Here’s an odd thing (or maybe not). I’ve never actually fallen out of love. You have to take a leap of faith with me here and assume that I know what being “in love” is in the first place. I’m not going to try to explain or describe it, the Oxford English Dictionary is a bit woolly on the subject, there’s no clinical explanation in the Lancet, and I don’t trust Byron, he did a lot of drugs…but that feeling where you go to sleep at night, and wake up in the morning, and when you wake up in the morning your first thought is the same thought as the last thought you had when you drifted off to sleep. That person.
I’ve been in love twice, and I’ve been soooo lucky. I have spent time with two people who have enriched my life incredibly. It’s a learning process after all, of course you find out about the other, but at the same time you find out so much more about yourself, because what is love if it’s not a place where, at last, you can lower your defences, be yourself, take chances?
So, I’ve been incredibly lucky. To have met two, completely different, wonderful people who chose to spend time with me. They left for their own reasons, neither acrimonious, no recriminations or angry words, but we parted when it was time for them to go. And I’ve never fallen out of love. Please don’t misunderstand, this isn’t a dopey, dewy eyed, pink spectacled look down memory lane, nor a wish them back kind of feeling, as far as I understand it they’ve both moved on with their lives and are in happy loving relationships. I don’t wish them back, we had our time, there are no regrets, I just feel something for them that you can distil and separate from the physical, from the needy things and know that the best bits still remain. I don’t hold a candle, but I’m improved, better for having known them? Does that make any sense at all?
Which is why I wish I’d never met that bloody old hag.
To this day it preys on my mind. It’s so stupid but it clicks and rolls like a like a loose penny in the spin dryer of my mind.
We’ve always enjoyed New Year. As long as I can remember it’s been an opportunity to come to together as friends, a huge revolving feast of friends and have a good time. Christmas is for the kids, New year is a time where we have filled holiday cottages with fun and laughter and our own silly traditions. We originally used to New Year in Scotland when my parents were alive, and then later in Snowdonia in North Wales and in recent years in different places each year, from the Dorset coast to Dartmoor. All we need is a place that will house about 20 people and we can provide the rest. (Always someone there at 3am, always someone there in the kitchen, always queues for breakfast, snorers and walkers, fireplaces and a glass of whisky, chilly red noses and dirty wellingtons).
One particular New Year we had a very remote cottage in Wales. Actually a cottage and a converted barn. It was one of the most joyful times I can remember, three little girls, my nice and my friend's two little girls all under the age of six went on “midnight rambles” (of course it was only 8pm but it was pitch black!). We sat in the moonlight on a little humpty back bridge, with the lights of the cottage behind us and howled at the moon…I thought it was a good idea, a la 101 dalmations (?) to see if the dog telegraph might work, and it did!! First of all on a farm to our left some sheep dog picked up our message, and then another further down the valley and relayed it and then another, and another…and there we were, sitting on the bridge and laughing and howling and waiting for a reply with tears of laughter running down our cheeks.
Which has nothing to do with anything at all, except I remember it vividly and it makes me smile.
And one day that week we set off on the great expedition in search of snow, with our sledges and woolly hats and mittens. It had snowed on the mountains but we were in the valley below, so despite the fact that we’d brought enough provisions to feed an invading army for a winter campaign we climbed in the cars and set off. It was a great day as far as I can remember, we did find snow and messed around, and got very very wet. Which is why we stopped in the pub on the way back - just one drink and a quick thaw out, (of course that wasn’t the reason at all, it doesn’t matter that you have enough booze to sink a liner back at the house, there’s nothing like a pint in the pub over an open fire). So we all decanted into the village pub. It was tiny, we immediately quadrupled the number of people in there and the landlord didn’t mind the children at all, (he probably thought he could have the night off if we bought just a couple of rounds).
We were laughing and joking, I think trying to involve the kids in a game of Chinese whispers, when my nemesis, the object of this little box of brittle bones announced herself.
You’ve heard all of the descriptions, “wizened old hag”, comes nowhere near, she was children’s story come to life a witch, dressed in maroons and dun browns, layered and bent, be-warted, be-stubbled and skinned like an ancient oak.
She tottered through the room which was quite crowded now and picked up her drink from the bar, it looked like a large dark rum and began to circulate. She laid gnarly hands on the shoulders of my seated friends, and they bought her drinks, she showed them old pennies and pieces of rock with bright gold seams that she retrieved from invisible pockets in her may layers. She tousled the children’s hair, and there was a sparkle to her eye. She wasn’t scary or threatening, but she was somehow a figure to be reckoned with.
I was sitting with my niece, near the fire spinning coins on the table when she found us. She hovered a hand over the table, my god it was old, etched with lines, dark and mottled, and when the coins had stopped she snatched one up and looked at it…she gave it back to my niece with another penny for good luck. Helen wasn’t fazed at all, our witch did it all with such aplomb that it was like watching a conjuror at work.
She played with Helen’s hair and told her what a beautiful little girl she was, which pleased Helen immensely, and then turned to talk to me.
I swear she took a step back. She looked at me, in fact she stared at me, straight in the eye and hissed (hissed, I swear it). Her eyes were tiny blue discs, inside larger mottled brown irises, just a point of black for a pupil which seemed to grow, even smaller as she looked at me. It was very uncomfortable and very embarrassing. My brother was standing by the table and looked around, the little circle of conversation that he was in suddenly wanted to know what he was watching.
After a moment or two, she stepped forward and picked up my left hand, held it in her two dry, rough hands, and turned it palm up, pulling down on my fingers with one hand so that the palm was stretched. She only looked for a moment a second or two, and leant over , and said, just to me so that I might hear but I don’t think that anyone else could catch it “you’ll bring happiness and love into the lives of others, but you’ll never have love of your own”.
Simple as that, verbatim, as far as I can remember, and I honestly don’t think I’ve forgotten. I could have laughed. I thought she was going to utter some dreadful curse, I thought I might suddenly catch leprosy or at the very least my well would turn sour and my crops fail…but that was it?! In fact it sounded somehow like a compliment at the time, “bring happiness to other”, well that’s a good thing isn’t it? I almost bought a round.
And that was pretty much that. She drank her drinks and we drank ours and we left, no knowing looks, no “Oi’d be careful on the moor tonight, if Oi were you’s” and no harm done.
Except that over the years, those words have seemed be growing in importance. They are there, said, and I can’t un-hear them and every time I do remember them they seem to have a little more resonance.