Just the 4 of us: Rupert

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Cloe’s boyfriend was a fashion designer.  I say was because he was her boyfriend.  He still is a fashion designer.

He had a lot going for him: talent, a wonderful sense of visuals, imagination, creativity, enthusiasm and when free from his insecurities and demons, a caring and open-hearted man.  When she met him, he was feted as the next big thing, but finding fashion an unstable world after his regimented time in the army.  He had liked that in the army there was discipline and you had decisions made for you.  He had also rebelled from it too by his choice of career after leaving.  It couldn’t have been more different.

It is hard to write about someone that isn’t yourself.  I don’t feel I have permission.  It isn’t my story.  So I’m not trying to tell his story except in the way it appeared to me, as my part of our foursome.  Why tell it at all?  To understand some of the stresses Eadmund and Cloe were under.  To understand the stresses I was under.  He was complex, interesting and troubled.  He was a force of energy and intensity that it appeared he didn’t quite know how to control nor perhaps always want to control.  As such, he could be challenging to live with.  And we all lived with him in our own way.

In the first instance, he fell hard for Cloe.  I never asked but I got the impression that theirs was a passionate, dramatic relationship.  How amazing for a woman who had always seen herself as unattractive, to suddenly find herself centre-stage in her own drama.  She blossomed under his attention and adoration.

But, of course, there was a flip side.  He could be so absorbed in he,r that he wasn’t aware he was monopolising her time.  When he came round to the family house, he took over her conversation.  Even talking to someone else, his every comment was for her benefit.  Her children wanted to be his friend.  Not only was he important to Mum, but he was also a source of seriously stylish clothes which was a definite plus.  I think he surprised himself with how much he enjoyed their company, but even when chatting to them, he would still look across the room for her approval.

His obsessive nature and ability to take over the environment upset people.  Cloe & Eadmund’s daughter was upset that she didn’t get as much time with her mother anymore – even when her Mum was home.  It was suggested to Cloe, by Eadmund who could see his little girl’s face fall each time Mum’s attention was dragged away, that maybe Rupert’s time in the family home should be limited until the kids were more comfortable with the situation.

Rupert, while he may not have even been confronted about this, noticed when his time with Cloe began to be restricted.  His nature was addictive.  He needed her.  And so he rang her all the time.  When she was at work, he would call her mobile several times a day.  At home, having worked a long day, he carried on calling her.  Her children, home from school, wanting to chat to Mum about their day, found it unsettling that she kept being dragged off to the phone.  Meals didn’t get cooked until 10pm because she was tied up with hours of intense phone calls.  Then he would continue into the night after everyone else had gone to sleep, into the early hours of the morning.  She knew he wasn’t emotionally stable.  He’d been sectioned in the past, over a suicide attempt.  She was afraid of him relapsing and what he might do.  So she couldn’t refuse to answer when he called.  Every night, she promised to call him back again after bedtime.

At the same time, she had been clear with him from the start.  She had three children.  When their youngest was older, she might be more free to live with him or to spend more time with him but her youngest was still only eight.  She was needed at home.  I am sure Rupert didn’t protest at this, but he couldn’t do without her when the theory became reality.

Without her, he began to turn back to drugs and alcohol.  He reconnected with friends that did the same.  An all night party would medicate against missing her I suppose.  I was doing something similar before I hit rock bottom.

Before meeting her he had had a reputation as a dangerous, bad boy of design.  He courted the reputation – playing up to the self destructive artist with a death wish.  It may even have been thrilling for Cloe in the beginning.  But it was one thing for him to be unpredictable with her, another thing entirely for it to intrude into her kids world.  Cloe didn’t approve of drugs and she didn’t want her kids exposed to them at the ages of 14, 12 and 8.

Drugs, alcohol, lack of self control and an intense and addictive personality.  You know where this is heading, right?

She didn’t feel able to bring him into her home, as he became less and less predictable but she arranged weekends away with him to Paris.  They would walk and walk all day around side streets, quirky shops, flea markets, pausing to sit in cafes and then walk again.  It relaxed him.  The physical activity gave him a vent for his nervous energy as the flea markets gave him visual and aesthetic stimulus.  But as he drank more and took more drugs, their romantic getaways became listless as, worn out by a permanent hangover, he had no energy anymore.  He’d give up drinking for a few weeks but then he blew it again after a quarrel, or if she didn’t give him with enough time and attention.

She didn’t enjoy spending time with his party friends.  It wasn’t compatible with her life as a mother and it highlighted their age difference.  Rupert was in his mid thirties whereas Cloe had turned fifty.  He still considered himself a bright young thing, where she considered herself a mature woman.  I can imagine that it made her uneasy.

Years later, I met one of Rupert’s friends in completely different circumstances. My former flatmate Carina, having graduated as a shoe designer and worked for several years in Italy, had decided it was time for a change and moved to Paris.  One of her old contacts from Italy worked there as well and, as I happened to be visiting, we all went out for a meal.  He was frivolous, chatty, camp, self projecting for all he was worth and hugely entertaining.  Out of the blue, he mentioned Rupert.

