Rock Bottom

‘I don’t want the kids to know about us,’ Eadmund explained, ‘they’re already upset and unsure about how Mum having a boyfriend affects their family and their world.  I can’t spring something else on them.’

I wasn’t a parent but my instinct was that it was absolutely right to put the kids’ happiness first.  I believed in it as passionately as a religious devotee.  Of course, if that was what was best for them, we would have to keep our relationship secret from them.  Their family was changing fast.  Of course we should introduce it gradually.

It didn’t seem such a big thing, keeping it under wraps for the sake of the kids, but I hadn’t appreciated how one secret in one area of your life spreads.  We couldn’t be affectionate in public in case someone saw.  We couldn’t be affectionate at work because it was unprofessional and also because everyone at work also knew his kids.  I couldn’t openly talk about our relationship at work because although everyone knew, in order to keep the secret for the kids sake, it had to remain unspoken as to exactly what was going on.  I could spend time getting to know his kids at his house and, in theory, this was time that I was spending with him, but we had to behave in a way that would just make them think we were friends.

There was already a lot of secret keeping in my life as it was.  My friends and family didn’t know we were in an open relationship.  They didn’t know I’d hurt a good friend over a man.  I hadn’t told them how much I was struggling to hold it together.  They didn’t know about solitary binge drinking or panic attacks or the cutting.  I don’t for one minute think I am a good enough actress to have convinced them that everything was perfect all the time but that’s not really the issue.  The thing about keeping a secret is how it makes you feel, the insecurity and shame, not whether you’ve actually convinced anyone.

Although in theory we were only keeping our relationship from the kids, we ended up not admitting publically to most of the people we interacted with.  There wasn’t an area in my life that wasn’t complicated.  I couldn’t talk to people at work, I was keeping secrets from my friends and family.  I needed the reassurance of physical contact but I had to keep my hands firmly by my sides when his family were there.

Implosion

Basically, I imploded.

I was a millstone around Eadmund’s neck.  The situation wasn’t easy for him either: balancing his time, trying to be there for everyone who needed him, knowing he was failing.  Cloe’s nervously intense boyfriend was rocking the boat at home and upsetting the kids with the addictive nature of his attraction to her.  Eadmund couldn’t keep the kids happy and now he couldn’t keep me happy either.   He started to look for a way out.  There was a winter of obsessive computer game playing by way of withdrawing from the family and from me and then following that a bombshell on his return from a buying trip to Ireland.

‘While I was away, I had a short affair with a cheesemaker I met.’

I crumpled.  As usual with me, the first emotion was shock, the by now familiar sense of the blood draining from my head as I ran through the usual questions.  Who was she?  When had they met?  When did they sleep together?  This was followed by hopelessness, anger and rejection so visceral it was like a white hot knife tearing through my torso.  Through it all he was kind, gentle, patient.  He apologised for not having told me before it happened but he didn’t feel any guilt.  We didn’t have any hold on each other after all.  We were free.   Hours later, with no tears left and anger spent, I reached out to pull him to me.

‘I didn’t think you’d want me to touch you.’

I couldn’t talk.  I don’t think I replied.  I needed contact, a tangible reminder that he loved me.

The following day, watching tv with his children and sitting on the sofa, he put his arms around me.  In public, without shame, he made the first move to acknowledging to them that he loved me.  That night, for the first time, I slept in his bed with him.  The secret was out.

The Choice

choices

After we’d finally made love, Eadmund decided, with Cloe’s blessing, that he should choose someone with whom he would settle and commit to having a proper public relationship.

He talked to everyone he trusted most about it.  He made his decision.  Isla.

I shouldn’t have been expecting anything else.  I was engaged, for Christ’s sake!  With Isla he could be open and public.  With me it would have to be a secret, sneaking around.  These were all valid reasons for not choosing me, but it killed me.

