A Lady Wot Lops

Being a married woman did have its advantages. It was a bit like owning a Rottweiler.

My husband was stern, and brave. I am not sure whether he was stern and brave because he was naturally stern and brave or stern and brave because he was always absolutely and entirely sure that he was Right. He was also clear-thinking and decisive. He did not panic. I used to think, if you were to be cast away on a desert island, he’d be the one to be cast away with. He’d know what to do.

I once had a painful, persistent eye problem, serially misdiagnosed by our hopeless local doctor. One afternoon, when I could no longer bear the light from the window even with my eyes tight shut and my hands over them, he bundled me into the car, drove me forty miles to the nearest eye hospital and made a loud and thorough nuisance of himself in demanding that a specialist come and sort it out, immediately. Apparently, if he hadn’t been so bloody-minded I would have lost the sight in one eye.

It was a bit hit-and-miss, though. Like Rottweilers. On one occasion we were recklessly overtaken by a man in a potato-lorry.  My husband caught up with him in a lay-by and addressed a few stern words to him, whereupon the potato man, who turned out to be a lot wider and stockier than anticipated, threatened to cream him. Over the bonnet. I believe the verb ‘to cream is’, or at the time was, a variant on the verb ‘to marmelize’ except that what is left of you afterwards is not so much orange and chunky as white and thinly-smeared.

Husband was also a boon when energetic, practical stuff needed doing. I am not exactly lazy but I can’t get worked up about power-tools and widgets. The other week I recall I was forced to mention rawlplugs in one of my posts. A lady should not need to know what a rawlplug is. They are uninteresting objects and made of red plastic, which makes them unpleasant to behold.

Similarly, a lady should not be required to wield a pair of loppers. Loppers are man-things, a bit like a giant and very sharp beak on a pair of telescopic arms, for cutting off high branches. Normally the very thought of lopping would have sent me to the sofa with an extra-sugary bowl of Weetabix to watch Loose Women or Countdown until the urge to do so had passed over.

Unfortunately the climbing roses down the side of the garage had grown to way above my head. They were the size of small trees and whipping about shamingly in the wind. Worse, the giant rose bushes had become overgrown with passion-flower, including a bumper crop of overripe orange fruits with disgusting blood-red seeds (I marmelized several). Not only that, there were brambles. Every garden on this hillside is infested with brambles, and not just the ordinary kind; these are brambles on steroids – stems as big as your wrist, each thorn the length of a baby’s finger. But sharper, and more painful when they ping back and hit you in the face. As I discovered.

So I invested in a pair of loppers. The only way I could afford them was because I got paid for one of my many abortive attempts at employment. This one had lasted two weeks and generated sufficient funds to justify the purchase of a stout pair of Taiwanese loppers.

They’ll see me out, I told myself comfortingly. This is something you find yourself saying as you get older. “They’ll see me out” means the object is substantial – a good-quality steel kitchen-knife, say – and you are likely to be dead before it wears out, meaning you’ll never ever have to buy another one.

I can’t say I actually enjoyed lopping, though no doubt the exercise was good for me. It was really hard work. Not only do you have to cut through these big thick prickly stems, which you have to find first, tracing them upwards, visually, to the rose-stem or bramble waving defiantly above your head. Not only that, but once cut they won’t come down. No sir, they just stay there, doomed to wither but ensnared in layer upon layer of rotting passion fruit. So you have to get a hook – luckily the previous people had left behind a hook, whose purpose had hitherto been a mystery to me – and engage in an undignified tug of war with all this super-long cut stuff to try to free it.

So, before the mid-day sun made working outside dangerous for a person of my advancing years and pale complexion, I had built up two giant heaps of brambles/roses/passion-flower/birds-nests. This evening or tomorrow morning I have to go out there with the secateurs (another thing a lady should not be required to trouble herself with) cut it all into more manageable bits and stuff it into numerous plastic garden bags and bins. And then, oh joy of joys, I have to drive it all to the tip.

A man-place!

The Phoenix Fire Mystery

Reincarnation: do you believe in it?

I used to haunt my local library, and I found this enormous hardback book called Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery (Cranston & Head, 1977).  I booked it out so many times in succession that I might as well have kept it. When eventually they decided to “modernise” the library, the book – along with a good third of the books in the library, it seemed – disappeared, during one of the days I had foolishly let it out of my keeping, to be replaced by a whole lot of tacky music cassettes. I was cross about that. All the times I’d thought about stealing ‘my’ beloved old friend Reincarnation, and never did because my conscience wouldn’t let me – and then they throw it out to make room for – not-books, for dross. It was at that point I gave up on public libraries altogether, and thankfully soon after it became possible to order books online.

