The problem, she realises, some years later, was the uniform of studied non conformity that everyone wore.
All the boys dressed in ancient suits, hairy tweed jackets, unpartnered trousers, legs taken in so that the DMs at the bottom seemed even larger, even heavier.
Everyone, boys and girls wore old cardigans, collarless white linen shirts, old men hats and in the case of the more eagle eyed girls, tea dresses and cocktail gowns, worn defiantly with big boots and too much eyeliner.
She assumed that he, like all the others scavenged for clothes at jumble sales, charity shops and those strange old fashioned men’s clothes shops that only seemed to exist in medium sized northern towns.
Of course now, she knows that his clothes were simply picked up from the boots cupboard or from one of the many un-emptied wardrobes in unused rooms. His tweed hunting jacket was in fact his hunting jacket, still carrying the musky, dusty aroma of horses and sweat and dried mud. It seemed to fit better than many of the other boys,but she put this down to luck or being a very standard size or simply looking good in tweed.
He never mentioned anything about his home, but then again they were all in the business of re-invention, emerging, slightly grubby butterflies from the chrysalis of suburbia.
Names were changed, an art school nickname often following them into adulthood and even late Middle age, spellings altered, the use of I’s and E’s in place of their old pedestrian identities.
What mattered was the work, oh and the sex and the beer, girls like her working hard to develop a taste or at least tolerance for half pints of Adnams Ale, sipped slowly to make it last, and of course the gossip….who’s doing who, whose work is derivative, who got drunk and so on and so on.
In a college where the land ends and there is only sky and sea and quietly suspicious locals, gossip and beer and the work is what keeps them going, that and huge pots of lentil curry and tuna bake and tea brewed in brown pots and drunk with the obligatory roll up or for those who need to try a little harder, french cigarettes in soft crumpled packs.
The mingled smell of tobacco and Patouchli and slightly damp wool are the scents of her late teenage, early adulthood. A potpourri no one ever smells any more, but she know that if she did she would transported back, immediately, to that time and place.
Their relationship starts in the same understated way that so many others did, a gentle curve from being a bit drunk or a bit stoned, a casual night or two together and then more nights, the borrowing of a shirt, a toothbrush, moving onto the casually draped arms on shoulders, the sharing of one chair in the decrepit student canteen and finally a simple understanding of the fact . They are a couple, although no one ever used that word, but there is shorthand, public acceptance.
Other students looking for one or other of them is likely to ask the nearest half and invitations are given to one of them, sure that it will be passed on.
Looking back now, she wonders if they would have fallen into this, this easy relationship, a play at the world of grown up, Sunday mornings in bed with the big newspapers and at her insistence, the first of a line of cats and kittens who all jump into the nest of newsprint and all suck and bite at her head, but never his, if she had known then that his clothes, his easy manners, the slight hint of out door – ness Indicated more than studied performance, a knowing construction of an art school persona.
If she had known Then that everything about him was Both more and less than it appeared, she sometimes wonders if she would be sitting at this table now, staring into a cooling cup of coffee, the shabby leather bible in front of her.
A reminder of the distance between them, the otherness which at times seemed charming, even a little sexy, although at the end it was just another thing, more stuff for her to beat herself up with.
At college, he seemed like everyone else, everyone was broke, everyone lived in terrible shared houses, even his name was just like all the other boys
“Nick…..Nicko”, it was only on the first visit to his home, his family that she found out that everyone there called him Nicky or in his mothers’ case ” Nicky darling ” as if the two words simply slotted together to make one perfect name.
They hitched, in those days when people were less afraid, where a journey might be become an adventure and where, with the arrogance or optimism of youth, they simply believed that good things should happen to them and unsurprisingly, often they did.
So, of course, it made perfect sense for the last lorry driver to feed them cigarettes and chocolate and drive 20 miles out of his way to drop them in the Yorkshire village where Nicks’ family lived or as he explained when they jumped from the cab, a flurry of bags and byes, quite near the village, a short walk.
She assumed a farmhouse, a cottage, even one of those strange 1930s villas you see sometimes, dropped into a rural landscape as if scooped up, from suburbia.
He turns down a long gravel drive, past the gate house, which she almost steps towards and onwards, around a bend and then there it is. A very, very large house, the sort of house she has only visited in the past to drink weak tea and nibble on homemade scones, the sort of house her mother looks at and expresses a gleeful dismay about the cost of heating it, the sort of house that is absolutely outside of anything in her life, at least to,date.
There is a pause while they both stand for a minute in silence, she’s silent because she wants to, needs to look cool, unimpressed, used to this sort of thing and he’s silent because this moment is what he always does after an absence, drops the person he has become, at boarding school and college and art school and becomes simply himself.
She can almost feel him become taller, more straight backed, his ancient Barbour jacket seeming to wrap itself around him like a second skin.
In a novel, his family would have greeted her frostily, judged her, made her feel small and suburban, but the reality was more complex and in the end far more difficult to live with.
His father, the most silent man she had ever met, simply accepted her into the landscape she now has squatting rights on, the commoner allowed grazing rights, but always mindful of the temporary nature of this possession. He rarely spoke to her, but he rarely ever spoke to anyone, blood relative or not but instead moderated his pace to fit in with hers when over the years the evening dog walk became part of their ritual together.
His mother adored her, simply adored her, another woman in a sea of sons and men and when later, much later, she produced only granddaughters, this adoration was cast in bronze, in steel, in iron.
They were the women, standing facing the tide of males, palms outwards, defying the sea or was that the semen to come any nearer.
She glances down at the bible again, just one Of the many markerS of the difference, of distance between them.
She has tried so hard over the years to appreciate his family’s possessions, their patina of age, of quality which means that they never really wear out, never really look tired but proclaim quietly, gracefully that
” we belong to the kind of family who know what crockery their serious, studious ancestors used, because they are still using us…and We expect to be used for many years to come”
She tries to understand, to see the beauty, the value, the history in their everyday objects, the pram used by the last 3 generations may have fitted Happily into a hallway large enough to park cars in, but she knows it will fill, in fact overfill their terraced house, a malevolent burgundy toad of a pram.
So even though she knows it causes a Discreet shudder, hints of half spoken phrases, Modern, Jerry built, not made to last….she ignores them all and buys a defiantly contemporary pram, all collapsible edges and clip on extras.
And later, when she is regularly showered with bags of knitted baby clothes, worn not just by her husband and his brothers, but also she suspects his father and a clutch of uncles, nephews and other assorted male relatives, she becomes Adept at smiling sweetly and then always managing to leave the bags behind.
To be continued.