Isla was so happy.  After hiding their previous fling and then the current situation from everyone including his wife, she could be open at last.  In her new role at work, she was not only employed by the cheese shop but also by Cloe’s company.  The decision made, she had to go to a meeting with Cloe that afternoon.

‘I was so relieved,’ she told me as we were packing up to leave work, ‘I was off to a meeting with the wife of my boyfriend.  She never knew about us before.  I was so scared… but she gave me a big hug when I got there and said, ‘It’s ok, Isla.  It’s ok.’’’

I sympathised.  I tried to be appreciative but I was dying inside.  He should have chosen me!

We understood each other.  We got on well together.  We were compatible on so many levels.

Why had he not chosen me?

Eadmund could tell I was devastated.

‘If it’s any consolation,’ he said, ‘Joe thinks I made the wrong choice.  He thinks I should have chosen you. But I think it’s better this way.’

He was trying to make things easier for me.  I was, after all, engaged, a fact I had conveniently neglected to remember.  This way, I didn’t have to choose.  I could go back to my boyfriend with no second thought.  What he didn’t know was that made me feel like my dreams had come to an end.

‘I do care a lot about you,’ he continued, packing papers into a satchel to carry home, ‘It isn’t completely clear.  The thing is, I love you…’

He coughed, realising the impact of what he’d just said and immediately tried to back track, ‘Um that is, I think I do… in as much as one can say that of course.  Ahem and shares can go down as well as up.’

By choosing Isla he had been trying to take the simpler path for him but also for me.  By blurting out that he loved me, he had just made things much more complicated again.  But he’d said it.  It was out there.  He loved me.  Of course I loved him too.  I had done for years.

I spent the rest of the weekend at a friend’s house.  We drank wine and chatted then the following day we watched blockbusters on DVD.  I watched Titanic and have never identified more deeply with over-emotional issues of love, loss and separation.  I was quiet.  I think I got away with disguising my emotions as a hangover, which I did also have, but inside I was resigning myself to a slow death.

The next day we saw each other again. I told him I couldn’t bear it.

He told me it was a more sensible choice. I didn’t care.

Joe had said I was right for him.  His own best friend said I was right for him.  He loved me.  He too, thought that I was right for him.

To be in a relationship with someone he didn’t love when he loved me was wrong, not only on my account.  It wasn’t fair on Isla.

This time I convinced him.  Despite my fiancé, Isla and the toll it would inevitably take on me, we were officially in a relationship.

The Kiss

The Kiss 1901-4 by Auguste Rodin 1840-1917

In 1999, after years as, ostensibly, the patient partner to a philandering husband, Eadmund’s wife Cloe met someone.

He was a customer in her shop, prone to outspoken declarations and intensity.  He was a fashion designer who at the time was considered an up and coming talent.  He asked her to model for his latest collection.  She was approaching 50 years old at the time and thought he was taking the piss.  She even rang up Eadmund and his best friend Joe to ask if they’d put him up to it as a practical joke.

They hadn’t.  Rupert Wallace Black was deadly serious.  He thought the world of her.  She was his muse.  She is and was an immensely elegant, striking and stylish woman.   The show apparently was quite something.  Their kids were partly disturbed and partly deeply impressed that mum was a model.  The elder two were approaching their teens and just trying to forge their own ideas of style, dress and image.  Having a mum who was a model, even if you did go to private school in Holland Park, did make her very different from the other kids’ mums.  But in what a cool way!  Cloe was in love and happy as she hadn’t been for too many years.  She blossomed.

Eadmund wasn’t exactly heart broken, it had hardly been the perfect marriage after all, but this change in their situation was big and frightening and hard.  He was shocked to the core and big questions like divorce had, of course, raised their head.  He lost half a stone in a week and took up smoking again.  At work, his best friends rallied round:  Jacob, who it always appeared he saw as ‘heir apparent’, Adam the American, Joe who was best friend of both him and Cloe and also Isla.  Isla was an open, warm and caring person.  I never realised that she and Eadmund had been all that close as friends, but she looked out for him, gave him supportive hugs and chatted with him in the pub as he poured his heart out.

