I am minding my own business, putting out some rubbish, when it happens. An elderly man I know, a neighbour, appears out of nowhere, speaking to me. He is 83 if he is a day. He is well turned out, as he always is, full head of hair, silver, swept back in a matinée idol kind of way. He is wearing a pale summer jacket and crisp white shirt.
As usual, he doesn’t bother with small-talk; he just goes straight in: ‘I’ve just been reading some poetry you know.’
‘How marvellous,’ I say.
‘Shakespeare,’ he says, before I can ask him what it was. ‘The Sonnets you know.’
He begins quoting the poem: ”Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?/ Thou art more lovely and more temperate. / Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, /And summer’s lease hath all-”
He knows the words that come next, but he stops short of uttering them. ‘It’s bloody good you know. Shakespeare. I’m going for a walk with him now.’
He pulls a small red book out of his jacket pocket. ‘Number 18 I think you’ll find,’ he says. ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,’ he says. ‘What’s it all mean?’
‘It means,’ I say. Then it is my turn to stop, suddenly aware that he might not be asking me about the poem.
”Summer’s lease,” he says. ‘Bloody marvellous.’
‘Marvellous,’ I agree.
‘And those ‘darling buds of May’. I love those. Fantastic. Nobody’s writing like that now,’ he says.
‘No one was then,’ I say.
My neighbour looks at me. For a second we have become an impromptu poetry society, right here on the street, on this sunny summer’s day. ”Hath all too short a date,” he says. ‘You should read him too, you know. You should.’ And with that he wriggles the book back into his pocket, and sets off down the road for his walk with Shakespeare.
”The darling buds of May,” he calls out, over his shoulder. ‘Bloody marvellous!’ he says again. ‘Sonnet 18,’ he says, in case I forget.