Cricketers, bridge-players and great white hunters


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.


Filed under cookery/recipes, films, food, great days, life/style, love, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

37 responses to “Cricketers, bridge-players and great white hunters

  1. Delightful to read this…so refreshing…so bold…so true…so sweet…and your very last paragraph…so sad but true.


  2. Valerie, what a delightful post. You took me to some swooning moments in my own life of romantic imagination.


    • Hello Juliet, thank you so much for commenting – lovely to hear from you…
      I’ve copied down your instructions and intend to get my grand daughter for some dual… lovely to be in touch…


      • Valerie, just to clarify the instructions. Blogger now uses these words on top of the comments box (I’ll add my tips in square brackets after each of them):

        Choose an identity

        Google Account [This has the same password as your Facebook page, if you use face book, so click and enter that password]
        Name/URL [Here, you could try putting in the URL for your own blog – i.e.]
        Anonymous [This works as a last resort, but remember to put your name at the end of each post, otherwise I’ll have no idea who it’s from]

        Do hope you can visit and comment; I would welcome that!


  3. Oh yes, Omar and Robert……….Judge John Deed? Captain Picard???? Who do you swoon over if your mind has not been brought up on Gone with the Wind and Jane Eyre and Lawrence? Justin Bieber? A lovely post. Thank you.


  4. Michele Seminara

    Another charming read thank you Valerie. I have always had a soft spot for Sherlock Holmes myself….


  5. My mom had a thing for Omar Sharif when he portrayed Dr. Zhivago!
    You made me try to think of my own infatuations….Roy Rogers, Perry Como,
    Paul Newman (sigh), Jerry Lewis, Jeff Goldblum, and even some others in reality. Always thought i would love to meet the man who wrote as James Herriot! I bet we would have been friends.


    • James Herriot always sounded a lovely man… I had some friends who lived in Yorkshire, and he was their vet… they told me how one Sunday when their cat took ill, he left a drinks party at lunch time and drove to his surgery to meet them there…so good to read your comments, and the list of people who lit your inner fire!


  6. I loved this post! The Scarlet Pimpernel is my absolute favourite. Did you have seen “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” As I was reading, Anais Nin came to mind.

    “I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”
    ― Anaïs Nin


    • Yes, that was the way I spent my childhood which was not a happy one… wonderful words.. I used to hug lines like ‘stone walls do not a prison make’.. etc, not that I was imprisoned, except in feeling !!!!
      So glad you enjoyed the post – and loved the Scarlet Pimpernel too!… I must find The Ghost….


  7. LizzieJoy

    Oh Valerie, a great wave of nostalgia flowed through my being as I read your article. I’ve been there, too. I love that line “I never even knew his name.” Why do I fall in love with men who are completely out of my reach? And why are they always young men, despite the years having passed for me? I have decided that in my next reincarnation, I’m going to be a young opera singer called Christine, and the devastatingly handsome Raoul, Viscount de Chanier, is going to fall in love with me and we will live happily ever after. [I have watched the film “Phantom of the Opera at least 60 times, then I lost count!!] Thank you, Valerie, for a very entertaining story. Bless you.


  8. Oh I so enjoyed that Valerie, such a beautiful and fun post… I loved the unrequited love for a Navy officer 🙂 I don’t think it ever disappears you know. We went to visit Man’s 85-year-old mother the other day and she barely spoke to us because a John Wayne film was on tv. “He was SUCH a handsome man, you know” were about the only words she uttered 🙂


    • Hello Dory – so glad you enjoyed it – it’s always such fun writing this sort of thing – how sweet about Man’s mother… that’ll be me in ten years, watching Omar or Robert again !!!!


  9. Wow, that’s a good one! I spent a month in in Columbo – must have been around 1985. Is Kandy on top of Mt. Mount Lavinia? Can’t remember. I would love to see Kandy again,
    Keep ’em coming!


  10. Hi,

    What jumped out at me is your closing line, ” “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.”

