October 17, 2019 at 8:23 pm #6421
How long is it since we had a blog?
It’s been a funny few weeks for me. But never mind all that. This is a blog from the Word Cloud, so apologies to former Cloudies who remember it. I may post a couple more of these blogs as well, so it’s worth saying straight out that I’m also sorry if they seem too locker-room in style. They are who I was.
The Truth About Maggie
A while back I wrote a blog called the truth about Kate. Some time after that I thought it might be good writing practice to do a few more truth about blogs. Then my daughter joined the cloud and the idea didn’t seem so clever. Here’s one that escaped.
One of the hardest trials for a woman called Maggie, must be waking up one Saturday morning at the age of 35 next to some 23 year old boy, with the sound of Rod Stewart’s Maggie-May on the radio. Particularly when both people in the bed know that the end of the affair is in sight.
Or maybe not. Maybe that was my trial. Maggie had already told me that if I ever tried to cast her in the role of older seductress, we were over. And, as I remember, she just hummed along, while it was me who lay there wishing for something more than our thin sheet to hide under.
I have no idea when I first met her, but it was almost certainly at the Onslow Hotel in Southampton. In the mid-1970s, this was a pub which embodied the concept of a Saturday night with a near-unmatched perfection. It seethed with Saturday. It was surely the News of the World of public houses, because all human life was definitely there.
Maggie wasn’t in the university scene; she moved around the cusp of a number of scenes. She was a friend of Ralph who provided drugs to some of the druggier people amongst my immediate friends. But she wasn’t druggy herself, she was very close to normal, supporting herself by teaching Spanish. She was good at it too, to the extent that she ran a new car and owned her own flat. But she was a little out of kilter, as we all were at the time in our mish-mash of ages, backgrounds, occupations, and expectations.
She was a tall woman, slender, with long, straight dark brown hair. Her dark eyes were inscrutable in the shadowy, smoky places that we moved through, though occasionally, if the light was right, they would sparkle invitingly. Her voice was unexpectedly rich, and I never did place her accent.
She had edged out of a relationship with poor, alcoholic, Mark, who returned to his family in an effort to halt an otherwise terminal decline. I had split up with Sarah and was wondering how I had managed to spoil something so good. The two of us were about as ready as we could be to get together, which we did after a drunken trawl through an Onslow Friday, and Saturday’s small hours at the Magnum Club nearby.
The Magnum was a gay club with all the hedonism that prevailed while aids was still a distant threat on the horizon. I had a theory that the Magnum pushed straight people together, which proved correct.
We ate breakfast in Maggie’s flat. Maggie was as fresh as a daisy, I was hung-over. She was fresh because she hadn’t been drinking, and she hadn’t been drinking because she had been conned when she was just out of her teens in Spain. Employed as an English tutor by a rich Spanish family, she ended up as full-time nurse to a child with Hepatitis. Despite assurances that he was no infecciosa, she caught it, and was abandoned in a primitive local hospital where she nearly died. It left her broke, and unable ever to drink alcohol again.
So we spent the day mooching about Southampton city centre, doing normal things, walking around shops, sitting and talking in the park. I learned what had never occurred to me before – Maggie knew the town and the people better than I did. People greeted her. A woman with a pram stopped to talk, and I was introduced in Maggie’s melodious voice as ‘one of my lovers,’ which was unexpected and made me feel important. It was a wonderful day. In the evening we drove over to a pub on the river Hamble.
It became an intense relationship. Maybe, as Cole Porter put it, it was too hot not to cool down, but in any event, we weren’t together for long, maybe three months. Memory is great stuff. It allows you to look back at yourself as though you are a different person; which you aren’t. When I remember those three months I’m amazed by how calm and patient Maggie was and I can’t help but contrast that with my behaviour, which was inconsiderate, selfish, and often juvenile.
One day, shortly after we started going out, we were walking hand in hand along the edge of Southampton common. After a while we spotted two people we both knew coming towards us. Roughly, pointlessly, I snatched my hand away. I still don’t understand that fully. Maggie was beautiful in so many ways, I should have been proud to be with her. I’m not saying I don’t understand it to offer some kind of defence of my action. On the contrary, it pointed to something deeper, almost instinctive in me. I knew straight away how wrong, and how hurtful a thing it was and I reddened with shame. Maggie just looked at me, and with extraordinary kindness, she said, ‘It’s alright. Don’t worry about it.’
I reached out again, and she squeezed my hand, but the damage was done. I knew things would never be right for us, and I imagine she did as well.
After we separated, Maggie visited me once. It was an awkward meeting, we drank coffee and she asked me how I was. She didn’t come back.
Six months later, drunk and feeling sorry for myself, I turned up unannounced outside her flat. She answered the door, but pointed out, apologetically, that I couldn’t come in as she had somebody there.
I never saw her again.
Maggie was strange, eccentric, sometimes sad, always kind. She was a good person. For some people, ‘good’ has an air of the old-fashioned, unadventurous, almost dull. Maggie was never dull, and she was definitely adventurous. But, there was something old-fashioned about her. I wonder how she got on, moving into what turned out to be the future. If I ever think about her these days, that’s what I wonder.October 18, 2019 at 11:29 am #6438Gerry FengeParticipant
Great stuff. Very readable, with enough mini-ouches to keep us viscerally involved.October 19, 2019 at 8:25 am #6446RichardBParticipant
Thanks for this. I remember your ‘The Truth About…’ blogs on the Cloud, and used to enjoy them immensely: perceptive (Isn’t hindsight wonderful?), moving, and uncompromisingly honest. This one is no exception.
And yes, there has been a sad dearth of blogs lately. Maybe it’s time for another tale of the rails…October 19, 2019 at 8:58 am #6447
Thanks Gerry and Richard. Oh, and Richard – more rails. Definitely.October 19, 2019 at 10:19 pm #6450KazGParticipant
This is wonderful @athelstone. It feels like a tender and perceptive remembering and Maggie seems extraordinary. You’ve drawn her with a light, deft touch. There’s self awareness and real affection in there too. Beautifully done, without a hint of sentimentality.October 20, 2019 at 6:52 pm #6453
Thank you, Kaz. Do you think this might count as an “I remember” exercise?October 21, 2019 at 9:05 pm #6456KazGParticipant
actually that would be really interesting @athelstone – putting these memories into the I Remember format (which does seem to intensify them somehow, the way it jumps and juxtaposes gives a really different feel than a narrative does). You should try that!October 23, 2019 at 4:08 pm #6499
I’m not sure. An I remember exercise about a particular relationship would be something of a curiosity I think. I enjoyed writing these short pieces because they helped me remember the taste of the time rather than focusing on every intense flavour.
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