Years ago, Mark (not his real name) was a tv researcher. He is now over 50, out of the business and writing a PhD to which he thought I could contribute and for whatever reason, after being skilfully interviewed, he invited me to dinner. And I decided that I had to have shoes. No, not any of those fashionable horrors, a plea for barefoot – my first Nikes.
It was as ever the colour that did it. Hemp they called it – biscuit nubuck to me. I looked all around them, tried them on knowing they deadmatched a sweater, and took them home. Last words from the assistant tell you how shopping has changed – “You have 28 days to bring them back or change them.”
The pandemic has undermined confidence.
We have got out of the way of doing things and doing things reaffirms confidence, especially important when you live alone. Most of the time this works for me – galleries, museums, fairs, different sections of London to which I take a bus and then walk back – but the combination of Covid and arthritis restricted my freedoms.
It was agreed that Don (Mark’s partner of 23 years, not his name either) collected me on a motor bike. I haven’t been on a bike for a long time. Why did I agree ? Sometimes you must.
Don is Irish and still has that voice, and he provided the kit. And having said yes, I got on with it. I had looked at those new shoes, I had wanted to look my best, but there was something … Wal spends his life saying things won’t “do”, they are either right or they are not. I call such things “almosts” – book, script, haircut, shoes. They’re either right or they’re not. We used to call it taste and I trust mine.
I spent an enchanted evening which if you had elaborated upon beforehand, I would have been engulfed by a blue funk of the darkest navy. I am not shy but I am nervous. Imagine three couples, all together for over 20 years, known to each other since university,
with the ease that comes with long friendship. Imagine a comfortable pretty house, loaded with cookery books, flourishing garden, interesting art and a couple of well behaved dogs (Teacher brought their poodle too) , Don’s in the travel industry – the others were a secondary school English teacher and an adman, a film producer and a former tv researcher who now researches questions for quizzes – and they had all made the decision be together, to have homes and children. They talked easily and widely, and of course I did too.
When I turned to Film Producer on my left and said asked what he did, he answered adding, “Not the glamorous kind … the take anything and keep going kind, it’s taken 20 years to make anything I really wanted to make” and I wanted to tell him how deeply I understood what he meant. I never got to ask details of what Adman did or didn’t do in advertising – but I heard about the old 4×4 he keeps threatening to repair.
And they all live in I’d imagine not dissimilar houses across what was once affordable South London. They know each other, they care about family and work, they talked about what they read and what they thought – all over a risotto to die for (thank you Mark) and a pudding of which yours truly (write this very small) had two helpings. And it would be wrong to make them into a fairy story.
To make the distance in a relationship of commitment means stumbling for money, arguing the toss, disagreement and surrender, sticking it out in emotional discomfort and coming up smiling. They were human, there was nothing of the fairy about any of them. It’s the first time for years that a group of people I didn’t know very well kissed me goodbye without a trace of self consciousness – about as far from “Mwah !Mwah !” as is Nicole Kidman from Gertrude Bell (good book, bad film).
There isn’t a temperature for generosity of spirit, or a colour, it just lifts the heart. Forget the hearth and the broom,
I took the shoes back.