Saturday, 23 May 2020

Reliving the good times

I've now been through all my 1980s slides. I'm afraid it wasn't with much of a flaming sword. It was very difficult to throw away perfectly good shots of people that have passed out of my life. These pictures are all I have of them now - and of the mostly London-based world I inhabited then. I've rediscovered occasions I'd completely forgotten about. And I have to admit that the shots reveal a jollier time than I remember, and one that lasted much longer than I thought.

My standard verdict on my marriage has always been - well, at least since the later 1990s - that I had four good years, then four not so good, then we split, and divorced five years later. I'm going to have to revise this to six good years, then a swift decline.

And I think I can pinpoint the chief event that caused it: moving in 1989 from London into the countryside, to a little home just outside Horsham.

For me, it was a heaven-sent opportunity to quit the claustrophobic city air and breathe again in green surroundings, with the coast within easy reach. I pushed very hard to make it happen, and to this day I think my forcing it through remains one of the most selfish acts I have ever been guilty of.

For W---, it was a nice change that freed up some capital and added welcome novelty. A chance for both of us to home-build afresh, and we seized it. But our new location was not so good in the winter, when travelling by car to south London and back was sometimes a nightmare, especially in the dark or the fog. I could take the train, but W--- insisted on driving, and therefore had the worst of it. W--- came to hate living in Sussex, or at least the travelling. It surely broke the marriage, although I think my own natural tendencies to live independently, to be alone, and to resist being smothered by family life, were all re-asserting themselves and played their part.

The slides stop in 1989, and from there I switched to print film. The prints (not the slides) will chronicle the last months in 1990 when the marriage was well and truly showing the strain, and on its way out. I'm not looking forward to seeing them, knowing that any smiles, any signs of having a great time, were simply a front so that parents and others wouldn't be curious or concerned.

It's funny how you hide the cracks in a relationship until the very last moment. Like people do when they have a terminal illness. I wonder if anybody was actually fooled? Probably not.

I still can't recall those last days at Christmas 1990 and New Year 1991 without flinching. The tension was unbearable. But the break itself was discussed and confirmed in an afternoon. So rapidly, that we never wallowed in any kind of inquest, neither then nor afterwards. It was absolutely not going to be just a 'trial separation', to be explored and possibly patched up. It was out, stayed out, and immediately became a solid fact with no going back.

I must have felt sad and defeated (something that I certainly felt more and more intensely in the months ahead, as my self-esteem shrivelled away), but I was far from crushed. I remember feeling free at once to go flat-hunting, considering every town just outside London that had a rail station. I now yearned to be alone - on any basis, with no furniture and only crates to sit on perhaps - so long as I could be self-sufficient. That did not go down well. Where was my grief? Was I completely heartless?

It was quickly obvious, however, that there could be no pied-à-terre for me in Oxted or wherever, however modest, because the housing market was depressed and there was too little equity in our little home to think about selling up at once. It just wasn't possible to go our separate ways, each with enough money to buy something good where we wanted to be. So for the next five years W--- rented in London, and I sat it out in Sussex. And nearly thirty years later, and three homes on, I'm still here.

All this has been revived, just from looking at pictures!

Well, I shall concentrate on the endless family gatherings and events in the 1980s, and as I scan and process those pictures, savour a journey into a vanished era when I clearly enjoyed my social life, and got satisfaction from making a home. There are scenes of such fun and laughter that it seems impossible to imagine how it could all crumble away. And there's me, grinning my head off, a person I can scarcely recognise now.

Did the old me in those 1980s pictures have the slightest glimmering of how life would be in 2020? No, of course not. We live for the present and the immediate future. It's best that the far future is unknowable. That's true now, and will always be true.

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