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Chance Encounters: Part Two

How to explain the lengthy hiatus in blog posts? I have been immersed in editing my third novel, a story based on true events surrounding my grandfather and grandmother during the First World \War. Now that the manuscript is being scrutinised by my wife and also by members of New Street Authors (New Street Authors), I can complete Chance Encounters that was begun last December with Part One (Part One)

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A day or two following our illuminating encounter with Alwyn (Part One), another overcast morning found us on the broad high bluffs above Three Cliffs Bay (in south Gower). As we approached what we usually regard as the point of return high above the sand dunes of Pobbles Bay, a tall man standing rather nearer the edge of the cliff than I would find comfortable looked purposefully in our direction.

“Would you take a photo’ of me standing here please?” he said in an American accent.

After the usual brief ‘lesson’ in using someone else’s smartphone to take photographs, I felt reasonably confident that I could capture the image he wanted, hoping that his smartphone settings included the simulated click of the movement of the mirror of a digital SLR camera.

The American and I took our relative positions, he moving a little more, too close to the edge for my liking so that I could take a couple of shots of him with his arms spread wide to take in the eastern flanks of Three Cliffs Bay. He seemed satisfied with the results.

“You’re not from around here,” I quipped.

The three of us stood chatting for a few minutes before anyone showed signs of returning to the car park at Southgate.

Jeff Hartzog introduced himself gracefully and told us about his ongoing trip in an engaging fashion, with the kind of openness often associated with Americans. He was probably fairly well off, yet there was no side to him as he explained his plans following his retirement from 35 years in the entertainment industry.

The basis of Jeff’s world trip was partly the significance of the number five.

At the time of our cliff top encounter in 2019, Jeff was 55 years of age. He left the USA to commence his trip on the 5th of the fifth month of 1917, with the aim to travel the world for five years on a daily budget of $55. Our guess is that he could probably well-afford a higher budget, but perhaps Jeff wished to pursue the principal of the fives on a daily basis as well as follow its broader application to his trip.

Unfortunately Jeff had to interrupt his trip early due to the sad death of his brother and return home to deal with his brother’s estate. At the time of writing, Jeff is likely to complete his trip in 2022.

“I call my website collectorofexperiences,” Jeff explained as we began to walk back to the car park. Its Home Page shows Jeff, arms spread wide with a palm-fringed beach behind him, shoulder length hair still much in evidence. (Jeff’s website)

“He didn’t look fifty five,” Annette remarked later.

“Good hair,” was my contribution. “And polite and friendly. A thoroughly nice guy.”

I explained that there was no mobile signal in that part of south Gower as we headed towards our parked cars. Jeff fished an orange gizmo, about the size of a large doughnut, out of this shoulder bag: something about his personal hotspot, he informed us. I made a mental note to find out what one of these was, but haven’t done so as yet.

Jeff rather put me on the spot – having told him earlier that I was born in Scotland – in that he asked me about “The Drive”. This probably refers to a drive from Kyle of Lochalsh around the north coast of Scotland to Inverness, or some variant of a Highland drive. I might have been rather vague in my answer, exposing my lack of knowledge of the best drives in the country of my birth, leaving Jeff with the task of Googling his plans to drive around Scotland.

The last we saw of Jeff, after we parted company, was him driving away in his hired car on the next leg of his trip around the United Kingdom, before he sets out for destinations further afield.

Jeff Hartzog is out there somewhere, gaining experiences and blogging about them. I occasionally visit his website (insert link) to see where he is. This was a chance encounter with a fascinating man, a man with a mission and a goal to achieve in his early retirement, albeit tinged with sadness following the death of his brother.

*

The final encounter took place a few days later on a sunny morning further along the south Gower coast, towards the end of one our favourite walks. As the path leaves the confines of the coast and enters the end of a cul-de-sac, it passes along the front of several houses, whose gardens are separated from them by the lane. Each house has a small, usually hard-landscaped area directly in front, with its main front garden directly opposite across the narrow lane. Each garden is in a highly enviable spot, in that they extend towards the sea, ending with a low drop of a few feet directly onto the beach. Most gardens are carefully laid out, usually with a structure such as a summerhouse facing the sea. (Every time we walk along the lane, I pick out a reading hut away from the house with distracting views over the sea.)

A rather shabbily-dressed man, whose remaining, thinning hair and ponytail showed signs of recent pink Henna treatment, was standing outside the front gate of his garden. The front part of his property was strewn with pieces of wood of all shapes and sizes, scattered about in random piles. (His neighbours can’t be too impressed, as their gardens are all well kept.) The other part of his garden – across the lane – was somewhat better in appearance, apart from a number of rickety outdoor chairs and an upturned boat.

Somehow our man engaged us in a lengthy conversation. I can’t remember exactly how it got started, probably something along the lines: “Nice day for a walk.”

The chat was, initially, casual, topical, and friendly. However it soon moved on to show a distinct right-wing view on his part. Isn’t it odd how people who propound such views somehow think that a stranger passing their garden gate would be either interested or agree with them?

In an attempt to get away and complete our walk to the next seaside village, I tried to remember something that I had heard Benjamin Zephania say on Radio Four a few days earlier, along the lines that “we are all the same, under the same sky.” I tried this on our man in an effort to suggest our liberal, tolerant outlook. He merely looked puzzled and invited us in, offering me a whiskey – once more, my Scottish ancestry must have come up in conversation – or a cup of tea.

We made our excuses, citing completing our walk, and continued along the lane in front of the remaining properties.

“You saw his front garden,” said A, “Just imagine what his kitchen might have been like.”

“I think we had a lucky escape,” I replied.

Given that the walk was a there-and-back route, we approached the house from the opposite direction on our way back with some trepidation. Our man could not be seen. There was, however, a woman sitting with her back to us on one of the dilapidated chairs in the main part of the garden. As we reached the end of the lane to rejoin the coastal path, we both wondered who she was.

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