"That," I thought, "looks remarkably like Clare." But Clare was the last person I expected to see walking along the side of this road. A Clare clone, perhaps? I had just negotiated the corner - taking care not to swing the car too dramatically because of the hefty, somewhat breakable load in the back - and there was this young woman in a long coat.
From the back she was sufficiently Clarelike - enough for me to stare in a way that would have been politically incorrect if she were not, after all, Clare. But in profile, and even more in three-quarter face, she was quite decidedly herself. So I waved. She spotted me through the window.
At that precise point there was a place in which to park the car. I stopped and climbed out.
Clare is a member of our drama club. We are friendly in an affable, drama-clubby way. We have only been in one play together. She was in a main part while I played a minor character, and the twain didn't meet on stage. This was Noel Coward's "Present Laughter," and it was Clare who our Best Critic, my wife, picked out for special mention.
Later she was production assistant for Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," in which I had a small role. I gave her a lift to rehearsals now and then.
Last year, she married. My wife and I were unable to attend her wedding, but we sent her a present - a multiple egg-boiler. I have a conviction that correctly boiled eggs, almost more than any other salient consideration, make for a happy marriage. Months later, the post office returned the present as "undeliverable" and "unclaimed."
I heard that Clare had moved away with her husband to run a country hotel a dozen or so miles away. That may not seem far, but to the urban-dweller I have become, it was moon distant. She no longer had much time for the drama club.
"What are you doing here?" she asked a split second before I would have asked her the same question.
"I'm on the way to the dump," I said, "with 300 floor tiles."
I was not happy about dumping these tiles. They were good ones, in perfect shape and with a nice warm ocher glaze.
Our kitchen floor is covered with their fellows, but these were the leftovers. (We did, perhaps, order a few too many; well, about twice what we needed.) But tossing them willy-nilly, smashing them to smithereens, goes against my grain. Someone, surely, would love to have them. But the fact is that wives can sometimes be very determined. For some time, mine has been mentioning, and mentioning again, the notion of tidying up our garage.
The pile of tiles has been sitting in the center of the garage floor for a little while. Well, for about 25 years, to be honest.
I don't know why my wife is so urgent about it. What's a quarter century in the larger scheme of things? How can she be so sure we are, as she puts it, "never going to use those tiles"?
And I can still get into the garage, even if there are one or two things in the way besides the tiles: the plastic sacks and solidified bags of cement; the rolls of insulation; two or three ladders; the rakes, hoes, forks, shovels, shears, and tree loppers; the drain pipes, wire netting, and gutters; the lengths of two-by-two pine and three-by-two and six-by-two timber; and a variety of dowels, moldings, sheets, and scraps of wood that climb, more or less, up to the rafters.
The merely knee-deep drifts of sawdust and shavings on the floor are no great problem to walk over or stand on.
On the workbench, the screwdrivers, clamps, hammers, chisels, miscellaneous nails and screws, staple gun, pieces of formica, handsaw and jigsaw, drill bits, chisels, rasps, levels, glue guns, paintbrushes, and Stanley knives can easily be swept to one side when I need space to work.
Suffice it to say that, in the end, the pile of tiles had to go. They all just about fitted into the back of the car, and off I headed, heavy-hearted, to the dump.
Secretly I hoped that someone at the dump would be looking for 300 tiles and might head back home convinced that Christmas had come early. I just wanted someone to have them.
I never arrived at the dump. Clare had a damp wall in a bathroom at the hotel that had recently been replaced. It needed to be tiled. She loved the color and glaze of our tiles. Her eyes lit up when I asked if she'd like to have them.
"Give me 10 quid for the petrol," I said, jocularly, "and I'll take them out to the hotel straightaway."
The bargain was swiftly concluded. I sped back home so my other half could accompany me on a little evening trip into rural Scotland - and also so that I could pick up something else.
And that is why the garage at a certain Country House Hotel north of Glasgow now has 300 ocher tiles neatly stacked in it. And that is why Clare's reputation as an accurate boiler of breakfast eggs is about to climb radically. And that is why her husband will love her even more than he already, quite rightly, does.