Which is where I got the equally enormous paperback copy that sits on the desk beside me now.

Sometime after we divorced, my husband told a mutual friend that I had Got Religion around this time – one reason he was glad to see the back of me. There were many reasons he could have cited for being glad to see the back of me – looking back, even I’d even have been glad to see the back of me – but he was wrong about that one. I didn’t Get Religion then, and I still haven’t. I started thinking for myself around then, and searching for answers. The search goes on.

I remember one summer’s afternoon, sitting on the back step of our house. He was down the garden in his workshop constructing something intricate and splendid involving lathes and drills, and I was just… sitting on the step, thinking about reincarnation… and something suddenly clicked. It was… you know like if you mesh your two hands together in front of your face…?  Something fitted together, precisely. Something felt absolutely right, at last. And that was reincarnation. I just knew it was right, not through any intellectual process but as if retrieving an ancient memory. It fitted with that feeling I had since a child, that the past is not something irretrievably gone, but all around us still. I felt my ancestors, and strangers, and scenery long vanished – beside me. I knew time was an illusion, but I didn’t know how.

Over the years I have read more, in different fields – testing it – trying to find something that would be an antidote to that unreasonable, unscientific certainty – but only seem to have stumbled across more and more things that fit with it. It now seems to me that the traditional Eastern idea of reincarnation is a simplified version of an unimaginably complex reality. I think there is more to it than amassing good karma and bad karma, and the possibility of coming back as a worm/slug/dung-beetle if we misbehave, or working one’s way up to some kind of disembodied semi-angelic status if we’re really, really good.

My sense is that when we die, we leave our used-up physical bodies behind, obviously, but then maybe rest between lives. And during that between-lives period we design, assemble or are irresistibly drawn back into, another life, depending on what we next need to learn; the ‘life after life’ pattern being an extended learning or growing process. I think we are ‘sent out’ – or maybe even fling ourselves joyfully out – from our source – like flares from the sun – and we ‘return’ – or maybe sink gratefully back – to our source; and that in returning we bring with us what we have learned – so that the source is enriched and in a small way modified by everything we have seen, experienced and suffered.

I don’t see ‘That’ as anything that can be named; or as in any way static, but rather as  a something continually and violently in motion – boiling, like the sun – always rearranging, realigning and reconfiguring. I see human creativity – that surge of joy that happens when a poem line comes to you, or you when you paint a picture just right, or capture the photo – as a fizzy foretaste, a pale, just-bearable echo of what it is to be That – the violence, the frightening creativity, the rage, the restless urge for change, the passion to bring into existence Something from Nothing.

Getting Religion, I suspect, would have been the easier option!

Though all dies, and even the gods die, yet all death is but a phoenix fire death, and new birth into the Greater and Better.

Thomas Carlyle

Slightly Awkward

Well, the next of this little series of internet prompts is ‘An Awkward Social Moment’. This is going to be difficult since most of my social moments are awkward; I either blurt something out just as the room goes silent, or get the wrong end of the stick, or out of anxiety simply make a huge meal out of trying not to be awkward.

The other problem is – I don’t know about you – but I tend to erase uncomfortable moments. The more excruciatingly embarrassing they are, the less likely that I will recall them in a year’s time. My subconscious leaps in protects me. Good old subconscious.

I do remember a couple of social moments where, for once, the awkwardness wasn’t my fault. It was on one of my parents’ Sunday visits, when I was still married. They had come to our house first and then we walked round to the village pub for Sunday lunch. Unfortunately, we had just been relating to them the juicy scandal of the moment; that the handsome, grey-haired, many-years-married headmaster of the local comprehensive school had been discovered having a torrid affair with his secretary.

In the pub were a lot of giant saggy sofas. It was crowded, being Sunday lunch-time, so while we were waiting to be called in to the dining room we were forced to share one of the giant saggy sofas with another couple – a rather attractive lady and – you guessed it, a handsome, grey-haired gentleman. Poor Mum. She was a bit deaf even then and couldn’t judge how loud she was speaking; but even if she hadn’t been deaf the headmaster and his new lady-friend were so close they could hardly have avoided hearing as she relayed the whole scandal again. My husband was frantically doing that throat-slitting gesture and making “Urgh, they’re sitting right next to us…” expressions at her. She looked confused but didn’t stop talking – in fact the confusion seemed to have made it impossible for her to stop. On and on she went as I attempted to meld with the scuffed leatherette and become one with the cushions.

