One of our many shared fanships is the late Keith Waterhouse, whose straightforward response in his Daily Mirror column at the end of 1972 to Nixon’s latest murderous “peace offensive” in Vietnam I still cherish, in the original clipping.
(Roy’s right. I do archive things – a professional deformation of someone whose first official task in Her Majesty’s Service was ensuring the accurate computer posting of accounting records, and whose last often involved researching back to the dawn of VAT in 1973.)
In response to the comment “But what else could he do?”, Waterhouse says: “Well, the alternative to doing something is not doing it.” I haven’t seen anyone improving on that excuse exterminator in just shy of fifty years.
I haven’t yet read “Diary of a Nobody”, which introduces us to the supposed narrator, Charles Pooter: I don’t know if Roy has. But Waterhouse had, and had the genius idea of writing a parallel version from the wife’s point of view, which became a very successful stage play. And it was called “Mrs Pooter’s Diary”.
So when I saw Roy’s account of our beginnings, I was always going to have that precedent come to mind and want to give the world my own take on “This is how we met”.
(And by the way: the price of that ticket in April 1980 was £1.40 – terrace of course.)
I have archived Compuserve Forum discussion threads where this Roy Gillett geezer pops up fairly constantly going back to around 2001: I think if I tried harder I could take it back a long way further.
He always kept it polite, even when obviously exercised over some topic that had pressed a pet “hot button”- I won’t mention them, but anyone who knows us both can guess a few. Seemed harmless enough, and a couple of times when a bunch of us from UKCA Forum met up, we got on pretty well. The second time in fact Roy and I “closed the pub” after Budgie had gone to roost, since neither of us had anyone to go home to, we were still enjoying talking, and the beer in the Black Friar (a remarkable pub – not to be missed if you have the chance to see it) was outstanding. I could drink a lot more of it in those days (sigh).
In the year that followed, outside the Forum, I used my honed audit skills on the Census returns to solve a family history puzzle for him, and he advised me on the odd tech issue. It felt a bit like finding a friend – but not too close, and not too much. I’d heard too much about the perils of “online dating”.
So then there started That Long Discussion Thread (“Life on Mars”). I probably wouldn’t have read it if Roy hadn’t asked about Old Trafford – I never watch telly as a rule. It sort of sprouted branches, as discussions do, and I somehow mentioned that I was thinking of popping along to the BFI to see a Buster Keaton film – I’ve always preferred him to any other silent era classic. And, as Roy says, I pulled his leg about it being “The Cameraman” – I said he might want to come along and pick up a few professional tips.
I mean, this is a senior news cameraman for the national broadcaster of Great Britain I’m tweaking, but he didn’t then know where I lived, why worry? And how likely was it he’d say yes?
Now I was only some five years from the breakup of my first marriage, and a very nasty business with The Other Man that had me pretty well traumatised. And even more recently, a sweet, elderly and very junior colleague had also refused to take “just friends” for an answer and been so upset by my eventual very clear rebuff that when he shortly after expired from a heart attack, it was hard not to think “Well couldn’t I have just tried?”
I had little reason by then to trust either men, or my own judgement of them. So it was not without trepidation I agreed to meet this guy in a possible dating context, choosing a pub literally within shouting distance of the office – and took care to let a friend or two know where I was going, and where to find him if I didn’t show up for work next morning. (Roy Gillett – if anyone could have managed to spell it right first time! – at The BBC. Gonna be a really hard find, that one.)
So I walked in and there was this bloke in pale-coloured “smart casual” wear scrunched up behind the farthest table from the door – he swears he wasn’t cowering but that was what it looked like to me. And if I really made that teeth-grindingly corny remark, I’m not surprised. He didn’t even correct me (as he usually does) that he’s NOT a stills photographer!
We had that pint, chatted, and saw the film – and it soon became apparent that, having either never picked up or easily forgotten about his increasing deafness, I had hit the jackpot choosing a silent film. Things were going well, and thanks to a friend who at that time played regularly with the Philharmonia I knew a reliable Portuguese/Italian restaurant only a step away.
(Caprini is still there, and still feeding singers, musicians and audience at a very reasonable price. It’s on the corner past St John’s church, heading for the station.)
We talked. And we talked. And we talked some more. And we pretty well “closed” the restaurant as well.
So the evening got to that point – the goodbye scene. A quick, polite kiss and he says something like “Let’s not leave it that long again.”
And I thought: “Yeah. I think you’re going to be ok.”
And I dared – and here we are. Thirteen years, already, and still talking.
And thank you, Dear.