From the other side of the river Richard could see the house above the reeds and as far as he could discern the place did not seem to be one jot different to how he remembered it. It had to be at least 40 years since he had visited the place and over the years the memories of the times they’d spent there had become ever more romanticised.
On this trip to England a recently widowed friend had regaled him with the story of a reunion with an old girlfriend from the 70’s, engineered through the medium of Facebook. Apparently, his daughter-in-law had suggested the meeting as a gentle push in the direction of establishing a social life as a single man. It had been a modest success but more in the line of a social experiment rather than a reigniting of a long ago romance. They’d exchanged anecdotes about family, mutual friends, holidays, careers and of course reminisced about many occasions from when they were a couple. They’d promised to keep in touch but, his friend admitted, for him at least, the past was best left where it belonged. Most interesting was that many of the memories they had of the same events differed so greatly.
Richard had then recounted the memories of his first long term relationship with Anna. They’d ‘gone steady’ for nearly three years back in the 60’s, as one did then but they’d both been living at home with parents. They had however, managed to spend a few nights and one or two memorable weekends together. They’d once stayed in a hotel, signing in as Mr & Mrs Jones, or with married friends but most often in the very house opposite. It had been owned by Anna’s godmother who was a bit of a free spirit and happy for them to use the place at the weekends giving Anna plausible alibi’s for her parents. Anna’s parents were divorced and remarried, so there was always vagueness as to where Anna was spending much of her time anyway.
Then came the time when Anna announced that she ‘was late’, Richard’s first reaction had been panic and the feeling that he wanted to escape, he was not ready to settle down and play the family man. The euphoria he felt when it turned out to be a false alarm was overwhelming and he was not convinced that Anna did not feel the same. It was the beginning of the end, gradually drifting away from each, things which once attracted now irritated. Richard had the chance to go on holiday with the boys, and jumped at it. This did not go down well with Anna but not to be outdone she went off to Majorca with a single girlfriend. The obvious happened and they both had holiday romances which confirmed that they weren’t ready to be tied to each other.
Now 40 years on they were to meet again…
The wine bar was sparsely populated but, as it was only 7:30 on a Sunday evening it was not surprising. Richard scanned the tables nearest the bar, a lone man sat contemplating his glass of red wine occasionally glancing between the door, the open newspaper at his elbow and the two women sitting toward the far right of the bar. One of them looked up, her face lighting up in a familiar smile, she waved and Richard recognised Sheila, the old friend who he had called upon to engineer this reunion. With a shock he realised the woman sitting with her was Anna. Sheila had warned him that she was now blonde, long gone was the glorious brunette hair which, together with deep chocolate brown eyes had made her irresistible.
Hoping his surprise did not show he strolled over to them, they were already sharing a bottle of champagne and he accepted the glass that Sheila poured him. They all toasted each other and drank to the past and all the years since they’d last met.
Anna appeared to be several glasses ahead on the champagne and immediately launched into telling him how ‘fit’ she was for her age, inviting him to compliment her on how good she was looking. She was indeed eye catching, extremely slim and tanned and dressed to kill. In her youth she had been beautiful but a little demure with an air of aloofness and class that seemed to have waned over the years. He was not sure if she always dressed as she was nearly dressed tonight or if it was designed to, what exactly… Shock, attract or in truth slightly repel.
He asked after her family, he had liked and respected her father who was a lovely man rather like an absent minded Rex Harrison. He’d always been made welcome in the rather grand style in which they lived, quite unlike the council flat were he had been brought up. He recounted a remembered incident when they had been seeing each other, a definite case of crossed wires, with Richard nervously preparing to ask if he could use Anna’s father as a referee for a job he had applied for. Anna’s father had completely misunderstood and assumed Richard was asking for Anna’s hand in marriage, it was only after her step mother and her younger brother had been summoned and the brandy poured that the situation had been cleared up.
Strangely, Anna remembered the occasion differently and her recollection was that Richard had proposed but her father had thought they were too young. Anna had finished off the last of the champagne and demanded another bottle which he duly ordered together with a vodka martini for himself. Anna teased him that he could not keep up with her in drinking champagne and Sheila laughed and explained to her his habit of never drinking the same thing twice in a row. He tried to bring Sheila into the conversation by inviting her to recall an occasion when they’d all been together, when Sheila had been married to Richard’s best friend who now, like him, lived on the other side of the world. Sheila started to recount a story but Anna interjected, telling her not to start one of her long-winded stories.
By now Anna was slurring and kept leaning over and whispering in his ear, telling him about the many admirers she had, how her husband had not wanted sex with her in the last three years and that she had her needs so sought to satisfy them elsewhere. Several times she assured him that she would be too much for him to handle now and that he’d never be able to keep up. He thought she was probably right, and when the second bottle was almost empty suggested they all find somewhere to eat hoping the fresh air would sober her up a little. It was a vain hope and when they were seated in a nearby restaurant she moved her chair right up close to his and continued where she’d left off. Sheila excused herself to visit the ladies and was gone so long he was worried she had slipped out and left him with the ever more voracious Anna.
Anna took the opportunity to increase her onslaught suggesting they book into a hotel to continue ‘catching up’. He was becoming more and more uncomfortable, this was not what he had bargained for and he had great difficulty convincing her that he was unable to take her up on this offer as he was due to fly home the next day and had to get back to the friend he was staying with to collect his luggage. He wondered how she would have explained this to both her husband and the man she had claimed to spend most weekends with.
At last Sheila returned to the table, Anna seemed oblivious of her friend and claimed that as Richard had been wanting to kiss her since they’d met earlier that evening that she would let him have a ‘snog’ for old times’ sake. It did not help his discomfiture so see Sheila hiding a giggle and once they finished eating he hurriedly paid and they made their exit. Anna could barely walk straight and demanded he walk her to her friend’s car, this he managed with only a minor detour when he was dragged into a shop doorway for a goodnight kiss but at last they reached the car and with Sheila’s help got her inside. He went round to the driver’s door to say goodbye to Sheila who could not hide her amusement, saying that she had never seen him so disconcerted and with a final admonishment for him to be careful what he wished for, the evening was over.
It was love at first sight… and my first ever experience of this phenomenon. It was about October of 1960, I was about 12 or 13 and out shopping on Edmonton Green with my cousin Chris. At that time The Green was awash with a mix of market stalls and lined with a variety of small shops, it was almost our favourite place to shop. Obviously Wood Green, much larger and with more sophisticated shops was a lot better, but as that would have taken two busses and twice the fare from Enfield Edmonton it was. In later years both of these were eclipsed by the lure of going “up West” to Oxford Street but back then Edmonton was about the extent of where our pocket money would get us on the 128 bus.
Now I know what you’re thinking, but you’d be wrong. My first love was not a spotty adolescent boy or a pop star. I was quite an innocent for my age and had little contact with boys except for my much younger male cousins so had no idea why boys could hold any attraction. At that time my mother and my younger sister lived with my recently widowed aunt and two cousins. My much loved grandmother also widowed, would come round occasional “babysitting” if needed so our mothers could go out dancing. They looked so glamorous to us with their full skirted dresses and sparkly shoes, in fact inexpensive white satin shoes which we helped glue glitter onto to save money. Added to this I went to an all girls school so no male role models as we only saw our father rarely.
But I digress, I got my first glimpse of the object of my infatuation when passing a modish dress shop on said shopping expedition. It was, to my eyes, the most beautiful dress I had ever seen. Made of a check pattern taffeta material with a white sash and had a very full skirt over a many layered net underskirt. The fitted bodice was topped by a generous stand up collar in the same white organza fabric as the sash, just stunning. I just knew that if I owned that dress I would acquire “a figure” rather than the flat-chested barrel shape I currently possessed and I’d look so grown up the stylish girls at school would want to be my friends.
Both Chris and I had pestered our respective mothers for some nylon stockings and it had been hinted that, on condition of good behaviour, we may be granted our wish at Christmas. I was eventually dragged away from the shop window and we ran to catch our bus home.
For Christmas both Chris and my sister had requested the latest dolls with rooted hair that could be brushed but I had asked for money instead so I could buy the yearned for dress. Christmas duly came and we did get our requested gifts including the stockings. I couldn’t wait, I would look very grown up wearing them with the dress to my father’s work Christmas Party always held in early January for the children of the staff.
The day after Boxing Day saw us taking the bus to the dress shop but, there was no sign of the dress in the window just posters stating Sale Now On. Chris pushed me inside to look but not a sign. After some nudging from her I approached the harassed sales lady who was scarily glamorous and smelled of my mother’s favourite Coty L’Aimant scent. She did not remember the dress I described at all until I mentioned roughly when I’d seen it. Her face softened as she saw I was near to tears and she gently explained that it would have been sold to make way for the current seasons stock. She offered me an extra discount if I saw another dress but I was devastated and embarrassed and no other dress could substitute.