The second one also involved my husband – who had been my ex-husband for a while by then. My father died. Ex and my father had always got on well, so we invited Ex and My Replacement to the funeral. Appropriately, at the crematorium it was overcast, chilly and raining. Before the service began we were all clustered outside, hopping from one foot to another and blowing on cupped hands in our not-especially-warm funeral outfits. The outfits were not all black because my father had asked us not to wear mourning. So we had done our best to respect his wishes whilst not appearing in any way cheerful in various shades of grey, maroon or navy.

Other guests didn’t know about this and wouldn’t have taken any notice if they had – so they were all in black. We would so much rather have been in black as well – which was the first awkwardness – but what can you do?  Most of them were friends from my parents’ cycling days whom we hadn’t seen since childhood. Ex and My Replacement were huddled to my left, an elderly woman to my right. She was chatting away, having obviously seen me in romper suits and frilly hats, or no-front-teeth and a hair-ribbon. I had no idea who she was.

And then she asked, in a sudden, piercing voice, “Aren’t you the eldest? The one who got divorced from that dreadful Artist? Whatever happened to him, I wonder?” I could hear the dreadful Artist stifling a laugh inches from my left ear. I don’t remember how I handled that one: not well, I’m guessing.

And then, to add a kind of gloss to the occasion, as the tinny CD machine behind the velvet curtain, on some concealed console or wherever, started to play Dad’s favourite Ella Fitzgerald song, My Replacement’s mobile phone started trumpeting Colonel Bogie in the depths of her capacious handbag. First she couldn’t find it and then she couldn’t remember how to turn it off.

This did not surprise me in the least. Whenever I see that woman something bad happens. Before I even knew she was plotting to Replace me, I passed her in the High Street one day. A small ginger kitten suddenly poked it’s head out of her jacket and I half-fell off the kerb, twisting my ankle so badly it took weeks to recover. However, summoning what was left of my dignity I strode off up the High Street without looking back. Willpower alone kept the limp from kicking in until she was out of sight.

Another time I went to visit them in their new, wonderful country cottage etc., etc. It’s a long way off the road in the middle of acres of… well, you can imagine… and Ex was always very insistent that I should drive right down to the house rather than leaving my poor, scared little motor car parked safely outside their wonderfully rustic farm-type front gate. This meant a long drive down a crooked, rutted, muddy path, and then a long reverse back up the crooked, rutted, muddy path to the road. I can reverse but not terribly well. And when being watched by super-critical Ex and super-wonderful My Replacement (she built her own coal-bunker and garden shed, apparently, and dredged their pond… and she could lift a lathe with one hand..)…

Well, I managed to reverse poor, scared little motor car almost into their newly and wonderfully dredged (by Her) wonderful rustic pond complete with moorhens, bulrushes etc. I got stuck in the mud and Ex had walk up and take over and reverse my car out of their pond, and…

I won’t go on.

 graffiti5

 

To tattoo or not to tattoo, that is the question

Yesterday I was trawling through some ancient Daily Post prompts* having rejected that day’s, which was about fashion-nostalgia – something else I don’t possess – and came across this one about tattoos. Specifically: If you were forced to get a (or another) tattoo, what would you get and where?

Hmmm…

dragon 2

Unlike most of the (televised) human race, it seems, I am totally untattooed. I have been amazed, recently, by the inkiness of everyone’s flesh. Even on Strictly Come Dancing – that treasure-chest of all that is glamorous and pristine – male dancers now seem to have tattoos hanging out under the sleeves of their powder-blue spangly tops – I mean, what is the world coming to?

I suppose it’s part of getting older. Things strike you as odd and gratuitously new-fangled that younger people don’t even notice. I recall a story about a woman going with her mother to stay in a hotel, and her mother being kind of affronted that hotel room-keys were now pieces of plastic to be swiped rather than actual metal keys. The older woman was not so much upset by this new piece of technology as dreadfully wearied. It made her feel that she had lived too long.

I begin to can relate to that now. You do get to a point where you just don’t want to have to a) absorb and b) try to suss out the logic behind a new fashion or development. Sometimes there just seems no reason why things have changed. There seem no possible benefit, no sense of progress – just change for the sake of change. The old adage If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it has now been discarded in favour of If it’s getting boring, change it.

