It shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that I still have an archive of old photos of former girlfriends, and that I look at them from time to time. I'm after clues.
Clues to what? Clues as to what drew me to each of them, and what they saw in me, and what the photos can now tell me about myself and them, for no written diaries or letters survive.
Clues as to what aspects of femininity in them spoke to my subconscious, bearing in mind how I really was inside all the time, even if I was unaware of the fact. Things like that. I now believe that each was in some way a role model for me, as well as for the time being the centre of my emotional world.
So this post is a gallery of old flames, representing all the women I went out with from 1974 to 1982. I can imagine that some people might say, hey, what's all this about? Why show these pictures? What are you trying to prove? That you could turn the heads of some very pleasant girls?
Think that if you want to. My motivation is more complex. I was aged twenty-two in 1974, thirty in 1982. What I did between those years was my best shot at obeying nature and finding a soulmate while still young. But remember that every one of these girls faded from my life. None of these relationships lasted; they all failed. So this is not in fact a gallery of personal successes - something to crow about - but a gallery of failure. A reminder that from beginning to end, I have never been able to handle relationships, and still can't make them work.
I wondered whether it was a good idea to not only show the pictures, but also put a name to these girls, but then (a) this is an autobiographical blog - such details matter; and (b) it's ancient history - all these pictures are at least thirty years old, and everyone must look very different nowadays. I lost touch with them all long, long, ago, and have no idea where they now are, what they are called, or how life is treating them. I do hope all these old girlfirends have found happiness, and now, in their fifties, sixties or seventies (the age range is wide) are still enjoying life.
The first person is Gill, whom I knew in 1974. She was never a proper girlfriend - her own eyes were elsewhere - but I do think that a couple of afternoons at her home playing records (she liked Elton John and Santana), picking her up for evenings out, meeting her parents, she meeting mine, and having her along to my cousin R---'s wedding reception, all signified more than just a completely casual and empty friendship. Here she is:
This is Gill with her best friend Jo in a fun venue in Southampton:
The fun venue was a bar called The Painted Waggon, opposite Southampton Civic Centre, long gone of course. I wonder if anyone can recall it now? For months on end in 1974 and 1975 it was the favourite meeting-up spot for an evening out. If I'm really honest, Gill really didn't have too much time for me: I was uncool. I didn't have that special way with girls, not like my brother at that wedding reception, who had no problems whatever:
Happy days. Next up is Jenny, my love of 1975. Now this was a proper relationship, to the extent that I defied my disapproving parents over her. They did not like her at all. Well, even if she was - as accused - simply a good time girl, she was a good time girl with a heart. And she was still my choice: I resented my parents' attitude. It made home life very awkward, and changed forever how I felt about Mum and Dad's standards. Jenny and I stayed together for nearly a year. Here she is in her Totton bedsit, with Moon Bear, her favourite cuddly toy. Just out of sight is the Jason King poster. Jason was much more charming than I was, but he was only a poster.
And here she is dressed for a big night out:
After Jenny came Edwina, who was my girlfriend in 1976 and 1977. After that, when my work took me permanently away from Southampton to London, we were simply good friends. But we stayed in touch for a long time, and I think I last saw her in 1984, when I visited her with W--- and A---. Here she is in various locations:
Edwina was a fun person who lived with her elderly parents, loved cats and dogs, and was extremely popular with a host of friends, neighbours and acquaintances. She had a grown-up son called Martin, and an extended family in Southampton, North Wales and Liverpool, whom I met. The girl draped with Edwina over my pale yellow Renault 12 car is Barbara, Martin's girlfriend at the time. The collie in the last picture was called Sabre. She loved him to bits.
Next up, Sarah, my first post-Southampton fling in 1978 - a summer romance you might say:
Sarah looks a bit coltish in these photos, but she had sophisticated ways. She was tall (taller than me), slender and elegant. I met her parents, and indeed stayed over. They were very nice to me.
After Sarah came Deborah, who was a sweet little thing, and my love from 1978 right through to 1982, despite our splitting for a short while in early 1981. We actually got engaged in 1980, but she jilted me on St Patrick's Day in 1981. As you will see from this sequence, she grew up and matured:
(That's Deborah with Edwina, who was remarkably goodnatured about hostessing the women who came after her)
(With my Mum and Dad. She still looks like a child)
The last I ever saw of Deborah was in 1984 or 1985, after I married, when she was driving down my road in London, saw me, skidded to a halt, and then had a breathless ten-minute chat with W--- and myself at our front door. I very much doubt whether life has subdued her enthusiasm, energy and skittishness: at least I very much hope not.
I met W--- and her daughter A--- through Deborah in early 1982. That's quite another story!
I'm proud of the women I knew before I got married. They weren't 'conquests'. They were friends who in different ways tutored me, and helped me make the best of a difficult decade. They all let me in on some aspect of life, on things connected with growing up that had hitherto passed me by. They enlarged my experience and moulded my personality. I am very grateful to them all. Any success I had at playing the 'male role' with W--- or M--- can be attributed to these girls, who treated me (I now see clearly) with a forbearance and kindness that seems astonishing. I have no idea whether any of them ever guessed that deep down I had huge questions about myself. Impossible to say; and I can't see how we would ever now meet up and discuss it.
It would be a very interesting conversation, I'm quite sure.