VIVA MILANO! - PART 5 - HOME TRUTHS
It’s hard to believe but important to remember that back in the swinging days of the 1960s communications were a whole lot more difficult than they are today. Few working-class families even possessed telephones, let alone the mobiles and e-mails by which we now communicate instantly without a second thought. Most news, Birthday greetings and so forth were sent via the Royal Mail, although on the plus side there was no second or first class post: it was all treated the same and was unfailingly delivered the next day, usually before the breadwinner of the family left for work. This meant in theory a reply could be on the doormat of the sender within 24 hours. And of course there were TWO posts daily!
These days, sending a letter is like spitting in the wind; it’s a gamble whether a card (which probably cost less than the postage) will arrive the next day even with a first class stamp; and if it does arrive as hoped, it will be long after the householders have gone about their business, and are probably on their afternoon tea break.
This all goes to show just how difficult it was in those far-off days to conduct relationships unless you lived next door to the person in question (hence the amazing coincidence that half the population managed to find their soul mate in ‘the boy or girl next door’ ); so when back in 1969, fresh from my weeks of work experience in Milan, I stepped off the coach from the airport into the loving arms of my childhood sweetheart, now fiancé; my flight had been delayed and he had been waiting some two hours at Victoria. This did not improve his already moody temperament, which would have been even further damaged if he had known that I was nursing in my new Italian leather handbag a tatty piece of paper upon which was written the name, address and telephone number of a very personable chap who I had met on the journey. But discretion is the better part of valour and I decided not to mention this – especially not that I had lent him money. As said fiance’ was a trainee Chartered Accountant, this second piece of news would probably have gone done even worse than the first. Anyway, he seemed moderately pleased to see me and whisked me off to a restaurant for a meal (which I really didn’t want as I was sure my Mum would have prepared something special for my homecoming), before loading me and my copious amounts of luggage onto a train to Lewisham, where I was delivered home to my parents and sister.
After a lot of hugging and distribution of gifts, including a huge dove-shaped Easter cake for Mum and Dad which miraculously had survived the journey unscathed, Himself caught the bus back home to New Cross, leaving me to gossip with my family, and to eat (a la Vicar of Dibley Christmas Special) my second meal of the evening, which, as I had forecast, my Mum had lovingly prepared.
Two days later, I returned to City of Westminster College in Victoria, where for the final part of my course I had to give a short talk on my stay in Italy. In Italian of course. This having been achieved successfully, my tutor, Signor Polidori, attempted to further debrief me by asking me out on a date, an offer which I turned down as gently as I could manage, flourishing my engagement ring by way of explanation. In point of fact I really didn’t fancy him much. And besides, I already had other plans. I had that very morning received, courtesy of the aforementioned Royal Mail, an envelope containing two ten-bob notes, and a short letter from Keith, the bloke I had met on the journey back from Milan and to whom I had trustingly lent cash. He asked me if I would give him a ring and gave me the number of the flat he shared with his sisters.
You may have noticed that, by this time, I was becoming a little uncertain at the seriousness of my impending change of marital status. This confusion was compounded when I arrived back at college to find that not only had I passed my Institute of Linguist and college exams with distinction, but I had been offered one of the coveted jobs as a simultaneous translator at CERN, the European Nuclear Research Centre in Geneva. As this of course would entail upping sticks and moving to Switzerland, this was a situation which merited a certain amount of pondering, and CERN had given me several weeks to come to a decision. I decided to use these weeks wisely.
So that evening, after college, I made my way down the road where I lived with my parents and younger sister, telling them I was off to make a phone call, not an unusual event as my fiancé was one of the few people I knew who had a home phone, this because his brother was an RAF officer and needed to be reachable when on leave. I found the familiar red phone box, took out my bit of paper and called Keith.
This was the first of many phone calls over the next few days, and eventually I agreed to meet up with him in Victoria, after college. We found we got on really well on several levels, and after two or three meetings, and several fibs to family and friends, I eventually went back to his flat in a beautiful huge house in Hertfordshire, which he shared with his twin sister and an elder sister, as their parents had been killed in an accident a few years before. I got on well with them both, especially as one of them had been studying in Italy, which explained his presence on the Milan flight.
I was fascinated by this whole family, with their obviously upper class upbringing so different from my council flat life – though he got on really well with my family when I plucked up the courage to introduce him, as a friend of course, nothing else – though I did detect a glimmer of hope in Mums’ eyes (much raising of eyebrows and offering cake) as she had never liked my fiancé. K had a day job as a local government officer, in weights and measures, and a second ‘job’ playing his guitar and busking at the station. He also took me to his regular haunt, a large pub called ‘The Goat’, which ran a Folk Club one night a week. Such a romantic character; good looking, full of music, dreams, poetry and kindness, especially for saving the whale and suchlike. To this day, and to his credit, his involvement with Green matters continues apace.
And this is the reason I can be a bit cagey when asked ‘where were you during the First Moon Landing?’ My stock evasive answer is ‘somewhere I shouldn’t have been, doing something I shouldn’t be doing with someone I shouldn’t be doing it with’. On 20th July 1969 K and his sisters had just moved into a small house nearer the centre of the town, in sight of the wonderful St Albans cathedral, which we visited several times, and I had been helping with the move. So we watched the moon landing snuggled together, an unforgettable experience under any circumstances.
But as things did even in those heady days, it all started cooling off, and I started thinking seriously where I was heading in life. Blessed with my lovely little family, I didn’t want to upset anyone, including my fiancé, whom I had known since childhood, so, at the end of the long Summer, we mutually decided to abandon this new relationship, face reality, get a job and part, which we did amicably, and with the marvels of modern science, reacquainted ourselves in much later life. I gave up thoughts of CERN, and stayed with my fiance.
Reader, I married him...............
And left him 2 years later when I joined the Ministry of Defence, and met the true love of my life, Henry. Eighteen months ago we celebrated our Ruby wedding, and have now been together for some 46 years. We have 3 wonderful kids and a tribe of Grandchildren plus one Great Granddaughter, and our ‘other’ daughters Katie and Jamie and their lovely children.
Regrets – I have a few, but then again, too few to mention….