Brewster's Way 2
Brewster remained at The Star for another two years before being kicked sideways onto a new glossy ‘lifestyle’ magazine, published by the parent company. It was a strange animal, looking like a cross between Time Out and a Laura Ashley catalogue, and bore the title Lifestyle Up North. It was full of sections. It had a Going Out section, which carried theatre, film, and music reviews; a section called The Wanderer, which gave space to local history and generally lauded the north west’s rich cultural heritage; and a Staying In section, which dealt with antique collecting and style in the home. Articles entitled A Day in the Life of a 19th Century Lido; Money Matters - The Power of Compound Interest; North West Legends - The Most Powerful Amulet of All, as well as regular features such as Designing Your Own Garden with Dame Miriam Scott (in reality a 21 year old named Lisa who was on a job training scheme) and North West Walks with Derwent Paige (another Oxbridge snob who also happened to be Colin Reece’s brother-in-law) filled the first issue. Officially Brewster was a sub-editor, and so spent much of his time sifting through this nonsense trying to decide on a relevant section in which to put it all. In between the articles lay self-assured advertisements for mahogany fitted kitchens, holistic massage weekends, and Rolex watches. Industry insiders gave the magazine six months at the most.
Despite Brewster’s own gut feeling that Lifestyle Up North had been set up for the sole benefit of channelling money away from the Inland Revenue he accepted the job because (a) it was temporary, and (b) it came with a substantial pay increase. The latter was important because, by the time Lifestyle Up North celebrated its second issue, Brewster had embarked upon a relationship in the first degree and was joint-owner of a railway cottage, complete with woodworm, bad wiring, and hidden karmic energies.
The afternoons spent in the central library on behalf of Mickey’s opus hadn’t been a complete waste of time. It was there, in the history department, that he met Annie. She was a calm, pretty girl in her late twenties who bore more than a passing resemblance to the actress Helena Bonham Carter. She was given to wearing loose, bohemian clothes, and sported a pair of round NHS spectacles, which Brewster found strangely erotic. Their dealings with one another remained, for many months, on a purely professional level. Brewster would go up to the counter and enquire after such and such a book whereupon Annie would lead him to the appropriate shelf, after which he’d thank her for her trouble, they’d smile, and Annie would return to whatever it was she was doing before he’d interrupted her. Settled at one of the library’s work tables, doing his best to look busy, Brewster would catch glimpses of Annie as she scuttled to and fro, offering assistance to others engaged in historical research. Soon Brewster found himself frequenting the library on his days off too, his heart thumping on the occasions that he caught sight of Annie, sinking when he realised that his day off coincided with hers. He began doing all the strange things a male of the human species does when he assesses the availability and compatibility of a potential mate. He hung around the library’s main entrance and followed Annie to the car park in order to discover which make of car she owned (a clapped out Citroen, which was neither here nor there: Brewster was no snob when it came to women and their choice of car, although he noted, with great pleasure, the absence of a child seat). He discovered Annie’s address (a first floor flat, shared with a red-headed girl) and sat for hours in his Ford Mondeo detailing her comings and goings. After a month of playing Private Dick, Brewster concluded that there was no man in Annie’s life and that he could begin planning a thorough offensive. (He had, of course, debated the role of Annie’s flatmate. Perhaps it was her sister, he told himself, or, if not, just someone with whom she shared a simple honest-to-god relationship which didn’t include any kind of sexual activity whatsoever. Late one night, though, he saw Annie and her flatmate walking arm-in-arm along the pavement, giggling wildly. This disturbed Brewster - or, rather, disheartened him - and he spent a great deal of time trying to work out the significance of what he’d seen. So it was with great relief that, by complete chance, he spotted Annie in one of the city’s pubs with a man - a rather unkempt, uncouth looking man, it must be said - with whom she was clearly flirting, thus banishing, in Brewster’s eyes, all questions of Annie’s sexual orientation and sending him into a state of apoplectic jealous envy instead.)
As his research brief grew, and the image of Annie and the scruffy geezer in the pub played on his mind, Brewster began interrupting her more and more. The pleasantries they once exchanged turned into something approximating small-talk and one day a common connection was found - India. Brewster wanted to read up on the famous forgotten 14th army commanded by General Slim and asked Annie to guide him to the relevant bookshelf (which he could easily have done himself) when she let slip that she’d spent six months backpacking in India after finishing her English & Library Studies BA.
