This time the visitors turned up out of the blue. I normally prefer people to book in advance if they want to stay in my Air BnB. They wanted the room for a couple of nights, three at the most. I’m nothing if not accommodating. Luckily for them, I had no bookings for that weekend, and was keen to supplement my income. Business has been slow ever since Covid and people were tending to holiday abroad again.
I normally only let the room out to a select few, mainly people I know, but I made an exception this time. Times were hard and I needed the money. I live quite a distance from town, so I’m happy to provide an evening meal as well, for a cost. But I had nothing in the house to eat. I made a dash to the supermarket in the nearest town. When I got back, I organised the sleeping arrangements. When it’s a couple staying, it means me giving up my room with the double bed in and sleeping in the spare room.
Last time a couple stayed, they didn’t have any transport and I ended up driving them everywhere they wanted to go. I took them to all the local sites of interest. But these ones had their own car. I got out my collection of local maps and leaflets that I’d accumulated over the years. They decided to go to Stocks reservoir in the Forest of Bowland and have a walk around it.
The reservoir is one of my favourite places. I can’t take the heat these days and the temperatures had been topping 30 degrees. It would be cooler there amongst the trees and beside the water. I offered to accompany them and show them where the bird hides were, so they could observe the birds at close quarters. The area is renowned for its many species: grey Canada geese, pink-footed geese, hen harriers, kestrels, ospreys, shelducks, goosanders.
After about an hour’s driving, we arrived at the car park near the sunken village. The area was flooded back in the 1930s, to supply water for Blackpool and the Fylde. When the village was swamped, the whole community was moved out. They built a new church down the road and disinterred the bodies. The area has an eerie atmosphere.
I suggested we follow one of the walking paths through the forest. It is a good place to meander in the shade. There were hardly any other people about: just the occasional photographer or dog walker.
If you look through the trees you can make out the rubble from the fallen houses, lying just where it has fallen. It is covered in moss now, but you can imagine neighbours talking over their garden walls.
‘It makes me sad to think of the villagers losing their homesteads,’ I said.
‘Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good,’ the man said.
I wondered just what he meant. But neither of them was very forthcoming. We had reached the clearing known as the old vicarage garden. It has picnic benches in it, where you can sit surrounded by rhododendron trees. I took out the sandwiches I’d prepared for lunch.
‘So how is the country faring these days?’ The man asked.
‘The country is in dire economic straits,’ I said. ‘Nothing works any more. Train services don’t run; NHS waiting lists have topped seven and a half million. Inflation is at its highest level in years. The cost of living has gone through the roof. Mortgages keep going up and up and everyone is demanding a pay rise just to be able to afford to live. It feels like we are living in a Third World country.’
It felt good to be getting it off my chest and they were willing listeners. I went on to explain how things had gone downhill since Brexit, how the Covid pandemic had thrown everything out of kilter. And how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had caused our gas and oil prices to soar, along with food prices. I lamented the fact that the big powers seemed powerless to put a stop to it.
‘I think we’ve got the picture,’ the woman said. ‘Our friends came here some years ago. It was at the time of the Presidential elections in America. They were about to elect a megalo-maniac, if I remember right.’
It all fell into place then. These people must be from the same planet as the last visitors, the ones who’d hot footed it back to their planet, after I’d told them about the state of things here.
‘And it could all happen again,’ I said. ‘The same chap is standing for President again. And he thinks the nuclear codes belong to him.’
‘Surely the American public wouldn’t make the same mistake twice,’ the man said.
‘Well, I wouldn’t put it past them,’ I said.
Just then we arrived at the bird hide. We went inside to escape the heat. I had brought binoculars, but you couldn’t mistake the Canadian geese with their loud, honking sounds. They were all swimming one way and then, for some reason known only to them, they turned simultaneously, and started swimming in the opposite direction.
‘Is there any reason for that?’ They asked.
‘I shouldn’t think so,’ I said. ‘They just seem to drift around all day, following the flock. It must be nice being a goose. No responsibilities. No worries.’
Just then I spotted a goosander with a host of ducklings on her back and others following in her trail.
‘She seems determined to get somewhere,’ the man observed.
‘I expect she just wants to provide food and safety for her young,’ the woman said. ‘Like us, really.’
They left a couple of days after that. Apparently, their planet wasn’t in nearly as bad a shape as ours. And there were other planets they still hadn’t explored. Their friends had been right. There was definitely no point in coming to live here.