On our way home I stopped at our local toy shop and spent my money on a doll like the ones my sister and Chris had got, deciding I would leave growing up for another year.
First love is almost always destined to be painful.
The day dawned overcast with the distinct chill of autumn in the air; in fact it was so cloudy that Jay could barely make out the hill or the steep cliffs beyond the village. They had enjoyed a beautiful Indian summer but now the leaves were falling thick and fast clogging the drains in the car park of the Jolly Miller pub on the village green.
Glancing at his watch he took a deep lungful of the salty sea air and set out along the main street away from the village. As he passed Townend Farm he could hear the three cows in their field mooing their morning cry to be milked, young Len must be late again Jay thought. Probably stayed out too late at the 'Miller last night, he knew they'd still been there at closing time when he'd left.
"Must be getting old,” he muttered to himself, "seems like yesterday that I'd have stayed on with them" That or the fact that he now had the lovely Janine to go home with. Nothing like a beautiful woman to snuggle up with to give an incentive to refuse a lock-in. Things had certainly changed since Janine had moved in with him. Having been a dedicated bachelor till the ripe old age of thirty-one Jay had done a complete about face.
From the moment Janine had moved from Salisbury to take the live-in barmaid's job at the 'Miller, all the village men from the age of thirteen to eighty three had lusted after her, and she had become the subject of all manner of fantasies. Janine, however, seemed sublimely oblivious of all the increased testosterone flowing through the village and maintained an air of cool but friendly interest in all the customers. Young or old, male or female she treated them all the same never showing any particular favouritism. This caused all manner of speculation especially amongst the young men. Her repeated refusal to accept any of their invitations unless they were of a mixed group nature started the rumour that she was a lesbian. This was short lived when she started to be included in some of the female group activities and it was reported that she often talked of a man in her life. This brought forth the assumption that she must be carrying a torch for a lost love, maybe a married man, someone away in the forces or even a criminal behind bars.
The mystery this wove around her resulted in a relaxation on the part of the male population to gain her attention and every one settled down and accepted her into village life.
It was around this time that Jay gained his promotion. After a brief celebration drink with his workmates in town, he got a cab to his local to share the good news with his pals at the 'Miller. When he arrived at nine thirty he was dismayed to see the bar almost empty, he'd forgotten that the darts teams both male and female had a match in the next village tonight. On seeing his crestfallen face Janine had enquired why he was so late and why hadn't he gone along with the others? He explained about his promotion, invited her to join him in a drink and was delighted when she agreed. As it was her night to finish early she had joined him on his side of the bar and by the time the bell sounded for last orders they had discovered they had many interests in common.
They decided to continue the evening at his flat above the post office.
Jay could not believe his luck, he was usually tongue tied around anyone as popular and beautiful as Janine but once they'd made their way back to his place and she had waved away his apologies for the state of the place, they still seemed to be on the same wavelength.
After what seemed like merely minutes, Janine exclaimed "Oh, look at the time, we've been talking all night it's almost two already." She jumped up to leave and Jay followed her to the door. They stood awkwardly looking at each other neither sure how to wind up the night. At last Janine leaned forward to kiss Jay on the cheek, at the same time Jay moved toward her with the same intent. Instead their lips met and after an initial hesitation deepened into a passionate kiss. It was some minutes later that they reluctantly drew apart.
"Ahh, I've been wanting to do that all night,” Janine whispered."
"Mmm, me too, in fact I've been wanting to do that since April" Jay responded and proceeded to repeat the experience while backing down the hall and through the open doorway to his bedroom. They'd agreed, between slowly relieving each other of their various items of clothing that it was far too late for Janine to disturb the other occupants of the pub by returning there at this hour.
From then on they had hardly spent a night apart and eventually two weeks ago they had finally moved the rest of her things from the room at the pub into Jay’s flat and were recognised by all the regulars to be an official item.
Janine had remained stubbornly non-communicative on the matter of the man in her life saying it was not something Jay need worry about. She was a free agent she said, and her past was her affair and nothing to do with what they had together.
Jay took her at her word and settled down to being the envy of all his male friends and being included in all sorts of social activities previously not open to him in his single status.