Here was Brewster’s chance - the chance to offer this slight, delectable creature an insight into the fulfilment that awaited her should she choose to consider him as someone other than a casual acquaintance. Here was the chance, if he could pick the right words, to take hold of that common Indian connection and fashion it into something more permanently binding.
‘Well!’ Brewster exclaimed. ‘Lucky you! It’s always been one of my ambitions to bum around India.’
‘I mean, when I say “bum around” I don’t want to insinuate that you bummed around and did nothing except smoke dope and stuff like that. Not that you look like a drug addict....or rather somebody who smokes dope....No! I mean, what I’m trying to say is...that you visited the place. Which is what I’d like to do one day. Very much. Spend some time there, you know. Experience the culture...’
This was a tried and tested trick - an opening gambit as old as time itself. Women like Annie were attracted to vulnerable, baffled, slightly humorous creatures who battled vainly against an oppressive, uncaring world. Weren’t they ?
‘Well, bumming around is precisely what I did’ Annie said, smiling. ‘And yes, I spent a lot of time lying on beaches smoking dope, as well as experiencing other aspects of Indian culture. And it was wonderful. I had a great time.’
Maybe she just wanted to mother him. Maybe she just looked at Brewster and saw some pathetic, harmless creature against whom she could relate her own insecurities. After all, isn’t that how we connect with our partners ? Sailing around until we drift, in a Platonic tail-wind, into somebody resembling a fragment of ourselves ? A discernible mirror-image of our own sexual and personal desires ? Perhaps. The fact is, the bumbling show that Brewster put on seemed to trigger Annie’s interest. Soon they were gravitating towards each other in a big way. Annie, Brewster discovered, was a hippy with a capital ‘H’, into ecology and karma and connecting with the planet’s unseen energies, and Brewster played it cool those first few weeks as she enlightened him about the plight of whales and endangered stick-insects, even though all he secretly longed for was to devour her patchouli-scented body.
They ate out a lot, usually in one of the city’s vegetarian restaurants (‘I’m not against eating meat per se ’ Annie explained, ‘I’m against the vile, conveyor-belt industry that produces our meat. All those negative energies are transferred into the animal and so to us. You reap what you sow. Even primitive societies used slaughter as an occasion to celebrate the animal - to celebrate the process of regeneration an animal’s death brings. I’m not boring you, am I Mike ?’ ‘God, no, Annie! No! These are precisely the questions I ask myself each time I walk past Sainsbury’s meat counter...’)
They took in a number of foreign art-house films and Brewster attended the historical/literary talks that Annie organised at the library, doing his best to remain at least partially animated. It was during this period that Brewster undertook a lot of cramming, standing for hours in W.H.Smith, reading slim pamphlets entitled Bluffer’s Guide to Magic Realism/French New Wave/The Brontes/Post-War Feminist Literature. All to keep up with Annie. All because of his devotion to Annie.
Their first weekend away together was spent trekking in the hills with just a tent each, an arctic wrap, and a small bag of groceries. Working in a library all week was like working in a mausoleum, she told him. Come the weekend she needed wide open spaces and fresh air. So, having eagerly parted with a small fortune in Millet’s, Brewster spent two days with Annie camped high above the Worridge reservoir. Saturday morning they took a long walk through a pine forest and cooked eco-beans over an open fire. Annie engrossed herself in the flora and fauna, naming every plant, bird, herb, and mineral deposit she saw. Then, as night fell, she named every star and constellation that illuminated the sky. All this time Brewster hovered or sat obediently by her side, engrossed in the agitated flora of his own thoughts, which centred on when he should make his decisive move and usher Annie towards the warmth of his Chris Bonnington sleeping bag. He needn’t have worried. As he made exaggerated yawns and cleared away the military-issue pots and pans Annie took his hand, drew him towards her, and kissed him on the lips. Then she led Brewster into her lightweight bottle-green tent where they remained for much of the following day as she initiated Lifestyle Up North’s sub-editor into the mysteries of Tantric sex.
Part 3 here: