Magazine article The Spectator

Forgive and Forget

Magazine article The Spectator

Forgive and Forget

Article excerpt

The most contentious aspect of our relationship was my habit, in her words, of using her flat like a hotel. I'd turn up unexpectedly, she says, kick the cat, break everything I touched, and leave again without notice the moment the novelty wore off.

Her flat contained too many unhappy memories, she said. Even if a reconciliation were possible, and she doubted it, she didn't want me in her flat ever again.

I was uncivil to the cat, it's true. But the flat is small, and I'm a country boy, and after a few days stuck in there I'd get cabin fever. It's true too that I'm cack-handed.

There is no level of incompetence with which I can't identify. I couldn't open a drawer in her flat without the knob coming off in my hand. And, with her, physical competence is a basic requirement.

This (among other things) led always to an insurmountable coldness arising between us, until finally we both came to associate my presence in her flat with acrimony and unhappiness and we let things drop. If we were going to meet for a chat after all this time (and she was reluctant to do even that), it was going to have to be on neutral ground.

The first attempt at reconciliation took place on a park bench on the summit of a windy hill overlooking the outskirts of Bristol and surrounding hills. We sat at opposite ends of the bench with a picnic between us. As we sat down the sun came out for the first time that day. Our conversation was a sort of fencing match as usual, but I was humble and she forgiving. She failed to press home her initiatives, and even made a show of retreating a little before my half-hearted counter-sallies. I managed my cardboard cup of coffee and my soggy pizza slice with skill. It went well.

On parting, we agreed that for a while at least our relationship was best conducted in the open air.

A fortnight later we met on a rainswept seaside promenade. I'd managed to persuade her to go camping for a couple of days and continue the conversation under canvas. The weather forecast, however, was rain, more rain, and floods. It was bloody freezing, too. Neither of us fancied it. We looked at each other. Should we? Oh, come on, then! And in less than an hour this amazingly forgiving, or perhaps reckless, woman and I were crossing a busy south London street and heading up the familiar road to her flat. …

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