Completely lost in his reverie; he had covered about a mile and almost reached the garage where his car had been since yesterday for it's MOT. As he approached the crossroads he looked up to see Len from the farm in conversation with a stranger. Len noticed Jay and, waving in his direction said something quietly to the other man, mounted his bike and peddled off down the road toward the farm.
The man walked toward Jay. "Hello there, I was just asking where I could find Janine Edwards. He tells me that you are a special friend of hers hmm? she's probably spoken of me. I’m Paul Hardcastle"
"No, I don't recall her ever mentioning your name, are you related...?"
"Heavens no, I'm one of the executors of her late parent’s estate. I've got some papers for Lady Janine to sign."
LADY Janine! Jay was stunned - "Oh boy" he thought. "wait till everyone hears about this!"
I hate moving especially the packing. That being the case I have done just that four times in the last ten years. My friends and family are getting fed up using all the spaces in their address book but, a girl’s gotta do… This time however, it’s different it’s not me that’s moving, it’s my daughter Ellie. She has lived in the same house for the last twenty five years since she was five, staying with her dad, when he and I broke up. She thought that at sixteen she should choose where she lived. She said she loved us equally, but thought her dad needed someone to look after him. It was also much more convenient for her college and later her job being nearer the station. We see lots of each other and she often stays over, wherever I live.
You’re probably wondering why she’s moving now, and why I am doing her packing. Well, her father decided to sell up in England and take himself off to the Costa Fortune or somewhere, in Spain. Ellie, our daughter, chose to stay here and found somewhere of her own. She is doing very well in her job and wants to live a bit closer to London as she often works long hours. Anyway I must get on with the packing, there’s only her stuff left and the new owners are due to complete on the sale in three days’ time. Looking into the chest I’ve just emptied I see what was stopping the drawer from shutting and, reaching in I pull out a photo in a cardboard cover. It shows Ellie with a good looking couple I’ve never seen before, slipping the photo from its mount I see what’s written on the back. ‘To our darling Ellie, much love always Sheila & Neil – October 2005’.
The 11th May 1979, the phone call that was to change our life forever came just as we we’re leaving for work. It was Mrs Shepherd from the adoption agency.
‘Hello there, great news we have a baby for you. I know its short notice but you did say that would not be a problem. She’s three days old and all the paperwork has been cleared, can you be ready take her before the weekend. Her birth mother has refused to even see her and she’s such a beautiful baby, her colouring matches well with you and your husband it could not be more perfect.’
Obviously, we’d jumped at the chance. We’d been on the waiting list for three years since passing all the vetting, and had begun to wonder if we would ever be parents. Luckily I worked with my father who was thrilled to let me leave immediately under the circumstances. The following two days had been a blur of shopping for bottles, formula, nappies, wipes and all the accoutrements required for a young infant. The nursery had been ready for years, although ever since my last miscarriage four years earlier it had been my sewing room. We’d been told it was virtually impossible that I would be able to carry a baby to full term so we’d put all the furniture up in the loft. All we’d needed was to bring it all back down after giving the room a fresh coat of paint and applying a pretty pink frieze.
The day Mrs Shepherd brought our daughter round was the happiest day of my life, and I’d stayed awake with her all night just looking at her and vowing that she would never want for anything. She’d been such a good baby and we’d never had any problems with her even during her teenage years. We’d told her about the adoption when she was round about ten and she had never shown any interest at all in finding her biological parents.
The front door slams, Ellie shouts ‘Hi mum, how’s it going’?
My legs are shaking so much I can’t even stand. She pounds up the stairs and she’s there, in the doorway, my beautiful girl. I can hardly breathe for the lump in my throat. Is it my fault she felt the need for her real mother, would it have been different if I’d worked harder to make my marriage work? My hand shakes as I hold out the photo, I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
Ellie sits down beside me on the bed and put her arms around me.
‘Oh mum, I’m so sorry you’ve found out like this. I put my name on the register five years ago when I was seeing Malcolm. We’d talked about having children and I wanted to know my medical history. Sheila got in touch almost straight away and we met up a few times since. She married Neil six years after she had me, she told him she’d had a baby when she was just sixteen. They have two children of their own so I have a half brother and sister who are real brats. She does not know who my biological father is, apparently it all happened at a party when she was drunk. It was nice to meet her but you and dad are my real parents’.
I gaze at her in awe just as I had that first day, how lucky I am.