CHAPTER 8 of PASSION FOR BEGINNERS
Chapter 9 appears tomorrow, 9th May. The earlier chapters are all in the immediately preceding posts
After Madeleine Swan it was a long and arid stretch, six years, before I had anything more than brief, unsatisfying entanglements with any truly passionate woman. Madeleine and I parted in the winter of 1970, distressingly for her, as she had just started at a teaching college near Oxford, specifically as she wished to be close to me. I had to confess to my teenage sweetheart that I’d felt no love for her for the best part of a year, as if I’d given her some palliative version of the unpalatable truth, she would have clung on to a half love, or a quarter of a love, or even a whisper or a scintilla, or even the worryingly fading memory of that steadfast attachment. We had been together for just over three years, which seems nothing to me when I am in my sixties, but was a lifetime when the pair of us were nineteen. Not even two decades old, we both felt we had lived a thousand years, for in Madeleine’s case, certainly her native sadness and that yearning for those fairy tale fixations on men who hadn’t noticed her, was never to abandon her…not even on her deathbed in 2013.
In that roasting summer of 1976, a woman called Minnie O’Brien happened my way, meaning she actively sought me out, turning up on my doorstep and in so many words proposed a date. She worked in a pharmacy four miles away, and was currently attending night classes prior to a pharmacology course in Glasgow. She had spotted me during a jazz gig at the arts centre, and though dating a social worker, had decided to take a move in my direction. A little detective work involving a garrulous arts centre manager, allowed her to learn my address and as much of my biography as she wished to know. Minnie O’Brien was 24, impossibly pretty, with vivid blond hair, and was not a local, but had moved here hastily from South London. I didn’t know then that she was still on the rebound from a man called Lucas Ball, a Croydon lab technician who had recently sent her packing, and I only learnt as much at the end. She chose Cumbria because it was a long way from Lucas, and because on paper she was an earnest fell-walker, and in the small town where I lived you were able to see the peripheral Ennerdale fells. The estate agents mendaciously advertised that little Irish Cumbrian town as ‘Lake District Fringe’, though it happened to be one of the grubbiest communities in the whole of the country, and as confirmation, along with Benwell, Newcastle and the Gorbals, was currently under the eccentric aegis of a massive community work project. They call it Regeneration these days, but it wasn’t called thus forty years ago. Suffice to say there was an abundance of young men with radical beards and long hair and hippified young women in floral dresses and, sometimes in summer, bare feet, dispatched from all four quarters of the United Kingdom to rescue the town from oblivion. Some of its citizens were grateful for the invasion, meaning the youth and the novelty if nothing else, while others were aghast, and of course those with vested interests, especially certain obdurate county councillors, were openly incensed.
Minnie was earnest about many a passionate interest, which tended to be a flirtation with anything that might temporarily beguile or distract her. Before we met, she had joined one of the walking clubs, and she took me one night for a drink with its members in a noisy downtown pub. They were all in their twenties and early thirties, and of remarkably stodgy blandness, akin to a bunch of Evangelical Christians, even though some had hard and very demanding jobs as teachers in rough schools, or as probation or social workers. None were locals, and glamorous Minnie was the cynosure of all eyes, as she was one of four women there among ten stolid beery men, who was both attractive and easily flirtatious. You might say innocently flirtatious, as I experienced not even the slightest jealousy when she touched sundry male knees and pushed various arms in mock reproof. Not one of those men were capable of guile or manoeuvring or secret alliances, though right enough the couple whose fell-walking girlfriends were present, had a patriarchal sunniness, just as effectively callous as any possible two-facedness.
