A Cotswold Cult

I think husband has been invited to join a cult. It happened, as these things do, in the wine bar last night. It was empty and lacking promise when we arrived. G., de facto town elder and wine bar fixture, was sitting alone at the head of the big wooden table. He was dressed, as always, in a coat and tie and nursing his habitual glass of red wine. Husband sat down next to him.

This wouldn’t have been my first choice. Despite the fact that I’ve been introduced to G. about ten times, he never seems to recognize me when I greet him. Instead he always asks me the same question: “Canadian or American?” before proceeding to list off his favourite places in America (Burlington, Vermont and Seattle), then the other places he has visited in America (San Francisco and Minneapolis). He also hogs the potato chips.

I would have been happy with an interaction with G. that consisted of some eye contact and a smile on my way to a stool at the bar. But no, here I was, sitting at the big wooden table helping G. remember the name of Burlington. It’s all husband’s fault. He has a soft spot for old people, honed by a mother who was old before her time and, back in California, my matriarchal and stubborn grandmother.

G. was in a talking mood, and once we got past the litany of American cities, I learned more about him. He’s eighty. He was born in London, Holborn to be exact. He moved to our Cotswold town when he was an infant, and, although he has travelled the world, he has always called this place home. At least that’s what I think he said.

I have trouble understanding G. It’s not a volume thing. I just lose track of the words somewhere between his gruff tone and the British accent. He also punctuates every few sentences with a sharp “ha!”, which serves many different purposes including “harrumph,” “doh,” a check to see if you are paying attention, and an exclamation point as if to say “isn’t that the most marvellous thing ever.”

To get by in a situation like this, I play a game where I infer what he says based on the words I think I understand. There are enough cues to know when to nod or smile or look suitably outraged. It’s like when I learned Italian, nodding vigorously upon detecting the words “birra” or “gelato.” And, like learning Italian, it gets easier the more you drink.

I’m foggy on details but other ground covered in the evening with G. included his stint in the Palestinian police, which has previously been corroborated by other wine bar sources who added the further embellishment of “a personal friend of Arafat’s”; coming face to face with a herd of water buffalo in Canton; a Polish girlfriend killed in America in 1951; a Canadian girlfriend; a Romanian girlfriend; Stevie Winwood (a wine bar standard “name-drop” given Mr. Winwood’s nearby residence); a famous boxer turned Honolulu hotel bar piano player; and “the leep,” an exclusive, Cotswolds, black-tie annual event that involves lots of speeches and drinking.

It was the last one that got my attention, in part because G. had made a point to say no women were allowed. There was also a moment of awkwardness when G. asked another gentleman at the table, a long-time resident, if he had ever attended. He had not, so G. chose that moment to ask husband for his name and address which he said he would give to his secretary to get husband on the invite list. The elderly do passive aggressive very well.

Our goodbyes included an admonition to husband to reply swiftly when the invite arrived. My curiosity is piqued, and my money is on the freemasons.

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