These I have loved, to quote Rupert Brooke. I think I’m a serial monogamist – but didn’t dare put that in the title and invite a torrent of prurient spam into the file! Neither did I dare put ‘men’ in the title – that would have meant more Viagra ads.
I started young and can date the first love of my life back to age nine. Stuck in a London flat with two new parents, waiting to move north, bored with playing in the park and endless games of ludo, these two strange adults took us to the cinema one afternoon. ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ no less. My heart did a tumble – Leslie Howard alias Sir Percy Blakeney, standing, quizzing glass raised in one hand, one long leg in pantaloons and buckled shoe resting on a chair, lace cravat tumbling from his neck, and laughingly baiting his pursuers with his little ditty: “ They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven or is he in hell, that damned elusive Pimpernel?” Oh, his gaiety, his nonchalance, his recklessness…
My heart was his. I sought out Baroness Orxy’s Scarlet Pimpernel books and they sustained me for some years, until the glowing image dissolved when I found ‘Jane Eyre’. Mr Rochester! He truly enslaved me. I read the book over and over, memorising every scene in which my (rather doubtful) hero figured. I found him terrifying and mesmerising. I used to terrify my dormitory at school too, sitting on the end of the bed in the dark, reciting the latest instalment of Charlotte Bronte’s homage to plain women and masterful men.
Mr Rochester’s black beauty faded on board ship to Malaya, when I discovered that Cupid really could throw darts. I was fourteen the night we boarded at Southampton, and my father suggested that he and I take a stroll around the decks to watch the bustle of embarkation. As we passed an open window where a posse of young naval officers were making merry, one of them glanced out of the window. A pair of deep blue eyes looked straight into mine, and for the rest of the five week voyage I thought of nothing else. I craned to see the possessor of these magnetic blue eyes whenever we were all in the dining room, and pined between meals.
I rejoiced when we were delayed in the Suez Canal for a few extra days after a crashed oil tanker blocked our passage. I glowed when I found him playing tennis at Mount Lavinia in Columbo while we had afternoon tea. I never spoke to him. I cried for days when we landed in Singapore and he sailed on to Hong Kong, immaculate and oblivious in his white tropical uniform. I think my parents must have gone mad with irritation, never knowing when I was going to dissolve into what they probably thought were hormonal tears. My secret was locked in my non-existent bosom. I never even knew his name.
Then along came ‘Gone with the Wind. My father, knowing nothing of my amorous past, assumed I would come home crazy about Clark Gable, and decided to put a spoke in Mr Gables ‘s wheels before I left, by telling me to watch how his ears waggled when he spoke ( they did!) This malicious dart fell harmlessly by the way. There was my new/old love, Ashley Wilkes, with his brooding blue eyes, his noble brow, his elegance and his honour! I watched ‘Gone With The Wind eleven times before I was over Leslie Howard. My father was disgusted that I would love such a wet!
But time has revealed that not only was he a talented stage actor, playwright and producer, but also a patriotic man who left comfortable Hollywood to return to war-time England, and who died when the Luftwaffe shot down his plane on a flight outside the war zone. He was reputed to have been on an intelligence mission. He also had a reputation for womanising (who doesn’t?). He himself said he: “didn’t chase women… but couldn’t always be bothered to run away”.
By the time I’d worked through the eleven viewings of ‘Gone With The Wind’ in various parts of the world, some years had passed, and I then became pre-occupied with flesh and blood. But come re-marriage, contentment and a deeper appreciation of the beauty of men, I became a serial lover again.
My first new love was the noted Pakistani cricketer, Sarfraz Nawaz, who discovered ‘reverse swing’, and taught it to Imran Khan and other Pakistani cricketing greats. But I loved Sarfraz before he achieved greatness ( you could almost say I discovered him!) and having seen him by chance on TV while my new husband was watching a test match, I demanded to be taken to the cricket to see him live.
This was the early to mid-seventies when great – or rather infamous events were a-foot in Washington, and a tall gentleman with a twinkle in his eye shot to fame, as they say. Archibald Cox. Some may remember him. I loved him for his rumpled suits, fine intelligence and un-assailable integrity. My exasperated husband triumphantly waved a wire photo he’d found in the office, hoping to break his spell. But I thought Archibald Cox lolling in his chair with his long legs propped on his desk, and the leather soles of his shoes facing the camera – sporting two large holes – was irresistible.
If I had loathed Nixon before, my hatred knew no bounds when he famously sacked my man, and I never saw him again. So that left me with Andrew Young, (another groan from husband) Ambassador to the UN. I looked at a recent photo of this interesting man, and it just didn’t do justice to his youthful fire and fierce good looks. But even he couldn’t compete with that spectacular entrance of Omar Sharif emerging from the desert on his camel, jingling and shimmering and enigmatic in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
When he re-appeared as Dr Zhivago that was it! My husband was as usual, chagrined, and assured me that all this gorgeous man ever did was to play bridge… he was brilliant apparently and wrote books and newspaper columns about a subject that is a closed book to me.
This was disappointing, so for a few years I transferred my affections to Robert Redford as the handsome, eccentric and very decent great white hunter Denis Finch Hatton in ‘Out of Africa’… he had a lot in common with Sir Percy Blakeney and Ashley Wilkes.
But like all my other loves, Robert Redford is aging, and is not the glorious young man he once was. So in my twilight years, my loves have been fewer, and indeed, I thought my love life was over, until we went on a cruise a few years ago. Reader – to quote Charlotte Bronte – I, like every the woman on our dining table, fell hopelessly in love with our handsome young Indian waiter.
All the husbands ground their teeth, knowing they couldn’t compete with this charming clever and exquisite young man. He dispensed sour green apples to a woman he’d noticed hovering on the edge of sea- sickness, cherished an autistic teenage girl, attended to each of us as though we were each the only woman in his life, and in my eyes, at least, achieved perfection when I discovered that he was deeply spiritual. He was a devout Hindu, a vegetarian and a man who saw all religions as having the same value. In other words – a good man.
Well, he sailed away of course, and I now face the unpalatable truth that men my own age are not figures of romance. But I don’t want to become a cougar … a term I’m told which describes older women who pursue younger men. So I will just have to fall back on the sweet memories of my youth… though you never know… they say the party isn’t over till the fat lady sings… I mean the slightly over-weight lady… oh – that could be me!
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
The most useful thing I learned when I was in the army was how to keep peeled potatoes fresh. Sitting in the cook house at night as a recruit peeling hundred of potatoes for all the hundreds of women the next day, I had to put a knob of clean coal in the water to keep the potatoes fresh and the water clear. The tragedy of my life is that I haven’t seen coal for years, so can’t use this pearl of wisdom myself…
Food for Thought
While we wonder what will happen next in North Korea, I found this, written nearly two hundred years ago, and it seems that nothing has changed since then. “What experience and history teach us is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. 1779 – 1831 Influential German philosopher.