Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, November 16, 2009

It started with a library catalogue

Thirty-two years ago this evening I had my first date with Hilary, the woman who was to become my wife. We'd known each other at university, but had both been going out with other people then. Now I was in London, working for the Inland Revenue and not long moved into an unprepossessing one-bedroom flat in Highbury, right across the road from the London Borough of Islngton's Central Library.

Ah, the library. As soon as I moved to the flat I got a ticket and started taking stuff out. (I already had a ticket for Camden where I worked.) One day I decided to see what SF by Roger Zelazny they might have, so I went to look at the catalogue. It's hard to imagine now, but in 1977 Islington's catalogue was on file cards. (Mind you, even high-tech Camden only had microfilm.) The file cards were in little labelled drawers: except when they weren't, apparently. I was totally unable to find the cards, not only for Roger Zelazny but for any author whose name began with Z. Flummoxed, I did the obvious thing and asked the librarian, who told me that the Z index was kept behind the librarian's counter. For the life of me I can't remember why, because I was more interested in the fact that I recognised the attractive young lady who was that librarian.

Whoa, stop, you're getting ahead of me. The librarian was Alison Campbell, though by then she'd got married and was Alison Melville. I'd known Alison at Durham as one of Hilary's college pals (I didn't know very many of her friends, as I'd got to know her via her boyfriend at the time). We got chatting, and as we chatted I remembered that Hilary had said she was going to be working in London for Barclays Bank. I thought it would be nice to get in touch, and asked if Alison had her phone number. She did, and neither Alison nor Roger Zelazny will take any further part in our story.

Skip forward via a string of phone messages left with Hilary's fellow-lodgers (I gather they went along the lines of Rob Saunders rang / Rob Saunders rang again / who is this Rob Saunders guy anyway?) to fair Verona, where we lay our tale. No, just kidding: to Holborn Viaduct railway station, easy to find and roughly halfway between our places of work (Hilary at Newgate Street, me in Holborn). We met, and found each other little changed by the passage of, um, about four and a half months. We went for an early dinner at the Tavola Calda in Kingsway. As I realised later, the Tavola Calda was one of a chain of Italian restaurants. What I knew then was that it was an inexpensive place with great food which you collected on a tray from a serving counter. Obviously this kept staff costs low as they were all either behind the counter, in the kitchen or clearing tables. Rather like a Starbucks but serving meatballs and Chianti and tiramisu. Meatballs and spaghetti consumed (actually I can't remember what we ate, but in honour of Lady and the Tramp - released the year I was born - let's think of it as spaghetti and meat-a-balls) we repaired to my flat (four stops up the Piccadilly Line). I must have seen Yes at Wembley Arena fairly recently, because I'd just bought Going For The One which they were touring at the time. I'd also bought Rick Wakeman's Criminal Record: not one of his greatest achievements overall, but with an earth-shaking (even on my unassuming stereo) church organ solo on Judas Iscariot. I remember playing that to Hilary, who described it as a "splendid noise". So we sat, and we listened, and we drank coffee I suppose, and a modicum of snogging occurred. Then I saw her back to the tube station, and that was that.

I suppose it was the next day that it hit me that I'd actually let my hands wander rather more liberally than I would normally have done on a first date, which embarrassed me quite a lot. Not that Hilary had complained or anything, but I began to worry that I really had not made the kind of impression I'd intended. So I wrote (ah, the days before texts, before email....) an apologetic letter thanking her for a lovely evening and hoping I hadn't spoiled it irredeemably by getting carried away. Hilary, on receiving a letter from me, was convinced that I was writing to say "Thanks, but let's not take this any further". Which I suppose neatly encapsulates our respective insecurities at the time. Of course she did forgive me, we did take it further, and voila! we were an item. Thirty-two years on, we still are.


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