Minnie, acutely unseeing as she usually was, realised I was politely bored, and soon gave up on the walking club. It had been a way of passing her lonely weekends, and now instead and to consolidate our infant relationship, she went behind my back and boldly negotiated with my landlady and landlord who shared the large terraced house with me, to move in and thereby increase the rent two-fold. The landlady Madge Bell led Minnie to my room with a conspiratorial grin, and they talked about their decision as if they were some sage committee of two, who had realised I was of course too unworldly to do anything sensible and for my own good. The pair of us had being going out for only a week, most of which had been spent industriously in bed, after a long period of chastity. Because of that, at 25, I could have been persuaded into anything, as long as it involved Minnie naked, passionate and tireless. Madge Bell and husband Joe had joked about the racket from the back bedroom, the night long moans and groans, and as Minnie was barely at her place, it was clear they wished to capitalise on the generous and indispensable facility of our 24/7 love nest.
I said that she had spied me at a distance, but I realised I had previously glimpsed Minnie O’Brien, and was reminded as much only ten minutes after she’d audaciously walked through the front door. I knew her boyfriend Mick Higgins, and liked him a lot, and he was such a gentle soul, I naturally presumed that he and this new girlfriend had settled down together with minimum fuss. But at the jam-packed arts centre she was wearing a flagrantly dissatisfied and preoccupied look on her handsome face, and it never left her all evening. I took notice because she was regularly giving me the inquisitive eye, and that too was baffling. It wasn’t anything like a look of sultry flirtation, and I briefly wondered why a man like Mick had saddled himself with someone who looked on first glance like a prize sulk. Later, when Minnie and I were together, she said it was simply her growing irritation with him incapable of hiding itself. Mick Higgins was far too nice, she said, way too gentle, always too polite, and what she liked about me, and her words were unusually precise, was I was always sharp and restless and single-minded and fully focused, as well as very brainy. She said that her fifty-year-old Dad, whom her Mum had divorced a few years back, was just like that, a restless and brainy entrepreneur, as well as a very sensitive artist, because, she added, he also could play brilliant jazz piano. Besides, Higgins had a most annoying, embarrassing nervous habit of loudly clearing his throat, in polite company, as well as when it was just the two of them, and that raking and monotonous, unlovely scraping never stopped from dawn till bloody dusk…
I was amused to hear she had forewarned Higgins she was going to ask me out, and indeed he was so improbably amiable, he agreed at once it was best for her. Nonetheless he hoped she they might remain friends, and that it wouldn’t spoil my friendship with him. Higgins wrote occasional poetry, mostly about his considerable existential unease in the world, and sometimes asked my opinion, and unlike some other hopeful writers, I never felt any fatigue nor unwillingness to tell him what I thought. In any event, that very first date I took her for a walk in boiling heat along some quiet fields, and by a gently sibillant stream a couple of miles from my house. It wasn’t long till we were kissing and hugging tenderly, and then I boldly suggested we go off camping somewhere for the weekend. She agreed without a second thought, and I decided that was ten points in her favour, for reckless spontaneity is an essential advantage in your mid-twenties. Minnie had her little Honda 50 parked outside my house, but it was impossible to get tent and rucksack plus ourselves on that, and in any case she hadn’t passed her test. I wouldn’t possess my own car for at least a decade, and where we wished to go was inaccessible by bus. So we hitchhiked all the way to far flung Wasdale, laughing and bantering remorselessly from start to finish. The three drivers who gave us lifts naturally picked up on our excitement, and when one learnt it was our very first date extended to a whole weekend, that craggy agricultural salesman parped his horn by way of joyous acclamation.
“That’s the bloody style,” he gasped admiringly. “Parp, parp. You know I never all my life knew how to do what I wanted, and just to follow my instincts. Parp parp. Once you get the habit of bloody old stale routine, you never change. My wife always wants sodding Ibiza for summer, and I always want quiet Greek islands and fat chance she will ever bloody budge. Good luck to you two wild kids. Parp Parp.”
