Friends and readers,
44 years ago the admiral and I were married on October 6th, 1969; the ceremony took place at 1:30 in the afternoon in the Leeds City registry office; the bans had been announced for 3 weeks by putting a notice on the City Hall board. His mother and father and two young women he called his ex-girlfriends (they were his two friends) were there. It took about 5 minutes. The man who read the few words of pronouncing us man and wife said we were to understand everything that was usually said. Good thing it was so short, for I had a hard time articulating even the couple of sentences (“I take thee, James … “). I was overcome with nerves. The license cost us something like £2 and the ring (which I have on my fingers today) a serrated gold band of 12 carats £8. He never wore any ring.
Then Vanessa and the other girl (I forget her name) went off; they had given us a present of sheets. His parents took us out to eat in a very nice restaurant in Leeds, and by 5 we saw them off on the train back to Southampton where they lived. Then we went to our flat, a self-contained (meaning it had a bathroom) 2-room apartment for which we paid £2.10 a week in Leeds 7 (off the park, and for those who remember, the area where in the summer of 2007 the young men who set a bomb in the London tube came from, in 1968 heavily Pakistani). We probably made love. Sometime later we went out to a local pub and drank and danced the night away.
The next morning we got up to go to work. We had something like 10 shillings in the world between us. We divided that equally. It was my first day at John Waddington Ltd as an “executive secretary” to the chief engineer and chief salesman. Need drives so by the afternoon I had told the chief engineer, Alf Simpson (who became a friend for the 7 months I worked there), how little money we had, that I had just been married, and by Friday he had for me an advance of £25 (my bi-weekly salary). I recall him putting it into my hand. After that of course (since mine was a “middle class” job) the money was paid into an account I had opened just for that purpose. The admiral by that time had gotten a job working as a stockbroker’s clerk for £9 a week. He sat all day on a high stool like a character in a Dickens novel. (Upon returning to NYC over a year later he got a job swiftly making 9 times as much, and the cost of living was nowhere near 9 times.)
It was a year to the night we met, for it was 45 years ago, also an October 6th, only then it was 1968, that we encountered one another at the student union at Leeds University where an American student (who was part of the group that came over from Queens College, NYC) took me that evening. There was drinking at the bar, and dancing. I think (don’t remember exactly) that I was dancing with this American; I had on heels and plaid dress with a velvet emerald green ribbon in my hair. This was an unusual way to dress, for most girls wore jeans and t-shirts or sweat shirts, sneakers, flats, were dressed down.
Suddenly a thin English guy with a beard cut in; he had on an old faded-green into brown cordoroy jacket, dark green sweater and jeans. (He kept that jacket for years and years.) I had not been getting along with the first guy and didn’t mind that he went off; Jim the new guy said his name was. He was witty, seemed (he was pretending he later said) half-drunk, but was aggressive. He began to put his hand on my behind and I was embarrassed and to get him to stop doing that in public without making a scene (I never liked scenes) I asked him back to my flat for coffee. I remember that walk, how we laughed as we went. He came into my attic room, and — one might put it — never left thereafter. Literally he stayed for the week. He had nowhere else to go.
I remember getting up early the next morning and going out to buy eggs, kidneys and sausages and other kinds of fry-ups for an English breakfast for him. (Oh what I would have given if he had been willing to eat anything like this for the last 9 weeks; he must have consumed more on that one plate in fall 1968 than he has in this last 9 weeks of August/Sept 2013.) For the first time I was confronted with how much his taste differed from mine, for you could not have paid me to eat what I made for him. I made myself an English muffin and cup of coffee. He had tea (which I bought too)
He had been thrown out of university he had told me by that time — failed his exams in June and gone home, only to return in September having lied to his parents. He disliked the subject he was to study: ceramics (high temperature technology for building, an engineering specialty), a choice he took after 3 years of 5th and 6th form physics, math, and chemistry. He had wanted to major in music, but his parents would not hear of it, as such a subject would not bring in any money. He had no money, no job, was living (he said) on a chair in a club he had belonged to the year before. He was 20 to my 22. I was divorced from my first husband by that time and was there on a full scholarship, my senior year abroad it was called. The English department gave me the equivalent in English money £90 to start me off. I had a Chancellor’s Scholarship which would give me an equivalent monthly stipend to a British student with my lack of income. I too had no job.
I liked him; I remember never being bored, and him saying with surprise that he used to wonder what couples found to say to one another after a time and it seemed we had plenty to talk about. I of course shared some of my money with him. I was to get £8 a week, and soon after as I saw that was not really enough, my father began to send me $50 a month to cover expenses. The flat was part of my allowance; it was an attic room with a fireplace (a gas sort of stove) I shared with a girl named Janet Green who showed up at the end of the week. Whence Jim had to leave.
I remember buying my books for the fall term that week, and how one day when I came back with them and entered the flat he had a look of strong love in his eyes for me. We did a lot of walking that week — it was cold, but then one could not avoid the cold I had learned by then. I still was waiting on the wrong side of the street for buses and how cold it was — raw rain, deep chill. Into the parks we’d go, further out into the moors, and up to where there were very fancy houses and further yet stone fences and sheep and lambs. Did we read? We must’ve. I had brought two rows of books with me, novels mostly. We did a lot of drinking at different pubs. I began to love the pub culture by then. We took photos of ourselves in October 1968 in front of the house the flat was in:
And at some time during that week we heard a song that ever after I called “our song:” it was sung by Mary Hopkins:
I remember listening to it 10 years later one anniversary night in New York City when were living on the top of Manhattan (Inwood) in a rent-control apartment underneath the high hill on which the Cloisters sat: our address 17 Seaman Avenue, just about 200th Street near Broadway.
