Shoebox Mementoes 2

Browsing through the shoebox mementoes has brought back memories I’d not recalled for decades, and until now had entirely forgotten. Among the mementoes Frances kept, were a stack of my letters from around the time we were engaged and then married. Love letters, I guess you’d call them. Old folded letters in envelopes nearly forty years old, some with my undying love, some with my remorse for having been an idiot following some now-forgotten argument. Whether it was my fault I’ll never be able to know now, but I learned soon enough that it was conducive to amorous and domestic harmony to assume that it was always my fault anyway ; and in one such letter, I regretted my folly in whatever it was had cause me to behave like an idiot the night before. I guess I must have been forgiven, for the engagement wasn’t called off.

Other letters are from shortly after we were married. I’d changed careers, and it meant spending a lot of time away from home on training courses, sometimes for up to a month at a time. It is probably appropriate that the content of most of these letters just stay in the memento box, but re-reading them has brought the odd moment worth sharing.

We’d not been married a year when I’d to spend a month away in Manchester, at the old Post Office Traffic Training Centre there. I stayed in a B&B run by a lovely man called Jack Ripley, who was as camp as a row of tents and made Larry Grayson look butch. Fabulous cook, with a wicked sense of humour, he wouldn’t have women in his B&B. (“Why don’t you have women guests, Jack?” “Ooh, nothing against women, ducky, but if they’re not washing their knickers in the sink, they’re washing their hair, and it doesn’t ‘alf block up the plug’oles.”) Jack had a Triumph TR7, with the famous headlights that were hidden under articulated covers in the bonnet where, on the flick of a dashboard switch, the covers opened like eyelids and the headlights came up to shine. Jack had arranged for his to have big eyelashes painted on them, and the headlights to be de-coupled, so that he could make them ‘wink’ at other drivers as he passed them by on the road. At supper time, he’d bring us a tray with a big pot of tea and a big plate of his home-made fairy cakes, “because I know you all like a good fairy!” The following night, when he brought us a plate full of queen cakes, putting them down with not a word but a sly smirk, we were convulsed with laughter.

I guess I must have been feeling lonely, a newly wed young chap at several hundred miles remove from the object of his love, for I seemed to be writing just about every night, telling her how much I missed her, or what had happened during the training day, such as the time we spent on one of the old fashioned PO telephone switchboards connecting calls (‘Manchester Rampart’), in the days when telephone operators actually could connect calls, and I’d accidentally connected a woman caller to the Speaking Clock.

As I read this particular letter, from February 1975, the memories came flooding back. The excitement of being not yet a twelve-month married, the anxiousness of being two hundred miles separated from my true love, the cool emptiness of a single bed in a guest house. On the Friday evening, I’d written to her again, talking about the new house furniture we’d been planning and waiting for, how lonely it felt down here in Chorlton, and how much I was missing her. And then, in a phrase that showed my language skills had yet to understand the concept of bathos, my ardent love letter continued : “I’ve just washed my socks, and I’m going to wash my underwear shortly. I wish I’d brought my talcum powder.”

God, I knew how to romance a girl back then!