In my younger day, tattoos were only seen on tarts and sailors – or sailors’ tarts. They were only to be obtained in the back alleyways of certain ports. Mostly they were of mighty anchors with elaborate twists of rope, or luscious ladies wearing very little.

Re tarts – I have to say there were rather a lot of things that would get you called a tart in my younger day. Ankle bracelets, I remember. Bottle-blonde hair. Hankies stuffed in your bra to make you look more luscious-er. Too much back-combing. Skirts too short. When I was at school they measured your skirt: you had to kneel on the floor and a teacher would check to see that no knee was visible beneath your skirt-hem. Nail-varnish – even clear, or that weird clear-pink stuff: straight to the science lab where a sadistic lab technician would remove the evil decoration with industrial strength acetone from a stoppered glass bottle. Any little cut or hangnail – you’d find out about it. Stockings too sheer. Stockings were meant to be thick and orange/sludge coloured so that (gasp!) men a) couldn’t see your actual flesh through them and b) wouldn’t even be tempted to look. Even patent leather shoes. I have a feeling that was Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch saying that the nuns at her convent school banned patent leather “Else men should see your underwear reflected in it”. Really?

The worst two things you could do (instant tarthood) was get pregnant without being married or get divorced. If you got pregnant, people hardly spoke of you except in whispers. They certainly wouldn’t talk to you. Or your parents. Or your auntie. Or your second cousin twice removed. And divorced – divorces were so rare they hit the headlines. Divorces were scandalous. A divorcee had failed. She knew she had failed. She had failed to hang on to her husband. She must have done something to make him beat her up or go with other women. A divorcee was no better than she ought to be. Women saw her as a threat. Men homed in on easy pickings.

And then there was the thing about hats. You daren’t go out in a red hat because it was well-known: Red Hat, No Drawers! Not that I would have done anyway as I loathe both hats and red. There were parts of every town that only tarts frequented. I remember wanting to buy a little bottle of Devon Violets perfume whilst visiting my aunt in Devon. Oh no! she said. You’ll smell like a lady of The Brook! The Brook in Chatham, now home to the Job Centre, a load of traffic and some very ugly buildings – had been, in her day, the place where prostitutes walked. Waiting for sailors. She seemed to have a thing about sailors. Well, Chatham was a dockyard town so hardly surprising. On one of her visits she remarked on how tall I had grown and that I would soon be spooning with a sailor in the front room. Spooning? In those days it just meant a romantic kind of cuddling. But a sailor? Where was I going to find a sailor? Couldn’t even find a boy.

So, it was easy to get yourself a ‘name’ – and a tattoo – well, that was a permanent name. A red hat can be taken off, bottle-blonde locks can be shorn, an ankle bracelet removed. But – in those days, at least – you were stuck with a tattoo. No one would have employed you to work in an office if you had such a disfigurement, though you might have got a job as a debt-collector or “door staff”. And people would automatically assume you’d been to prison.

But of course things have changed. Both my sister and niece have tattoos, in fairly discrete regions of themselves. I even – yes, I have to admit – at one point considered investing in one myself. I was thinking of intertwined dragons – one red and one blue – on my arm. There – I said it. I thought about it. Fortunately I didn’t do it.

The dragons – well, I was born in one of the Years of the Dragon so dragons have always felt like my totem animal. I like the look of dragons in old illustrations – their sinuous and elaborate nature. If I could draw I would draw fantasy dragons, like the ones you can find on the internet nowadays. Mega-dragons, all fire and nacreous scales. And the significance pink and blue intertwined? It was some sort of weirdo-psychological stuff I was going through at the time. Kept dreaming about dragons. Pink dragons, blue dragons…

And power-stations… and pebbly beaches… and men in long black coats who might have been my father…

Wonder what it all meant…

 

* Sorry, got that wrong. I mentioned, and linked to, a Daily Post prompt called Tattoo, You but the wording is slightly different. I’ve just stumbled across the one I actually used which is from the One Minute Writer blog.

 

IMHO

In films, when people’s marriages end and they get divorced, it seems to be a short, sharp, dramatic affair. She catches him cheating with his secretary, say. Terrible, terrible rows. Bitterness and recriminations all round. Terrible, terrible divorce. Loads of screaming and shouting. Then they never see each other again and Good Riddance.

It wasn’t really like that for me. I left, after anguishing, and after twenty-two years of knowing I needed to. There wasn’t that much anger, from what I can remember, just conversations and negotiations. Long, patient, sad negotiations. A second try and a second failure. More negotiations, this time long, weary and patient. Eventually, my solicitors, his solicitors, paperwork, more weariness, more sadness.