I would have you know, gentle reader, it was quite romantic of us in the next year (1969) to choose that day. We lost tax money by waiting two extra days. We also endangered ourselves (me) another day or so, for by that time my student VISA was up and I was in the UK illegally. However, upon marriage in that era, I automatically became a British subject and could not be kicked out. Or so I was told.
About 4 weeks later (November 1969( came to our door two very tall scary-looking police officers (or they had tall hats) who said I must come down to the police station to have my hands finger-printed. When we got there we were told that the police in Leeds had become apprized of my presence by London authorities after some notification reached them because I had had to send my divorce papers there to have them approved (They were in Spanish, from Mexico, in April 1967 the only way one could get a divorce conveniently in NYC was to go to Mexico; otherwise you had to prove adultery.)
The police did not drive us back; we had to take a bus.
We had had a honeymoon, sort of, the year before, a month after our first week together (so these are taken on a fine day in November 1968) when we went to Edinburgh:
Gentle reader, the admiral did not look like the above young man today. His face is now narrow and darkened, his hair and beard grey, his mouth very dry. He may weigh as much as 100 pounds. In these photos he is a healthy 125 pounds or so. But then I don’t look like that girl either — though the resemblance is closer. During the whole of my two and more years living in Leeds I weighed ten more pounds than I usually did when young (so probably near 125 too); the cold put weight on me; you will notice I have on long-sleeved dresses, am wearing stockings, and just above I carry a heavy sweater.
It doesn’t bear telling how we spent today.
Vignettes from Friday: Friday morning was taken up with a nurse’s visit, the coming of a person with a air and rubber mattress who wanted me to install it (hopeless as I can’t lift the Admiral and of course the “rules” forbad this person from “touching” a patient), then the nurse’s aide who did install it and bathed the Admiral and (with my help) re-did his bed. We had a scene of vexed exasperation over that mattress (the result of the woman Hanna’s bullying and my asking the nurse, “Do we need a hospital bed?”, “No,” says he, “an air mattress which will massage him is a good idea”). The admiral was more himself than I’ve seen him in weeks. He did exhaust himself as he made a comic fist.
To make a long story short, he so hated it that by the afternoon he was asking me to remove it, then a volunteer who came to stay for 3 hours (I went to a Washington Area Print Group session), then me at 6:30 pm or so again. I said we had to wait until Saturday morning when I hoped someone would come — or Monday. Maybe it was the mention of Monday (it must’ve seemed far away), for around 7:30 pm as Yvette and I were eating in the front dining room I heard him shouting to us. She and I rush to the back and saw that by himself he managed to pull that thing 3/4s of the way out under the sheet. So Yvette and I finished the task somehow or other, managed to get the sheet back under him, with his pillows all round him (like Jane Austen says people and she did for herself in her last weeks, we prop him up).
I admit the thing was noisy (it had to be plugged in so it would inflate and deflate gently) and didn’t look like something I would want under me. When he uses it, the oxygen tank is noisy too. So we did have enough noise in the room already.
Yesterday (that is, Saturday) I finally finished the last polishing of my paper, “Masculinity and Epistolarity in Andrew Davies’s Trollope films” (He Knew He Was Right and The Way We Live Now), and by today I was reading my notes for a review I had promised (last April when the Admiral first was diagnosed) of Volume 5 of Frances Burney d’Arblay’s Early Journals and Diaries, 1782-83, and suddenly remembered. Fanny’s beloved husband had died of wretchedly of cancer too.
Or so Clare Harman suggests — who like others doubts that Burney herself had cancer when she had that dreadful mastectomy without anesthesia. In October 1817 still in Paris D’Arblay consulted a doctor over a stricture of the rectum, which had very painful symptoms. Harman’s words suggest aggressive prostate cancer. By later winter when he and Frances went to live in Bath he was a pathetic wasted weak figure whom she pushed into enduring a long morning’s audience with the queen. D’Arblay’s diary of spring 1818 tells just how much he suffered and how her denial that his illness was fatal got in the way of some of the measures they could have taken to save him, or at least prolong his life.
I have never forgotten Frances’s account of the day her beloved died, which I wrote about for the Burney Letter:
To me the most stunning and moving instance of Fanny’s wilful obtuseness was in her depiction of her slow covering of her husband’s body as it went into rigor mortis: she was fighting death with a roll of flannel: “I took new flannel to roll over his feet — the stillness grew more awful — the skin became colder” (Penguin abridgement, No. 232, p. 541).
I have long identified with Fanny Burney (as she is called as a character in her life-writing) because of her love of life-writing, of writing letters, of living almost in order to have material to write up — in her case what she preferred to remember had happened — what she fictionalized and dramatized as having happened, sometimes swerving far from accuracy to make herself an important heroine, at others telling us a vivid version close enough the truth, and often somewhere in-between. I loved their quiet years at Camilla cottage (in Volumes 3 & 4 of the later set under Hemlow’s leadership).
Well so here she is again in parallel, a 24-year marriage of great fulfillment and deep companionship, which ended with a long misery agon of terminal illness for him. He was 64 like my Admiral. Fanny experienced a partial derangement on the day he died (see Harman, pp 342-44).
Leeds was and still is a city filled with older Victorian churches, in 1968 most of them still blackened with grime. During our walks the first week we met I took this photo of him sat upon a front gate. He seems in these photos to like to sit on gates:
Me again, same week, this time wearing some kind of heavy plush jumper (pinafore dress), holding onto a woven poncho near me for warmth: