Last weekend we’d gone to an art fair in Chelsea followed by a film – the hard-hitting Ken Loach offering which had wrung its inevitable emotional response from us both so that when we emerged we felt as though we’d been pummelled. The irony of where we’d come out onto was not lost on us either – we were in one of the richest boroughs of the country. Alexander had been telling me that at some provincial cinemas the film wasn’t showing this week despite it being its opening week because of the school half-term break. Not even in Ken Loach’s own town – what a cock up!
As we headed towards South Kensington station we walked past housing originally meant for those with modest means now very obviously housing a different stratum of society – the air of gentrification evident in the neat shrubbery, well-kept facades and expensive modes of transport ready to whisk the occupants to places of leisure and pleasure. Two American tourists stop to ask for directions and after we’d sent them along the right direction walked hand in comfortable hand homewards.
So it was only yesterday at nearly midday we kissed each other goodbye. And last night we texted goodnight. And this morning hello as well as looking forward to seeing you later. We can’t have enough of each other it seems. There’s so much to discover and we boldly-ishly reveal some of our secrets – the ones that make us seem cool but not too off-puttingly shocking. We have judged it about right so far. During my most recent crisis when my youngest showed animosity at my inviting Alexander back home, he, ie Alexander took the opportunity to tell me the worst of his own domestic circs. It doesn’t put me off in the slightest that he is still married or that he has children under the age of ten or that his wife still harbours an unhealthy amount of fury and vitriol against him which may be apt to erupt in the foreseeable future. For my own self-preservation I begged him never to reveal my existence to said termagant. Of course it is only his side I’m hearing of their breakup but I do recognise that degree of maleficence, lodged in my very own bosom nearly a decade and a half ago now.
All this, far from causing me pause or to flee, in fact offers the assurance that Alexander and I have nearly all the time in the world to conduct our love affair – all that time being the same lenthy time it takes for such complex relations as his to untangle. My current accord and goodwill shared with the ex seems to offer some hope to Alexander that at some point in the future, he too will enjoy a similar degree of cooperation with his ex.
For a change from our outings I invited him round for dinner this evening. A few others will also be at home but not the young rebel and I have high hopes for a peaceable meal.
How I feel, at what stage we’re at, it all feels like this:
not rushing – stopping,
sink down on a verdant bank
sip the moss-decked burn.
Alexander bought tickets for us to watch Things to come, featuring Isabelle Huppert who is one of my favourite actors – he too confessed to having fallen in thrall with her since seeing her in The Lacemaker many, many years ago. This is one of those films which holds its audience in quiet captivation, dealing with issues familiar to people of our age – an ageing parent, a failed long term relationship, relations with adult children and others. There are moments of light relief, allowing us to laugh at our human frailty – the vain and attention-seeking mother, the once radical now turned bourgeois family, the reality of the battle between profit and staying true to one’s beliefs.
There are philosophical tropes, mention of Rousseau, and other philosophers, the belief that the younger generation is always questioning, doubting, seeking change, even a hint of radicalisation. The strength of the character Huppert plays is evident in the way she embraces her new life in the face of the bereavement she suffers and when her husband leaves her for a younger woman – she declares in surprised delight that she has found freedom. There are no cliched reactions, no lapses; she doesn’t embark on a rebound affair despite the tension we cannot help feeling in the scenes with her protege Fabien, in the close confines of a car. Instead there’s a quiet dignity about her even when she tries to bin the floral display on the dining table – I can only guess that they were a present from her now departed husband.
Huppert’s is a character who will make no compromises If she had faltered, it was only human – in an earlier scene she had marvelled at her own idiocy, believing that he would love her forever. When he confessed to his philandering, she had murmured her reproof that he might not have kept the secret affair to himself – suggesting that she could have gone along with the lie. Towards the end however, you cannot help but admire her for her ruthless determination in maintaining the separation between them, removing her things from their holiday home, demanding his set of keys to the marital home and single-handedly getting her empty house ready for festive cheer and dinner for her children and grandson. One feels almost sorry for the cheating husband who has nothing but Schopenhauer to keep him company over Christmas.