I remember particularly the List you are forced, or at that time were forced, to make out when petitioning for divorce on grounds of unreasonable behaviour – the only option open to me. I couldn’t think how to explain it; didn’t even want to explain it, really. Twenty-two years of shared experience and shared unhappiness somehow wouldn’t resolve themselves into twenty-two neat bullet points.

Does he squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle, for example, asked the solicitor. That’s always irritating. I couldn’t remember whether he did or not, and didn’t really care. In the end I was forced to come up with this list of invented, exaggerated, petty but passable examples of his Unreasonableness. It would have been easier to make a list of my own faults.

I knew his solicitors would be posting him a copy of the List and I was thinking, that’s it. When the list arrives he will hate me. There’ll be no more popping over to his (that was formerly our) house for a pot of his over-strong tea; no more saying hello to the cats and finding out how he’s getting on. No more strange half-evenings by the fire, half at home, half not; talking, but mostly not; half safe again, half never-again-safe. Just drinking over-strong tea, not pulling the curtains and watching the garden get dark. No more running to him in a panic when I mislay my credit card wallet or don’t know what’s wrong with the car. We’ll need to stop talking to each other, which will please my solicitor who finds the whole pots-of-tea/comparing notes thing confusing. Once he gets that list…

Time went on and he still didn’t mention that List. Eventually I couldn’t bear the suspense any longer and asked him about it. Oh that, he said. It arrived weeks ago. Load of old rubbish! It was never mentioned again.

Since then we have stayed in touch, but less and less. He found someone else, sold the house that we had lived in, moved on. I ran through a few more lovers. None of them were him. I’m one of those strange people, I suppose – like baby ducks imprinted on their mother – once a wife always a wife, even when not one. Always true, after my untruthful, unfaithful, unreliable fashion. Nowadays he calls me once or twice a year. They have Skype, I gather. I think how old his voice is sounding now and no doubt he’s thinking the same about me. Probably best without the visuals!

He tells me in detail about the work they’re having done on the roof, his skirmishes with the builders; he complains of the perfidy of bank managers. I tell him very little: it used to be impossible to get a word in edgewise in any case but he listens better nowadays than he used to do. We compare elderly parents – his, mine and his partner’s – living and dead. Well, all but one dead now. And numbers of cats – ten for him right now and twelve for me. That’s one little contest I’m winning, at least for a while. Whatever ailment I have, he’ll have had the same but worse, far worse, and longer. I post him birthday and Christmas cards, usually with cats on them, which I spend some time selecting. His new lady sends me e-Christmas and e-Easter cards from them both – those things in emails that start doing stuff when you click on them, and go on interminably. I must admit I delete them. A card is not a card unless made of card. IMHO.

But I am glad to hear his voice on the phone every so often, if only to confirm that he’s still in the land of the living. Sometimes I wonder whether anyone will let me know, when one day he no longer is. I suppose they probably will. Unless, of course, it’s me that Goes Under the Bus; can’t take it for granted that being nine years younger will mean living nine years longer. In that case I wonder whether anyone will think to tell him – that I’m Under the Bus. And I sometimes wonder whether death will constitute any greater change in our relationship than divorce did, if what we now have can be called a relationship. Once connected – to anyone, in this way – come hell or high water you tend to stay connected. IMHO.

THE FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT (I GOTTA WEAR SHADES)

So, former husband was going round the house chanting to himself Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades, Future’s So Bright… which was at least an improvement on The Don Lindberg Aquatic Show, The Don Lindberg Aquatic Show or Member of Lloyds, Member of Lloyds… He used to get phrases stuck, which was annoying. I think The Future’s So Bright… featured in an Orange mobile phones advert at the time, and that was how it had got to him.

The Don Lindberg Aquatic Show was something we witnessed on The Leas in Folkestone in 1970-something. All I can remember is this man at the top of some sort of cherry-picker or giant crane arrangement, doing a lot of posing before diving with enormous ceremony into a plastic paddling pool, and somehow emerging from it without a broken neck. By the way, if you are the Donald A. B. Lindberg (born 1933), Director of the United States National Library of Medicine from 1984 till your retirement in 2015 and known for your work in medical computing… I know it wasn’t you.

