I travelled extensively in my IT Training career, both at home and abroad. So much so, I maintained a small travel case packed and ready should a colleague fall ill, or their car breaks down on a Monday morning. Shortly after the dot.com boom went bust, I received a call from the training centre in Camberley, Surrey. Camberley is an affluent, leafy town about sixty miles southwest of London. It’s close to Sandhurst and has several military training camps nearby. Unfortunately, the local transport system creaks, so everybody drives, and traffic congestion is a daily frustration.
I’d not be staying in a plush hotel; the latest cost-cutting instruction was to find local accommodation at less than £50 per night. So, I found a guest house not far from the station, and frankly, my first impressions fell short. It was autumn, and the room was cold and damp, and I felt I was sharing the bathroom with other life forms.
The owner, Shona, was incredibly apologetic and told me that the guest house would undergo substantial refurbishment next month. She asked me if I’d like to move to another hotel. However, it wasn’t worth the hassle as I was out most of the time.
As I settled in for the night, I hung up my suit and shirts in the wardrobe, and I noticed that I had forgotten my cufflinks. I was disappointed with myself because I take pride in being organised. So, I asked Shona if there was a jeweller’s shop in Camberley. She told me not to worry and that I could borrow her husband’s cufflinks. At breakfast, she handed me the cufflinks in a box, and her broad smile lit up the breakfast room. The cufflinks were Greek, antique silver with the contours of the Athenian owl. Expensive. I felt privileged that her husband trusted a stranger with these artisan pieces. It was touching, considering my negative first impressions and comments about the dingy bathroom.
The days passed quickly, and I came to return the cufflinks at the end of my stay.
“Shona, I want to thank your husband for his kindness in loaning me these beautiful cufflinks. It was a great help.” I closed the box and handed them back.
She looked away. “Keep them,” she said with a smile.
“They’re your husband’s. I can’t possibly keep them.”
“My husband doesn't need them anymore,” she said with tears welling in her eyes. “He was a UN peacekeeper in the Balkans. He was fatally wounded two days before the end of his tour, almost nine years ago today. So please take them and look after them for me. Wear them with pride and in his honour.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it. But it’s too much! I must leave now before the traffic gets crazy, but I’ll be back next month to see how you’re doing. Thanks again. It was a beautiful gesture.”
As I battled through the roundabouts, slip roads, and traffic chaos, my mind reflected on Shona’s kindness. It still shocked me that her husband had died in such tragic circumstances. I felt it was too much to accept this gift. I hoped that I wasn’t too abrupt and that I hadn’t offended her. But I couldn’t accept them. It just didn’t feel right. The gift was too personal.
I returned a month later and wrapped in scaffolding and grey tarpaulin, the building was unrecognisable. The interior had undergone enormous improvements, and there was a new reception area and a male receptionist. “Room 3, 1st floor Mr Stevenson,” said the efficient young man.
I opened the door to see my previous room looking transformed. It was more spacious and homely, and there were tea and coffee making facilities and a flat-screen TV. The bathroom was glorious with a walk-in shower, and this time I felt that the room was mine alone.
I opened the wardrobe to hang up my shirts and suit, and there at eye-level was a white envelope with my name. Inside was the cufflink box and a small note which read, ‘Hello again Mr Stevenson. I'm in Germany this week looking after my daughter's graduation. I'll see you next time. Please wear the cufflinks with pride and in my husband’s memory. Regards Shona.’
I have attended numerous formal events that required suits and cufflinks over the years, and I always wear them with pride and in Shona’s husband’s honour.
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