    So what is that blocks the collective learning of a nation from supporting correct decisions in the future? Could it be that vested and individual perceptions of those in power take precedence? Or does it boil down to sycophancy and insecurities of the majority?



    • Hello Shakti… I think it’s even simpler than that… we are taught the facts of history in our education system, but not the lessons of history. And as Santanaya said ‘those who do not understand the past are doomed to repeat it” The leaders we elect are no more educated that the people who elect them, and also, it seems to me, people with wisdom do not put themselves up for election… Jimmy carter may have been one, Adlai Stevenson with all his wisdom failed to be elected, and Churchill, with his deep understanding of history was, like so many other leaders, nevertheless the victim of his own un-integrated personality… I could write a book about it!!!!


  11. Loved your food for thought. So apropos. Aren’t fantasy lovers the best?


    • Such a pleasure to know that you and others read to the end!!! Yes, as I’ve said in reply to another comment ” those who do not understand the past are doomed to repeat it”.. Yes to fantasy !!!


  12. Dr Zhivago that was it—Oh, how I love him in Dr. Zhivago. Then I saw him in something else and shoot, I didn’t like him anymore. So I watched Dr. Zhivago again!!! 🙂



  13. Ha-ha LInda… yes, stick to the ones we love ! Interesting how many of us couldn’t resist Dr Zhivago!!!


  14. Valerie ,

    Nice post. I agree with your last bits about countries and governments never learning anything from the past. So sad – but true.

    I’ve missed reading and posting on your site, but I’m involved with the April A to Z Challenge now and it’s a post a day.

    Plus we have lots of gardening to do, and company coming from out of state.



  15. Isn’t it funny Valerie, you and I we swooned over many of the same noteworthy figures of cinema and literature. Though I love the bad boy and Rhett was fun, Ashley was certainly the better man. Omar Sharif held my heart in his hands for decades, Dr Zhivago being one of the movies I watched again and again! Oddly, Robert Redford never made my toes curl, but his sometime partner Paul Newman, him I loved! My picks as a young girl though, they were always dancers. Specifically ballet dancers and in my room were life sized posters of the two greatest of all time Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.


    • Oh Yes, Val… I didn’t get onto the gorgeous ballet dancers… I actually loved Michael Fokine who was way before your time, in fact I was fascinated with them all, especially the thirties ballerinas, Tamara Toumanova,, Baronova, and the early pre-Revolutionary Russians…and their Royal lovers !
      Funnily enough I can see what you saw in Pail Newman now, but back then he didn’t appeal – I was a fool!
      Could talk to you for hours !!!!


      • The dancers were my other half, I danced from the time I was four years old until I was an adult. Even when I could no longer hope for the stage, still I danced, still I went to class, still I practiced and loved the movement. The dancers were my perfect male counterpart.

        Loved Paul Newman, he was so wonderful with his lovely wife and wonderful marriage. His craggy face and lopsided smile, those eyes.

        I always did love imperfect men.


      • perfection is boring – no-where to go !!!!


  16. Patty B

    Your food for thought is so true. And I had to chuckle me along with the two ladies we sailed with last year feel in love with our Filipino waiter…handsome ( single, I checked for my daughter and invited him to PA! ha ha) and fun. He made the our traveling companions feel young again as he danced with one of then and sang to them. They are both 85 and childhood friends. For me my love has always been Carey Grant and since I only see him in his old movies, he stays forever young for me.


  17. Think of all the men who missed a chance to be adored! Too bad for them.

    In the mid 1970s, 2 friends went to work in California and claimed they partied with Mr. Redford. Their report? He’s very short and gay. A loud groan was heard from our circle left in Toronto.

    Drat – it’s terrible being the bearer… I’m counting on maturity presenting insulation from heartache.


  18. No heart-ache Amy – just can’t believe it!! Will accept that he was short… but – a loud protesting no to the other bit … nothing against gays, who are wonderful friends, – but not heart-throbs! I cling to my illusions!!!!


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