‘He’s got so skinny, don’t you think?’ She said on one of our pub evenings together, ‘I just feel so sorry for him.’

I concurred.  The word on the shop floor had always been that he’d been a ‘naughty boy’.  There hadn’t just been Catherine, there had been others too.  Either he’d never been told not to dip his quill in the office ink or he just hadn’t listened.  Consequently no one felt that there was any aggrieved innocence about his reaction to Cloe’s new relationship.  No one condemned her either, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t feel jealous, hurt and afraid.  As his colleagues and friends, how could we not feel for someone who was so obviously hurting?

A couple of years earlier, the person who had started him in business and always been a huge influence on his life had died in a car crash.  A shockwave ran through the company at the time,

‘Did you hear? How is Eadmund taking it?’

He seemed to put a brave face on it.  I met him downstairs in the staff kitchen.  He was on the phone.  I was making coffee.  He was talking about the funeral.  Every one of my nerve endings was alert to his presence and proximity to me which was a fairly common reaction of mine by then.  This time, I also felt waves of compassion.  I wanted to help.

‘You have made me feel so much better when I was miserable,’ I thought, ‘You are always ready to give someone a hug.  Who do you have to hug you better?’

But he was on the phone.  I finished making my coffee and returned upstairs to my desk.

The memory remained with me.  Now that he was hurting again, this time I was going to do something to help.  We started going to the pub after work to talk.  I opened up about my relationship with Jack and whether I should be getting married.  Now that it was a done deal, I was starting to doubt.  He told me about Cloe’s boyfriend.

‘So my wife is sleeping with the man who’s sleeping with Kate Moss’

This was a rumour at the time and frankly may not have been true.  If he was, he dumped her for Cloe pretty sharpish.

We talked about commitment, loss, fidelity, monogamy.  He talked about letting people be free, about how the feeling of allowing her to go to someone else had its own bittersweet beauty.  He could see her grow and open up to the world in happiness and he couldn’t help feeling very happy for her.  It was absolutely right for her to follow this relationship and not stay within monogamous confines.  She had his blessing.  In fact, he had even encouraged her and persuaded her to go for it.  And yet, it also hurt.  Some days he almost felt elated just seeing how happy she was and setting her free.  Some days he felt inward looking, scared, jealous and vindictive.  It was a horrible, mean feeling.

I loved the way he talked about relationships and freedom.  I couldn’t quite conceive of not feeling distraught and jealous if your partner wanted to be with someone else.  I wanted to be that open-minded.  I wanted to have that expansive feeling myself.  My own relationship felt confined, predictable, conventional and a little claustrophobic.

From talking, a closeness and warmth developed very quickly.  I told him he needed a hug and did it.  It began to become a daily thing.  I had initiated it and I was far too embarrassed and self-conscious to do so publically but it continued to be a private thing, which, in turn, lent it piquancy.  The hugs became longer, tighter, more charged with emotion.  We always stood very still, close and I think I even held my breath.

‘You just held me so tight, for so long,’ he reminisced years later, ‘It steadied me. I think it saved me.’

But in time, it did more than that.  Standing as close as we did, my head resting on his chest, I was able to feel the shape of his body all the way down mine.  The day he found it sexual, I could tell.  Neither of us alluded to it but things had changed.

If I had truly loved my fiancé, if I had truly appreciated the partnership of marriage that I was about to enter into, I would have stopped and talked to Jack.  But I didn’t.  I wanted to see where it would end.

A few days later, we hugged as usual, but this time he gently turned my face up to him, looked softly down at me and kissed me.

Getting to Know You

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A year or two after that, an opportunity arose to work with Eadmund on a project.

We had moved our wholesale department to a new site just south of the Thames.  The new premises bordered on a nocturnal fruit and vegetable market was the only remaining aspect of a once a thriving produce selling area known as London’s Larder.  Now, it was largely empty.  Its spaces were used for parking cars but the market structure and empty warehouses around it was still impressively Victorian.  It just cried out to have food stalls in it.