Personally, I found it boring but my husband liked that sort of thing. I did catch a glimpse of the late Alan Freeman in unwise leather trousers. Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman was at that time a famous radio disc-jockey, known for catchphrases such as Greetings, pop pickers, Alright? Stay bright! and Not ‘arf! He had an orange-y face and seemed so very small, out of the radio. He was later to be the inspiration for comedian Harry Enfield’s Dave Nice in the Smashy and Nicey sketches, which I believe he quite enjoyed.

I can’t really criticise ex-husband for his occasional bouts of echolalia since I too get phrases stuck in my head and can’t somehow get them out, the only difference being that I don’t verbalise them all the time. I suppose we were both a bit on the obsessive-compulsive side, not to mention the Asperger’side, the unsociable side, the smart-arse side and the irritating side. There were really quite a lot of things we had in common. We might have noticed this if we’d had any patience with one another. But of course, we didn’t.

Which brings me to what one of my fellow bloggers refers to as a meme… so many new words, so many new words, so many new words… which everyone will no doubt know to be an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture:

A reporter asked the couple, “How did you manage to stay together for 65 years?”  The woman replied, “We were born in a time when if something was broken we would fix it, not throw it away.”

So – this meme thingy. I wonder how many years the old couple would have kept trying to fix the poor, broken old thing? We spent twenty-two years, on and off, trying to fix ours. And then, of course, unless you were rich, before the nineteen-sixties you didn’t really have the option of divorce: you either fixed your mistake or suffered for it – more often a combination of the two. But the sentiment is good, and fixing’s always worth a try.

Going back to The Leas. This is a long, wide strip of grass – lawn – stretching the length of the cliff above Folkestone to Sandgate, providing ‘a cliff top promenade with fine sea views’ according to one old leaflet:

http://www.visitkent.co.uk/discover-folkestone/folkestone-historical-walks—promenading-on-the-leas.pdf

Folkestone is a seaside town in Kent, on the south coast of England. Lots of interesting things have happened on The Leas over the years – air displays and such. It has a slidey lift down to the beach which has been there since 1885 and a Bandstand (1895). It was extremely popular with the Victorians, who came to Folkestone to breathe in the clean sea air. Spacious and Gracious used to be its advertising slogan. In the ’70s when I was there, some arty-farty clever-clogs re-labelled it Specious and Gruesome and everyone thought that was hilarious for a while. But it was OK. By the ’70s it had dimmed into just another British seaside town, sprawling, shabby, a bit rough round the edges, but it had baby seagulls on the rooftops and fairy-lights looping through the trees along Bouverie Road West. It possessed a shabby, nautical, slightly bohemian charm, I always thought.

There’s also a cavernous, in-cliff venue called the Leas Cliff Hall where people can go and see acts like Steelye Span (Yay! Steelye Span!) Psychic Sally and One Night of Elvis featuring Lee ‘Memphis’ King.

I can remember two things about The Leas, apart from Don Lindberg and his blasted aquatic show. One was going for a walk along The Leas with my mother, father, youngest sister and husband not long after we had married and moved to Folkestone. My sister, around fifteen at the time and still going through the ‘Kevin’ phase, was so fed-up with the whole visit and probably with me – even more probably with my new husband – that she collapsed flat on her back on the grass, in her winter coat, gazing up at the grey sky and scudding clouds and refusing to move. Someone took a photograph of her in this position, which is now lost – except to memory.

The second is not so much a memory as a story. I had a friend, once, who had been pursuing a certain gentleman for many years. He lived in her village. He was nice. I met him. They undertook the New Year bell-ringing duty together each year but no canoodling was ever reported to have taken place up in that icy midnight belfry. It was sad, gothic and romantic, but he never proposed.

So we all got older and older. In her forties she became interested in belly-dancing – she was always trying out one thing or another – and she and her belly-dancing group were out performing their routine one Sunday on The Leas when she spotted in the crowd – yes, none other than the object of her longings. I gather he had never seen so much of her on display until now, and of course for belly dancing you have to display so much – all those wobbly-waggly tummy bits one prefers to keep hidden under floppy tops and smock-like dresses. So there she was – wobbling, waggling and gyrating, unable to stop and run away without ruining the group’s routine and making herself even more conspicuous – and there he was – surprised, spectating – and it was embarrassing and mortifying and…

If it had been a Mills & Boon story he would have been smitten, stricken or similar and rushed forth from the crowd to drop on one knee and propose marriage, babies – although it may have been too late for that – a gold ring, a massive reception with Asti Spumante and those little throwaway cameras on the tables for the guests to take pictures, a five-star honeymoon at poolside hotel in Antigua…

But of course, he didn’t.