I was invited to take part in a storytelling event called Twisted Love. I wrote this.
The title is taken from Tennyson: …deep as love,/Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;/O Death in Life, the days that are no more!
It was the year everyone died, but when Barbara Mears visited Martin Dodge before Christmas it wasn’t David Bowie or Leonard Cohen or even Terry Wogan he wanted to talk about; it was Bobby Vee. Not that he looked full of regret- he grinned at Barbara as he always did.
-Now he had a voice. Clear as a bell. Once upon a ti-ime that liddl girl was mi-ine. Great song. Plenty of others of course but Take Good Care of my Baby- that’s the frigging one. And now he’s gone- another one bites the dust. It’s like watching your youth disappear before your eyes. As if it hasn’t already.
He had Alzheimer’s disease.
-They sound so innocent these days, said Barbara; those old songs. Well, they did at the time of course.
Martin Dodge grinned and thought about that for a moment. He wasn’t going simply to agree with Barbara; that wasn’t his way.
-Innocent, he said. I don’t think so Barbara my love. Have you listened to any of the ‘old songs’ lately? Try Leader of the Pack– it’s Romeo and Juliet in three minutes. Young Girl of course- paedophilia. No, not much innocence- blokes wanting to get into young girls’ pants, basically. Not that there’s ever much innocence in these matters-it’s all a bit twisted really isn’t it?
If he was reluctant ever to agree with Barbara, she, for different reasons, felt the same towards Martin.
-Twisted? she asked.
-Yes. Think about it. You’re young you fall in love of course you frigging do you are in love for a bit you get married then the love the thing that started you down that road leaks away you get divorced or – you don’t get divorced and you find yourselves sitting watching TV with nothing to say to each other and then there’s the mid-life crisis which one or both of you have so then there’s the divorce or maybe there isn’t and you come to some sort of accommodation. But it’s dead, the thing that started it.
That’s twisted enough and common as whatsit. Eh?
Barbara thought of her own divorce. Divorce was either ‘messy’ or it was ‘civilised’. Hers had been messy. Martin had ways of finding her weak points.
-Do you remember what it was like back then?
-Now – he laughed – what exactly do you mean? Do you mean what it was like? Or do you mean how it really was?
Barbara too laughed -What exactly do you mean? It was an innocent question.
-Well you say what was it like and it sounds to me as if you’re looking for a metaphor. You know- it was like flowers in the frigging rain and the summer of frigging love and the times they were a-frigging changing. O and the smell of hope and of freedom- free this and free that. Free frigging sex and drugs was the thing of course- never mind the high-minded stuff. Listen – listen with frigging mother and I’ll tell you how it was and this is a story of properly twisted love.
There was a bloke called Karl; he was one of the arty crowd and you could tell that a mile off because of the grandad vest he wore and the scarf knotted round his throat and the John Lennon glasses and the bum-freezer jacket. He might have been me grandad except he wasn’t bald and fat and he walked without a stick. O yeh and he was a good-looking tosser too. Women flocking around him which is the point of all this.
But the thing was he was a bit different. I went to the cafe in the high street one Saturday morning and I mean a working-man’s cafe not a frigging Café des Arts or Café Tosspot and – much to my surprise – there was Karl,with a few of his hangers-on – who all looked as if they’d rather be in Cafe des Tosspots – and Karl picks up the sausage with his fingers and dips it in the yoke of his fried egg. With his fingers. I’d never seen that done before and I certainly didn’t expect it of him. Sheer frigging class. And then I discovered – probably the same day – that he went to the football when the Rovers were at home. This is not the big match you understand– no, this was the frigging Isthmian League, just a couple of hundred yards up the road. What’s that about anyway – Isthmian League? Where the frigging hell is Isthmia when it’s at home? Not in south-east England I’ll tell you that much. Tosspots. Anyway the point about Karl was that he wasn’t a frigging school-leaver- he was that bit older and he knew what he was doing.
All the girls were in love with him and he took his pick.
A girl called Diana , Diana Gillingham, set her cap at him. She was a catch but she didn’t know it – you know the type – pale, dark hair, lovely figure. And moody, distant, which added to her attractiveness even if you realised how difficult she was going to be once you got to know her. I don’t understand women I’ll tell you that for nothing. She started going to all the places he went – well not all – she didn’t go to the football or the café; but parties, arty things, dances, the student bar, anywhere she might see him. One of their places – the arty crowd – was a pub called The Wagon Wheel. I think it was supposed to be irony or something like. The Wagon Wheel was the kind of place where the Salvation Army came in selling The War Cry, and then later on a man with a basket would come in and sell bags of cockles. They used to go there on a Saturday and take over one side of the bar- all sitting in a row like. And there was Diana right at the end of the row looking miserable. She’d put some lipstick on and she must have been trying to get up her Dutch courage because she was drinking which she didn’t usually.