When the film ended he took me to dine at a nearby Ethiopian restaurant. It was delicious fare and fun to eat with our hands. We couldn’t wait to get back to mine after the meal, specifically into bed with each other. At some point in the early hours of the night I told him that I felt quite soppy towards him, sensing that he was similarly smitten. He is. I wondered aloud when we might have our first tiff. He must’ve thought me a very strange lover. In the morning, following the usual routine of a romp, showers, coffee, dog-walking and drive to the station/work we quietly enjoyed each other’s company and finally kissed our goodbyes, looking forward to Saturday when we had promised to meet again.
Monday evening came and saw Alexander and me enjoying dinner at Barrafina’s on Adelaide St before crossing the Thames and going on to the National Theatre. It was a short play and we came home to mine by half ten. There was time for some tea afterwhich we went upstairs for bed and more. He had to leave early in the morning but we still had time to indulge in a little more intimacy before he had a shower, returned me my shirt I’d inadvertently left at his last week and finally, most deliciously, he had kissed me goodbye until Thursday, before he closed the door and descended the stairs and went out the front door.
The previous evening we’d talked frankly about his home circumstances – the depression his wife suffers and how that affects her ability to cope with their children; the involvement of the borough they lived in to ensure that the children’s needs are met, the meetings with council staff to weigh up and consider the instruments for satisfying such outcomes. He clearly has a lot to contend with. I’d suggested to him that he could just go home at the end of our date if it was easier to negotiate travel, etc for such a meeting the following morning. He had given me so complete a look of anguish that I felt a mixture of guilt and satisfaction for proposing it.
He also told me about his past girlfriends and how he had always been attracted to strong and independent women. I observed that it didn’t seem as though the women he married had those characteristics. He said that when he first met her, his current wife had come across as such and it was only later on that he realised she was particularly needy and emotionally unstable. Like most marriages they had had good times, she was sexually adventurous and he had been attracted to that – they had enjoyed holidays in Europe at naturist sites. He blamed his own optimism and hope that things would turn a corner for not leaving earlier. When the atmosphere at home had reached a certain level of toxicity that saw some physical violence, he had realised then that it was time to walk away. He had been unfoundedly fearful of outcomes which had actually borne an opposing result – he was more at ease, regained his confidence and ability to parent singly, met and tentatively formed friendships with other women, rediscovered his sexuality, and so on – as such none of the fears that had held him back from walking away had come to fruition.
Before he met his current wife he had been seeing someone based in Europe and the few occasions they’d met had been alluring and exciting until it all went wrong somehow. I guess the more at arm’s length someone is kept, the greater the danger of miscommunication and misunderstanding.
For now we are on the same page – this is clearly an arrangement that suits us both – we have dependents and commitments that keep us on our toes, maybe even test our stress levels at times, such that the intimacy and dates we have with each other offer release and a break from reality. That I can be content with. For now this is good enough.
I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. Not helped by the midnight text messages from Ewan who was himself in a flap, mainly because he had a number of things he wanted to bring from his house before he met me at the airport. We were going to his holiday house near Loch Bervie in north west Scotland.
We took the scenic route stopping at Corrieshalloch Gorge and Ullapool. When we arrived we unpacked the car and then we were out again – this time to Oldshoremore Beach. It was a mild day and apart from two walkers, we saw no one else. I took pictures of this and later the harbour fish market. I had been prepared to be bowled over but nothing like this.
Ewan has a lot of knowledge about the surrounding land to share. It was fascinating stuff and interesting . I was also curious about his personal life and asked him about his relationships. He was quite happy responding to my questioning and later in the evening I was myself quizzed about my sexual history.
I had too much to drink and nurse a hangover the following morning.
Left on my own whilst Ewan tinkered with his boat I listen to some radio and try to write. But the stories I began last month refuse to take shape and I fell into a reverie, reflecting on anxiety, dating, relationships, Jan, Ramon and Michael. What demons still lurk as a result of my marriage breakup which might still need exorcising?