I was at a career ceiling.  I had added being the assistant Mail Order manager to my list of roles but there wasn’t enough work in the department for it to be anything more than holiday cover, a day a week and then an even more seasonal and intense Christmas sales period than when I’d worked retail.

I had appreciated the support, cheering on and hugs even more than ever.  I had seen Jack less than ever.

I was also at the end of my tether with matters rota-related.  It was like trying to solve a huge Sudoku puzzle and it just didn’t appeal to the way my mind worked.  My attempts to solve the Sudoku weren’t good enough for the new shop manager, James (Isla had taken on HR) and he didn’t hold back with his criticism.  I announced my intention to give up the rota and train someone new.  I didn’t tell anyone but it was the first step of my plan to hand in my notice.

Eadmund needed someone to help with a plan to develop the market as a thriving food area again: to call in stall holders, to take advantage of momentum created by open warehouse days the local traders had held and a Food Lovers Fair that had generated great publicity and introduced some amazing food producers from all over the country to this atmospheric corner of London and its wrought iron Victorian market building.  The fair had been exhilarating.  The iron and glass structure echoed to the sounds of traders selling food and all of the food was superlative.  The space came alive.  At the end of our long retailing days, we cheesemongers mingled in the local pub, with other traders from the market.  We were all buzzing.  Many drunkenly enthusiastic conversations were had, starry eyed about the potential for restoring it to a full time food market.

Eadmund had a plan.  The open warehouse days had been fine but now we needed a bigger market.  A monthly market.  In time, a weekly market.  He always suffered from having more ideas than there is time to execute them, so he needed someone to put his plan into action.  Would I be interested in working with the best food producers in the country to establish the best selection of produce in the UK at a market?  Would I?  Is the Pope a Catholic?

From being miserable and failing in my job, I suddenly had a lifeline and one with hugely exciting possibilities.  Eadmund and I met and worked together for a day each week.  I loved the job.  I loved working with him.  We worked extremely harmoniously together.  I was doing something I could succeed in and succeed I did.  I was learning all the time and I began to blossom again.

We started to get to know each other a little.

We’re not in Marple anymore, Toto

The canal near the house in which I grew up.  Marple.

The canal near the house in which I grew up. Marple.

‘And do you eat cheese?’ asked the business owner over the phone.  I had summoned up my courage and rung about that job.

‘Oh yes, when the diet allows,’ I replied with more hearty cheeriness than I felt.

‘Oh, do you worry a lot about fat then?’

‘Oh no,’ I bluffed (it had actually been a fairly recent panic of mine as I was eternally convinced I was overweight), ‘Just that you need to eat everything in moderation.’

‘Hmm,’ the female voice over the phone replied, ‘Yes, everything in moderation.’

Sweat was breaking out on my brow – I’d evidently said the wrong thing.  However we fixed a date for an interview and as I’d already got other jobs lined up for interviews that day, I turned up wearing my suit jacket and a pair of trousers that went reasonably well with them.  I felt the full suit was a bit over the top for jobs in retail.  In the weeks that followed, I realised that no one else did that.  Everyone else pitched up in their jeans.  However I think it might have helped my cause because Catherine, a partner in the business, liked me.

‘The shop is the heart of our business,’ she told me, sounding a lot more friendly in person than she had done on the phone over the diet faux pas, ‘but we do have other departments too which gives you scope for more varied work.  We wholesale to shops and restaurants.  I notice from your CV that you’ve studied languages, Jacob there,’ indicating the back of a blond head to the right of us, ‘uses his languages all the time.  He started out working in the shop and now manages our Export Department.  He’s even selling British cheese to the French.’

I made noises of incredulity and indicated that I was impressed.