He dropped us off close to the Wasdale pub, which has nothing but Wastwater and its towering fells surrounding. We pitched tent in protective obscurity, in a heap of undergrowth, not far from the pub for toilets, washing and sustenance, as we had brought no gas ring nor supplies. It was in the mid eighties so we sat euphorically outside the pub, instead of sweltering in the army tent. We both opted for light ale, and as if by sympathetic magic, felt all sorts of things being unstoppered. Minnie and I like a jazz duet talked an alternating streak, very feverishly, continuous jests, puns and plain nonsense… accompanied by tender handclasps and hugs, and an immediate visceral adoration. Minnie at least seemed to revere me from the word go, and though I emphatically liked her very much after only three hours, I certainly adored her succulent lips, her bare arms, and the delicate and revealing little azure t-shirt she wore.
It was still roasting after an hour at the pub, and with hours of daylight left, we took a signed footpath through some ancient woodlands and tenderly sloping fields. I stopped and theatrically related something Minnie might not know, that the pub we’d been in had once had a lady owner, elderly and supposedly half mad, even debauched, none of that remarkable given the extreme rustic isolation of her property. Her favourite trick was to get drunk with young walking couples, then get up on a table to start capering and dancing, ultimately removing all her clothes and enjoining the couples to do likewise. Minnie guffawed incredulous, and I could see the mention of nudity had touched her at some instructive level. As it happened, we had a large bottle of water and some crisps to both keep us cool and heat us up, as we walked holding hands, and felt the stark potence of this aromatic countryside. After two hours we hadn’t passed a soul, and decided it was so hot, no one half sane would wish to go hiking and risk sunstroke. In pristine seclusion from the gaping, prurient world, we were prompted by the same enchanting thought. I stopped abruptly and asked would she take her clothes off to let me see her naked, and she nodded and disrobed without hesitation. In fact, she smirked and murmured that she’d wondered when I would ever ask.
I had known her only a few hours, and here she stood naked and wholly accepting my outrageous request in the lee of the Wasdale fells. She had full but small breasts that turned up with a pleasing tension below the nipple. Her posture was a little ungainly, a little drooping, and it wasn’t the heat but that innate restlessness left her with a perpetual reserve of unease. On some level I felt I understood the murky source of that mercurial discomfort, but given I’d known her less than half a day, it all too presumptuous. Before I could ask she turned a slow circle and displayed her perspiring pink behind, attractively sloping and modestly tapering, rather than round and limply sculpted. She patted the slim flanks of her bottom and winked by way of invitation, and roasting as it was, I also disrobed, and the pair of us found a clump of nearby bushes. Perhaps a dog might have sniffed us out, but even the most persistent hound wouldn’t have had the energy to do anything but puff and pant in this inferno.
That night in the tent, crimson and overheated by the sun, we made love three times, and with our lantern torch, I could see her handsome face vividly below me. Minnie smiled and her eyes dilated in a comically saucer fashion, her lips becoming fleshier and riper. It was an endearing comedian’s impression, and I laughed and teased her. She chuckled, deliberately doubling the eye dilation, and the spread of her lips. I told her she was like something out of Indian love poetry. Lips like plant shoots, mrnala filaments, and eyes like pankaja lotuses, literally ‘born of mud’. For that matter when naked back there, her breasts had been glistening water pitchers or exotic swans, hamsa birds, with thighs like sumptuous plantain trunks, her naked buttocks like two elegantly curved chariot wheels, all standard, flattering similes in Sanskrit erotic verse.
She mocked, with massively dilated eyes. “You are such a charmer. Tree trunk legs plus a godawful elephantine behind, like two chariot wheels. I like my swanlike breasts, but these lotus eyes aren’t born from fucking mud.”
The next day we were awoken by an officious and piercing voice outside the tent. Bog-eyed I reflected that very few people, other than the morbidly dysfunctional, could be bothered to be officious in the early morning at something like 80 degrees fahrenheit. It was a male voice, about our age, and it was admonishing us that we were trespassing.
I grunted. “Fuck. It’s a farmer. A Wasdale farmer, so an expert at ferreting out things tucked away inside his bushes.”
She snorted. “Farmer, my arse. I would know that croaking anywhere. It’s fucking Ashley.”
Still dozy. “Ashley? You mean you know him?”
Ashley or not, he commanded us to vacate this site immediately, and this time clarified with unctuousness, that this was National Trust Land.
