions. I felt more than a little awkward standing there, but didn’t want to leave her within reach of the landlord’s wrath. I sort of shuffled about and did my shoe lace up a couple of times.
Finally she finished and we made our way back out to the bar, where the landlord was standing by the open door with a face like thunder.
“Thanks awfully.” I said.
We emerged back onto the pavement in time for my appointment. I rather selfishly hoped the faint essence de tramp had been sufficiently masked by the lavender air freshener with which my new friend had liberally sprayed herself after her wash.
I said goodbye to Granny Hobo and she muttered something in reply. It may have been ‘thank you’, or it may have been ‘bugger off’. Hard to say.