I think anyone who says they don't have any regrets is lying. Either that or they've learned to live with them, push them back into the recesses of their mind and kid themselves that they no longer exist. I have plenty but I don't dwell on them, they're to be learned from and tossed aside. I do however think they shape who I am and the attitudes I have now. So settle in . .grab a cuppa and hear about one thing that I have harboured as a deep regret!
It was a weird thing. I knew my grandparents were in what my mother had described as a 'loveless' relationship. He was a normal but somber man . . tall, muscled and tattooed. All he wanted was the little woman to have his meals ready in the evening and his slippers and newspaper at the ready when he came home from work. She was a flapper, a party girl, an Auntie Mame. They married when they were in their teens. She had three children. . the first, my mother . . the subsequent two died, one just a matter of weeks after being born, the other after months of jaundice and illness because my Nana was RH negative . . . no simple post natal injection to prevent the mixing of foetal blood and so each subsequent child was born sickly and terminal.
By the time I actually 'knew' my maternal grandparents, they were in their early 60's. She was fun, he was not. They lived together on and off - he next door in a house they'd bought and converted into uni flats and she in Room 24 of Bleak House .. a pub on Sandy Lane, Stretford or what my Nana referred to as "A Private Hotel" which meant their liquor license was strictly for residents of which there were always 10 or 12. Usually oil riggers having a short break from the north sea or the odd businessman visiting Manchester from London. The bar however was often patronised after hours and with nothing more than a soft orange light, by the Manchester constabulary - the Detective Unit who enjoyed her hospitality and clandestine Johnny Walkers or Whitbread pints in the half light.
It's still there although I believe has been converted into a Nursing Home . . .
He rose early and did the breakfasts and made the beds before retiring to his 'flat' next door and she surfaced just in time to do dinners. He'd do happy hour at the bar and she'd linger late into the night and close up, stuffing the takings into her jacket pockets, too inebriated with Uncle Gordon and tonic to count the profits. In fact their whole daily routine could see them barely speak or cross each other's paths.
I stayed with them when I was 21 and lovelorn and heartbroken a girlfriend and I ventured back to Europe to escape our sorrows for 3 months during the uni break. Long before this holiday, I had a dalliance with an English boy . .well he was a man at 21 to my 16 but a holiday romance we had nonetheless. He didn't dare touch me 'in that way' thanks to my father's standover tactics and warnings of mutilation if he deflowered me! We maintained contact over the five years that passed. Both of us had boyfriends and girlfriends in between and both were once again single when I finally landed on my Nana's Bleak House doorstep as a surprise and proceeded to dump my things for the duration.
I rang the boy. He too was surprised, gobsmacked in fact and more excited than I'd expected. I hadn't told anyone I was coming. He was nervous but keen to meet up again and of course we did. It was wonderful. I had weeks of romantic bliss punctuated while he worked by midweek trips into Wales and the Cotswolds, London and Yorkshire. On the weekends we'd drive to the Blue John caves in Lancashire and visit the Peak District or Cheshire Zoo. He took me to discotheques and clubs despite my being under-age. I met his friends and his family. We'd wine and dine in Lake District pubs and try to be home on Sunday evening in time for the Muppet Show! One thing we didn't do was have sex. The time was marked by the smell of Chanel No 5, long kisses, walks and laughter and squishing into the tight spaces of a yellow Triumph Sprite!
Mind you, our lack of nookie was not for lack of trying but he wasn't one to just jump in the sack. That quiet English reserve perhaps or memories of my father's threats of dismemberment. Whatever the reason, he was a complete gentleman. Very polite, no taking liberties with this guy to the extent that I wondered how interested really was he except for his constant 'Are we going to make love yet!' gibberish in the most inappropriate of settings.
So after a wonderful winter a 'dalliance' was arranged. He was to stay in room 21 of the hotel the night before I left. I would wait until the bar was closed. My girlfriend with whom I shared a room was complicit and organised as look-out while I creaked across the red and gold swirly far-too-old-fashioned, carpeted wooden floors and ignored the tacky flock wallpaper, before falling into his arms between the crisp white sheets adorned with pink chenille bed spreads. You're getting an idea of the 'calibre' of this place now aren't you? We were going to do the deed, a last ditched attempt at true love and cementing what had turned into a blissful romance despite the eventual tyranny of distance. All was arranged.
The moment arrived, I slipped into my rather gorgeous Japanese style Miss Selfridges long kimono with little more than shaved legs underneath and was about to make the dash when I heard the crash . .
Muffled voices around the Arga stove in the kitchen below at 2am were becoming more agitated. Crashing, banging, louder shouting and yelling . . .the sound of tea cups hitting the floor . . . a woman and man in the full throes of argument. I wondered down the equally creaky stairwell that looked so enormous when I was a child but was now just a shallow ballustraded few steps and into the kitchen to find a saucepan flying mid air before connecting with my Nana's forehead and knocking her glasses flying across the room and her off-balance.
There had been some discrepancy to put it mildly. I don't know what, and a fusioin of alcohol, tiredness and years of driving each other crazy had erupted in a full-on flinging match. Her lobbing china at him and he in a last ditched resort to clear his escape hurled a pan. He didn't mean to hit her . . .but he did. One look at me and he disappeared sheepishly with a 'we won't mention this ever again' expression. She put on a show of amateur dramatics and spat venom after his every step. I couldn't leave her. She was bruised and cut not badly hurt physically but emotionally distraught. She needed a little attention, tea and sympathy.
We talked. Actually that's the first time and the last that I really talked to my Nana . . about their life, their mistakes, how they couldn't live without each other but couldn't bear to be 'with' each other, her lost children, her sadness at losing my mother to a land far, far away and how they had managed to exist over the past 50 years in this dysfunctional relationship, two horrible peas trapped in their own horrible pod. As she poured out her regrets, all I could think about was someone waiting for this last gesture of love, my last chance to consummate the relationship, my last chance to possibly see or touch this wonderful boy with whom I'd had a six year longing . . . It was 4am when I finally sauntered to bed, too tired, too drained, too everything to even bother waking him at such an hour . . .
So, while I listened to her long litany of regrets, I was feeling a small but oh-so-significant regret of my own . . one I've harboured for all these years.
We never did sleep together . . . We made plans to meet in Canada a couple of years later, we kept in touch for a few months and then I fell for someone else. The real man of my dreams. The one with whom I spent 11 blissful years until his time was cut short. After Ray died, I felt a need to make sure that this one who'd got away was safe and happy. I wrote to his mother. She was frosty but obliging and told me he'd married, was happy and had two lovely little girls who would now be in their late 20's. I found him on Facebook but haven't had the gaul or the courage to contact him. I never shall.
And my Grandparents . . .they sold up and moved and retired to Wales. They lived together in a little welsh semi-detatched until she died of cancer and he left his mortal coil just 2 weeks later . . .my mother was there for both of them. Perhaps they were in love after all.
I often wonder how the course of my parochial little history might have changed had that saucepan not been hurled across the Arga!