‘… and I run the business with my partner Eadmund,’ she continued indicating the back of another blond head, this one atop a big tweed coat, khaki trousers and what I would later know to be VeldSchoen but at the time I recognised as classic leather English mens shoes.

Evidently a look on my face indicated that I thought she meant life partner, as well as business partner.  It seemed that sort of family place where a couple might run it together.  I was to be put right however, as she quickly clarified, ‘my business partner that is.’

When I later recounted the story of my interview to Felicity, the wholesale manager who was working with me during my trial month and who also happened to be an incorrigible gossip, she set me straight,

‘That’s because until not that long ago they were partners, not just in business.’

‘But isn’t he married?’

‘Yes and she was married too – to Eadmund’s best friend!’

Her assistant manager, Naomi chimed in,

‘They were together for years without either his wife or her husband knowing then it all came out and it was pretty shocking.  But it’s not long since they split up so that’s why they’re really awkward around each other.’

She went on, ‘He works at home a lot these days, which to be honest isn’t best for the business, but it’s better than the two of them working together and creating a bad atmosphere.  She works in the office but spends a day a week on the shop and he’ll usually come in and use the office from time to time and most likely when she’s working on the shop.’

Crikey, thought I, it’s like something out of a novel.  They had a passionate affair, that’s all finished now and she’s with someone new and they obviously still have feelings for each other or it wouldn’t be so awkward.  How very star crossed and romantic.

Highly charged passion between business partners wasn’t the only exotic aspect of my new job either.  It turned out that quite a few relationships were made and broken over the selling and maturing of cheese.  Michael, the cellarman, in charge of all the cheese maturing, due to a somewhat camp Yorkshire accent had been assumed to be gay until one day Naomi piped up

‘I think Michael might fancy me.’

One day they went on holiday to visit her family and when they came back, they were married.

There was the frightfully English aforementioned Felicity who had at one point had a fling with the shop manager Erin. Since then they used to compete over any of the female chefs that came in to buy cheese in the shop.  Erin had also had a rather charged relationship with the ex-mail order manager, Adrienne which was complicated further by Erin having a psychotically jealous girlfriend and Adrienne a commitment phobic boyfriend whose idea of flexibility in relationships did not extend to his girlfriend having a girlfriend.  It was, it goes without saying, a deadly secret and was also, Adrienne told me later, the best sex of her life to date.

It was a tangle of intermingled lives and unique people. I soaked up every new story, wide-eyed, insatiably curious and fascinated.  I felt like I was in a soap opera only way more cool than that.  A long way from home and yet exactly where I always wanted to be.

emerald-dorothy-and-toto-pl

The next big love in my life

The cheese that started it all.

The cheese that started it all.

‘I don’t want to eat in any of these places.’

Gia and I stared out of the bus windows.  My sister had come down to visit me for a few days and we had been out in London for the day and were looking for a restaurant.  We weren’t much impressed.

‘Oh I know, let’s get off here and go to Carluccio’s for salami.  We can change onto the 38 and then go home and have a picnic.’

We walked up through Covent Garden market, past street entertainers and the throngs of people queueing for the Hard Rock café and northwards past the tube station.  Gia and I have a long standing love for Italy, having holidayed in the same house in the Abruzzo every year since she was born.  As a consequence, Italian cured meats and olives are not only tasty in their own right but are also a nostalgic reminder of sun drenched days, friends who have watched us grow up and treat us as extended family, relaxation and happiness.  We made a beeline for Carluccio’s, selected our cured meat purchases and carried on towards Shaftesbury Avenue.

For some reason at one of the road junctions, we looked up towards Seven Dials and saw the cheese shop.

‘Hey, let’s go there!  It’d be like the shops in Boulogne!’