– You were there then?
-Yes. O yes. I haven’t explained have I? Diana was trailing after Karl and I was trailing after Diana. For all I know there was someone trailing after me and there was a great queue of tosspots like us all down the high street.
He roared with laughter.
-What do you mean- trailing her?
-Now now don’t be unfair- I wasn’t stalking her. We were on speaking terms – I just liked to see her and, I don’t know, kept hoping that one day she’d speak to me and realise, you know, that I was a nice bloke
-But you weren’t one of the artists?
-Me? Not likely. Do you know what I was studying? P.E.
And he roared again.
-So there’s Karl in the middle, like Jesus at the Last Supper, all his disciples either side of him. He probably didn’t even see poor old Di at the end. And there was a bloke called Andy – arse-licker in chief to the great Karl. Karl used to make fun of him all the time he called him The Housewife’s Favourite but he didn’t mind; you know what hero-worship is like you put up with anything – besides he ended up with lots of Karl’s leavings – didn’t do so badly for himself. So he gets up to the loo or something and he spots this beautiful miserable girl at the end of the row and he sits down next to her and puts on a funny voice and says Cheer up luv it might never ‘appen and before you know it he’s bought her a drink and she’s finding him quite funny and then he says come on what music do you like and he puts money in the jukebox and lets her choose the records
-Don’t tell me, said Barbara; they end up getting married
-Ah you’re jumping the gun, Barbara love. No. But what did happen was that it carried on. She’d be in the canteen moping over a cup of coffee – I don’t think I ever saw her drink any coffee; she just stirred it you know then lick the spoon and stir it some more – and then Andy would come by and bounce into a chair next to her and before you knew it she’d be laughing fit to bust.
And it was just so frigging unlikely- he was like a clown and she was this frigging femme fatale or whatever.
All the same she carried on hanging about Karl, sitting at the end of the row in the pub, but Karl must have started noticing her – because of Andy noticing her.
-And what about you- you say you were trailing after; did you ever tell her of your interest?
Martin looked shamefaced for a moment.
-It wasn’t that simple. I wasn’t the same class you see. She knew she was beautiful but it confused her. She was just way above me you know; I had no way of getting near her. It wasn’t til later- well, I did her a favour one time and that was how I finally got to know her.
-I had a car. She was moaning that she wanted to go to London and didn’t have any money for the fare; so I said I’m driving to London; I can take you
-And were you going to London?
-No I frigging wasn’t , and what’s more when I picked her up that day she had somebody with her. Fat woman called Gilly. They both sat in the back and this Gilly says Don’t try anything on; I’ve got a carving knife in my bag in case any rapists pick us up. Cow.
-What did you say?
-I think I just said…no, I know what I said; I said Sorry. Can you believe it? How frigging stupid was that?And you know what? I don’t think they spoke more than two words to me the rest of the journey- I was PE you see and they were artists. But I didn’t mind- I’d found my way in. After that, when I saw her stirring her coffee, I could sit down and say hallo.
Where was I? Karl; yes. Karl finally spots her, and he calls to her What are you doing stuck at the end there; beautiful girl like you. Come up here. Andy, give her your seat, here’s a fiver, go and get some drinks. And for the rest of the evening he only has eyes for Diana. And then they walk back together; and then he invites her up. And you know what? She says no- after all the frigging nights and nights of trailing him, when she gets the chance she says no. And that’s not the end of it- she says No; I’m with Andy.
-Oh, so they did have an affair then?I was wondering.
-She let him sleep with her – once; but she told Karl that they were together. Even though she’d been setting her cap at Karl all that time.
I still don’t understand it. She didn’t either. Do you understand Barbara my love?
-O Martin. If you really think that all conventional love affairs are twisted, I invite you to look at it the other way around. What sounds twisted to you is actually just the normal way of working things out when you’re young and foolish. Now tell me- how do you know all this?You can’t have been there when he asked her up and she said no.
-I read her diaries. She was the first one wasn’t she? All the ones that came after were just because I – you know – got in the habit; but Diana; she really mattered; I loved her.
Just then the bell rang and the warder came and said Come on Marty. Time’s up.
He stood up and said Cheerio Barbara, look after yourself; there aren’t so many of us left; the good ones.
He had turned his back by the time Barbara said Happy Christmas Martin.