A Special Day: January 5th 1979
End of story
The shop was always in the doldrums in January so I was pleased one dreary day when the phone rang; it didn’t happen often because we were ex-directory – we didn’t want customers phoning all the time to see if we had sold little Johnny’s football shorts. It was Jamie. I recognised his voice and I could tell from the sound of it that he was smiling and I had a big grin on my face. He told me he would be in London on the 5th of January and could I possibly meet him for lunch.
‘Oh my goodness that’s next week.’
‘Is that alright Pat? We can make it later in the month if you like.’
‘No that’s perfect. It’s just I can’t believe I’m going to see you after all this time.’
We hadn’t seen each other since 1949 when we parted at Moseley St bus Station.
We basked in mutual wonder and delight. That’s all I can remember. After the phone call from Jamie I was shaken out of the dreamy state I had been in since his letter. There was no problem about the date – it was one of the days when I didn’t need to go into the shop and I had often spent the day in London – not so often recently, as I became less enamoured of city life. But the thought of Jamie seeing me as a middle aged woman unnerved me a little. Thirty years ago I had been young, gauche, quite pretty and innocent. Now I was middle aged. Two years earlier I had visited a health farm and started to take my own health seriously. I stopped smoking, ate healthily, cut down on alcohol and took up Yoga. I let my hair go back to its natural colour – deep honey- and now looked more healthy than glamorous. I don’t care if it was vain: I wanted him to see me looking my absolute best. What to wear? As an actress I knew how one could so easily change the impression one gave. I had a very pretty, pale orangey- coral, fine wool dress I had bought for # I son’s first girl friend’s wedding. It was feminine and showed off my figure. It was a very cold January so I just stuck my mink on top. This was the seventies, before the anti- fur brigade, and I had earned it by years of hard work in the shop. I had mixed emotions travelling on the train and tried to curb the sudden thrills of wild excitement. Just remember, I told myself, the years of unhappiness and guilt you have felt because of this man. You are in charge, you are your own person and you have managed to live a perfectly good life without him.
We met at the Charing Cross Hotel - right next to my station. He was leaning against a pillar – apparently absorbed in a newspaper just like he had been when Maddie and I met him outside his college in Oxford– decades earlier. He looked nice in a blue -ish suit with a blue and white checked shirt. His hair was still dark and curly but when I looked closely my heart went out to him and I could see the lines of stress and grief etched on his face.
(When I first met his doctor he told me Jamie was a saint the way he had cared for his sick wife and family, and he was Saint Jamie for some time after that.)
We repaired to Eleanor’s Bar in the hotel, where he was staying. He had a gin and I had a scotch or two. He said he liked scotch too much. We talked – he said I would find he didn’t talk much and from then on I could hardly get a word in edgeways. He had a quaint habit of using a note book to illustrate what he was saying and I could tell from the tremor in his hand that he was even more nervous than I was. We had lunch in the large formal dining room and we both had fish but it might as well have been cotton wool. We were in a sort of bubble - cocooned from the rest of the world. Still talking, we walked down to the river and when Jamie was greeted by an acquaintance, I could see by the man’s face that he was aware of the bubble even though we weren’t holding hands. There were no silences and we flitted from the present to the past, carefully skirting round potentially difficult subjects. I do remember saying that I believed it hadn’t been the right time for us, or one of us would have tried harder to keep us afloat. Later on, when I had a moment of cold feet he remembered this and gave me the courage to go through with leaving my marriage.
After tea we went to his room to freshen up: he told me he had to shave twice a day and we continued chatting through the bathroom door whilst he shaved and I powdered my nose. All we did was talk; there was so much to catch up with. Neither of us was hungry so we continued walking and talking until it was time for my last train. At our meeting we had given each other an ‘old friend type kiss on the cheek’ and at the end of the evening we again exchanged an O.F.T.K.O.T.C. but he hugged me and held me close and sighed ‘Ah Pat... ’ and as I rested my head against his chest I felt a momentary panic. Supposing it all went wrong again. He was so vulnerable. Was I about to leap from the frying pan into the fire? I knew this was not an ending but the start of something that would change my life for ever.
That was 30 years ago today. Later the same year we were married and have been together ever since. We consider 5 to be our lucky number; my home was number five and so was MTL’s as was his cottage in Yorkshire. We had five children between us and on our fifth meeting we plighted out troth. Our wedding date was the 23rd of November to incorporate our lucky number – worked out by Maddie. I remember thinking if we could just have ten years, but one grows greedy with the years and thirty have passed in a flash.
An edited version of this appeared in Sarah J Peach's book 'You're not the only One.'