Part of the cherished family tradition had been that as both our parents taught, they too had long summer holidays and we usually went out to Italy for at least 6 weeks every year.  My Dad taught Italian so for him it was invaluable in keeping in practice.  We needed a car when we were out there and low cost airlines weren’t anything more than a glint in Michael O’Leary’s eye so we drove out, putting the car onto a train at Boulogne and then taking the train on through to Milan where we arrived for breakfast the following morning.  In the hours we had to kill between the time the ferry arrived and the time the train left, we had got into the habit of buying a particularly superior picnic for the train: Camemberts, Chevres, Baguettes, Celeri Remoulade, Carrots Rapees, Tartes aux Fraises and, when we were considered old enough, Normandy Cider.

We had never seen a cheese shop in the UK that looked even remotely like the fromageries of Boulogne.  Cheese in the UK seemed to be kept away from customers, behind glass, vacuum packed in plastic, its personality and character suppressed.  Not in this place.

The door creaked open, we entered the richly cheese scented, cellar cool air.  We had no idea what to buy.  An enormous slate counter stretched in front of us, piled high with every sort of cheese our hearts could desire.  All around the shop walls, shelves were bursting with cloth wrapped huge truckles of what I would later recognise as Cheddar, Cheshire, Lancashire.  We scoured the counter looking for a name we recognised from our French cheese purchasing that we could identify and purchase and we found nothing.

A cheery man of about 6 foot tall with short cropped blonde hair greeted us and tried to get us to try something.  We needed a minute to take the experience in and, being British, we were reluctant to say yes.

‘Go ahead and look,’ the blonde man I would later call Jacob said.  He turned to one of his colleagues.

‘The Wigmore is escaping again.’

A girl in a white chefs jacket and white wellies emerged from behind the counter and picked up a wooden board with the offending Wigmore cheese.  It was liquid and was heading off the board and onto the floor.  It looked great.

She brought it back behind the counter and noticing that we were following its progress with our eyes, Jacob offered us a taste.  It was vegetal, cauliflower-like even, savoury and cheese in liquid form.

‘It’s a bit over the top to be honest,’ he said, ‘I prefer it when it’s not gone quite that far.’

We loved it.  We bought a whole quarter of a pound.

I now look back on that purchase with a modicum of embarrassment.  We bought three very small pieces of cheese.  I paid for them with a cheque, which I now know is the most fiddly way to pay imaginable.  These days I rarely buy anything under 500g of cheese – if you’re going to buy cheese, you may as well seriously BUY CHEESE.  I spent under a tenner and I took ages about it too.

If this was in any way frustrating to Jacob (and in retrospect, I suspect it was), he gave absolutely no sign of it whatsoever.  He was helpfulness personified.  Whatever we wanted to taste, we could.  No need to say thank you, it was just what they were there for.  We left with our 3 small pieces of cheese in a little white plastic bag and resolved to return.  We had to bring our Dad in there.  We now realised that we didn’t recognise any of the cheese names because all those very many cheeses were all British or Irish!  Not a French one among them. Remembering my father’s laments over the no longer being able to buy the Tasty Lancashire or unpasteurised Stilton of his childhood, we knew he would enjoy this shop.

The picnic was very satisfying by the way.

My graduation, my parents wedding anniversary, a belated 21st birthday bash for me and an early 18th birthday bash for Gia was held at the end of the year.  As a special treat, we decided to try out the Neal Street Restaurant, Antonio Carluccio’s restaurant at the time.  Since we were in the area, we took my dad to the cheese shop.  It was Saturday, the place was heaving but as he spent a full 45 minutes in there tasting everything and spending a considerable amount of money, we hung around at the doorway so other customers could actually get inside.  We were a group of 6 (including Jack).  That’s all the people the shop could fit on the customer side of the counter.  As it turned out, this meant we had plenty of time to read and re-read the notice in the window that said they were looking for cheese loving staff.

I had graduated by this point and was hoping that inspiration would strike me as to what I wanted to do.  The only thing I did know is that as the child of two teachers, I wasn’t going to follow them into the teaching profession.  My dad was counting the days to his retirement already and sadly he still had several years to go.  I had vaguely voiced the idea of working in a shop just to pay the rent and was hoping that somewhere along the line a blinding revelation would happen and my future career would become clear.