‘Oh God, did you know his girlfriend, that Cloe?’ he exclaimed, when I asked how he knew him and explained my role in the foursome, ‘She was so snooty and aloof.’  He put on a semi-pretentious voice, ‘Oh I’m his mu-use.  I’m above you all!’

It wasn’t like that, of course.  Cloe was actually quite shy when out of her comfort zone and, in a crowd of coked-up self-proclaimed bright young things, she would really have been out of her comfort zone.  I’d already heard tales from Carina about her friend’s epic party exploits and heard her suggest that he’d been doing it so long, that it was a habit he couldn’t control.  While I was visiting, I was witness to a glimpse of this.  We all met for dinner on the Isle de la Cite.  He and their boss were already in the restaurant and were in high spirits, squawking and giggling together like best friends despite him only having known her for a fortnight at that stage.  Throughout dinner, they became ever more theatrical and expressive.  They seemed to have to leave the table several times where the rest of us didn;t.  In the end, with a flamboyant arm gesture that unfortunately coincided with a full bottle of red wine, Carina’s boss managed to utterly drench me.  Then they decided to go clubbing. Carina, more alert to the signs than I was, decided we both had to get home and made our excuses.   His parting shot was to stick his head in my cleavage as his boyfriend behind him shouted,

‘Stop it Angel!  You’re not straight!’

Then he headed into the Parisian night.

He was great fun but exactly the sort of person Cloe wouldn’t have wanted her kids to meet.

Relationship stress wasn’t the only thing Rupert may have been escaping from.  He struggled with the nuts and bolts of running a business.  Making sales, keeping accounts, placing orders on schedule, working to a deadline; in short, the boring and procedural aspects of the fashion business, were things he couldn’t or wouldn’t do.  Cloe, being highly organised, capable and having also run her own business for years, stepped in to keep the show on the road.  When he needed to move to cheaper accomodation, she rented him an apartment in a rickety old block in Covent Garden, above the cheese shop, that she and Eadmund owned. I rented a flat there too, for a while, which I sublet first to a school friend and then to my sister.  The building was like going back in time – a little corner of Victorian tenement-style dwelling, that looked down on Central London.  It was close to where Cloe worked.  They could see each other easily without the kids and he was even more indebted to her than ever.  She was his muse, she had found him somewhere to live and she’d saved his business.

Trying to establish some orde,r in the business of someone who enjoyed the anarchy of chaos, must have been extremely hard work.  In the run up to each collection, they would work 24/7 sewing clothes with a couple of assistants, re-modelling things, re-designing things right up until the last minute.  He created individual pieces outside of the show times but it was always a last-minute, frenetic rush.  Sometimes, to blow of steam, he went out and got wrecked, then came home and ripped up all the things he’d been working so hard to make.

As time went on, Rupert became angry, aggressive and depressive when he partied.  He began not to be thrillingly dangerous, but actually dangerous.  Cloe was afraid of him, but with his business dependent on her now, even when she had to end the relationship, she couldn’t leave him.  No longer her boyfriend, he didn’t even try to restrain the drugs and alcohol.  If he wasn’t in a fit state to work, she just left him to it until he could be productive again. He fliirted with and slept with star-struck girls, who were impressed that he was in fashion.  He paraded them in front of Cloe.

Rupert began to be violent.  He scared the other inhabitants of the flats above the cheese shop, most of whom worked there.  In drug fuelled rages, he rampaged up and down the central staircase threatening other people.  One of his girfriends was pregnant.  He threw her down the stairs.

Through all this, Cloe still helped him with his business and was his landlord.  He depended on her, he owed her his business, she inspired him and she had rejected him.  He loved and hated her.  Eventually, a company offered to take on his business.  In return for majority share in his own name and label, they would handle cashflow, provide him with back up in marketing, buying and general administration.  In some ways it was selling out but they could turn his business into a profit making one.  They could move on from each other.

It was hard for him to move on.  I think he managed eventually but not before he too, hit rock bottom.

He and the girlfriend had a baby.  This didn’t stop his drugs and alcohol.  It was a shock when I read, in the local paper, that he was in court for domestic violence; attacking his girlfriend while she was breastfeeding and in front of a team of assistants who were trying to restrain him.  A shock, because you hoped it would never have got to this, for all of their sakes and a grim sense that, perhaps, you could have predicted it after all.  I am not in touch with him, of course.  We weren’t all that close even when we were in the foursome.  However, before writing this, I did put his name into Google and crossed my fingers that I might find out good news.  There wasn’t much information but it appears that, on the testimony of his girlfriend who had told the court he was an affectionate, loving father when he was sober but had a Jekyll and Hyde personality around alcohol, the judge gave him a suspended sentence on the condition he went into rehab.  He seems to be designing still today.  He even has a Twitter account which he most definitely doesn’t write himself, but it appears that the business is functioning and that must mean that he is functioning again too.

It’s a relief and I hope it means he’s ok.  He was hard to live with.  He caused us all pain, stress and complications in our dealings with one another as we all tried to relate in an extended family.  It was due to his nature that we were all trying to cope with even more dysfunction than your average open relationship with teenage kids.  But it wasn’t contrived.  He couldn’t be any other way.  Besides, everyone deserves to be happy.  That includes the mother of Rupert’s baby, their son and it also includes him.

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.