‘Well you could definitely do worse than working here,’ my Mum pointed out.

It was idiosyncratic, characterful, cheery, welcoming, the staff banter indicated that they were all great friends and they were selling some delicious cheeses.  I gave them a call.

Meeting Jack

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As I was psyching myself up to approach the grunge rock hero of my halls of residence, he beat me to it.  I was waiting for a tube at Mile End Station, staring down the tunnel hoping for a train.  I didn’t actually notice him until I had sat in the carriage and he sat opposite me.

‘Oh my God’ said the voice in my head, ‘That’s him.  You have to talk to him.’

Of course, I couldn’t think of a thing to say.  My throat constricted and my heart was pounding.  Fate solved the dilemma for me, when the train was delayed at Leytonstone.  Jack started up a conversation with a worldly wise comment on public transport and I pretended I’d taken the tube enough to comment back.  We talked all the way back to halls.  I discovered he was from Yorkshire which was a big bonus because it meant he was a Northerner too.  I was impressed because he was a third year student who was doing his finals that year and already knew his way round London.

We hung out as friends for a week.  I went round to his room for cups of Nescafe Blend 37 after lectures and listened to records.  We talked as people do when they are getting to know one another and after a while, I started to think,

‘I wish Jack would kiss me.’

And, luckily, not long after, he did.

‘…I guess it’s got something to do with luck.’

For some reason, with this as my hobby, I didn't have many boyfriends growing up.

For some reason, with this as my hobby, I didn’t have many boyfriends growing up.

I had a very sheltered life as far as boyfriends went.  Going to an all girls school was great for my studies, but it didn’t provide an opportunity to mix with boys.  My social sphere outside school centred around dancing, shopping, going to the cinema and sleepovers with my friends; all very girlie.  I found pop idols or film stars more impressive and fascinating than a boy my age could ever be, so although my mum did gently try to persuade me to join a local orchestra to meet people other than my school friends, I was happier dreaming of the day when I would be Mrs Pal Waaktaar or later Mrs CC DeVille or once I’d watched the Rocky Horror Show, Mrs Barry Bostwick.

To the childish affections, the famous celebrity has already achieved things in their life, they know things, there’s a glamour about them.  The gawky kid with acne who might possibly want to give you an inexpert snog at a disco party doesn’t really have the same allure.

But after a while it became apparent to me that my friends were managing to attract male attention.  We held disco parties, dressed up in our new Top Shop attire and kitten heeled court shoes, drank cider from plastic disposable cups and at the end of the evening, one by one, they had all been asked to slow dance and had their first kiss.

‘What’s wrong with me?’ I asked my mother with the intensity and distress that only an angst ridden teen can have.

She told me I was beautiful of course but the cynical negative voice in my head said in reply ‘Well she’s bound to think that, she’s your mum.

Thus with warped logic, I decided that I was destined to die a virgin, alone and be eaten by Alsatians.  Whatever ‘sex appeal’ was (and to be honest I was a bit too young to have worked it out) I evidently didn’t have it.

Fast forward to my university years and the autumn of 1992.  I am not going to die a virgin any more.  I managed to dispatch that unwelcome state of being in a coal shed at a friend’s party with a German boy wearing a tan leather jacket.  It was not exactly love’s young dream but it was the start of a new chapter of life.

I am, however, a bit disappointed by university life in London.  I’d taken a year out and went to work in Paris at Le Quick Burger (oh the glamour) for a couple of months but otherwise rather bottled out of travelling.  I had been looking forward to the bright lights and big city. I found myself living in South Woodford, a suburb along the eastern edge as London meets Epping Forest.  If I were to revisit it today, I might find it quite pleasant in parts.  My halls of residence, however, sat bang next to the South Circular and according to student rumour were due to be knocked down ten years earlier.  There was mould in the shower and dirty cork tiles on the floor.

I also hadn’t found anyone to be friends with.  The girls on my floor hung out together in a group for a day or so because we didn’t know anyone else.  I was surprised, though, to find I found them rather young.  It wasn’t like I’d had stretching and challenging experiences on my year out but the fact that I wasn’t straight out of school did mean I felt older than them.  This was going to be a problem.

I looked around the halls at mealtimes for someone who I felt I could strike up a conversation with.  I only saw one person.  He had shoulder length dark hair that was shaved close at the sides.  He was tall, wore skinny jeans and had a nose ring.  He wore a Nirvana T shirt under a lumberjack shirt (it was the 90s) and army surplus combat boots.

‘Right,’ I told myself, ‘He’s the person to make friends with.’

Emotional Endoskeleton

 

cricket-insect-drawing

 

 

Yesterday evening, Gwyneth Paltrow announced the end of her marriage to Chris Martin.  She described their separation as a conscious uncoupling and emailed subscribers to her website with an explanation of what that phrase means, written by Dr Habib Sadeghi and Dr Sherry Sami.

Within that explanation, one particular passage resonated with me.  They described the break down of a relationship and its attendant guilt, shame and regret.  They explained that in order not to have to face these emotions, we put on a body shield to protect ourselves, like an insects exoskeleton.  It is firm, rigid, keeps us safe but it can calcify and entrap us.  A better process is to develop an emotional endoskeleton which means supporting ourselves from within, laying our exterior open to harm.  It essentially means being vulnerable, but it gives us flexibility.  We can move, grow and develop.

Until very recently as I began to write about my last relationship and the experiences I had during it, my exoskeleton has been firmly in place.  It has protected me and it has limited me in equal measure.  The good doctors are right.  If you don’t let yourself become vulnerable, you can’t grow.

At the end of a relationship, as the sadness, grief and anger rage through you, it’s time to recognise how much those emotions really direct inwards, what they can teach you about your insecurities and how conquering your inner demons can make you stronger.  Most importantly, it’s time to recognise the person you are uncoupling from as someone from whom you have learned.  Your experiences together have helped you develop.  The negative feelings as the relationship ends are still teaching you and guiding you towards a more powerful, strong and more amazing version of yourself.

Conscious uncoupling recognises the shared journey you’ve both undertaken that is now at an end and welcomes the new journey you will take as a separate entity.  It recognises that your partner was a fellow learner and also a teacher. It respects what they have allowed you to learn and in doing so it respects them and their experience.  It’s the only way to be truly free.

Thanks Gwynnie, for bringing that concept into my frame of reference.  Thanks and Good Luck.

The Break Up

Borough Market

It was the third weekend of May 2000 and I was in our newly acquired offices, sitting at what was going to be my desk and crying my eyes out.

As the person responsible for managing development of the burgeoning Borough Market, under the auspices of my cheese shop employers, I was supposed to be working a busy Saturday as the monthly market rolled around.  I’d got in bright and early for a 6 o’clock start.  We had set up an immense display of cheese, the shelves of the shop were brimming over with chutneys, pickles and condiments, outside on the cobbles a veritable harvest festival display of bread beckoned people in off the streets.   The shop looked fantastic, it was buzzing with happy shoppers and I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t go away.  So  I had rung my fiancé and told him that that not only could I not marry him, but I’d actually been in a relationship with my boss, for the past eight months.

‘You are not breaking up with me over the phone!’ he told me, ‘I’ll come in.’

To be honest it was a bit of a waste of his time.  He was never going to change my mind.  He came.  We talked.  I agreed that I wouldn’t go back to our flat that evening and he left.

It wasn’t that long before I became aware that I wasn’t alone anymore.  Jacob, one of my managers who was also a friend, had come in.   He was a bit surprised.  I have no idea what I looked like – vaguely molten I expect.  I just about sobbed out that I’d called off the wedding and he left as well.

I didn’t get any more work done that day.