Minnie shot up excitedly, not remotely perturbed. “He’s been spying on me, and he’s seen my face through that gap there! He knows it’s me, and he’s spotted your hairy legs, so he knows that I’m with a bloke in here.”
I was still overheated from the sun, not to speak of three epic bouts of love. “So you know this officious person, and you know him very well? Tell me, is he your minder, or your pharmacy boss has followed us here and is checking on your behaviour? Or a roving private eye perhaps?”
“Like fuck! It’s Ashley the National Trust Warden. He’s asked me out on at least five occasions, and I’ve told him no firmly every time. He’s there every week following me like a skulking dog at the Egremont Folk Club.”
That venue was also known as the Egremont Fuck Club, and I’m sure, newcomer that she was, Minnie knew as much. It was a maelstrom of fearless gallows-bound poachers and pretty young maidens-oh-ah ditties, along with real life adultery, the cruel heartbreak of broken marriages, of ostentatious swaggering for the successfully promiscuous, and of intense bitterness for the likes of thwarted-in-love Ashley.
Minnie poked her head out of the tent. She had pulled a fetching blue top on to be respectable, but her quivering bottom was as naked as the day she was born, and it was bridling along with the rest of her. I couldn’t resist putting my hand there, and caressing it, and without much hesitation, stroking her possessively down below, as she began her challenge with authority.
“Fafuck sake, Ashley! It’s me, it’s Minnie! I’m camping here with a friend, and we were harming nobody and harming nothing. We’re not even doing any cooking, so there’s no chance of a fire hazard. We’re completely hidden from view on your precious bloody trust land!”
Ashley’s voice was stonily immovable and had the sullen obduracy of someone who felt he had been betrayed beyond all reasonable bounds.
He snapped at her,” You’ve nil right to be camping here! What permission d’you think you have, and what if everyone did what you do? In case you didn’t know,there’s an authorised site two miles up the valley. You’ll have to vacate this place immediately.”
Minnie snorted and also indicated by the moisture gathering down below, that she was greatly enjoying having her twitching backside and tender little fanny massaged, Ashley meanwhile in a wondrously transcendental ignorance of these harrowing facts of life.
“If it was anyone but me, you would let it go! Wouldn’t you? You know you would! I’d love to know how the hell you knew we were here. You must be sneaking around the Wasdale valley slyly following me, God knows how or why. And that’s so admirable isn’t it, eh, Ash?”
Ash? Ash seemingly had no wounding rejoinder, or felt it not worth the effort. I raised myself from my doss bag and took a quick peek and, astonished, recognised him at once. Not from any night at the Fuck Club Folk Club, but I’d seen him sitting odd and alone inside the pub yesterday, perched obscurely in a corner below the air conditioning. He was short, stolid, smileless, with a trimmed and wholly pointless miniature beard, doing nothing except hide a weak chin. He looked like a clapped out junior school teacher who might make Deputy Head in a modest thirty years, in 2006, when he was in his mid fifties. I shuffled my position and put my fingers deeper inside Minnie’s sex, and whispered that he had been there in the pub yesterday staring at us on the bench outside. At once she gasped and stiffened with disgust.
“You are beneath contempt!”
He stared at her blankly, then blinked and turned to me, almost as if for some kind of considered fraternal help.
Minnie snarled. “Sat in the pub gawking? Which means you must have seen us pitch the bloody tent before that! So you’ve been fuming in your horrible little warden’s hut all night, and now you’ve decided to take your petty and so jealous revenge…”
Ash at length found his wavering voice. “I’m ordering you, not asking you. You must vacate this at-”
“Bollicks!”roared the forthright pharmacist.“Get the fucking police then, you fucking little berk!”
I leant out and faced him, and in my case I was completely naked, and didn’t care what or whether he saw anything to remark on.
“It’s matterless,” I said gravely. “Because we’re leaving Wasdale this morning.”
He looked for a split second half mad with resentment, even worryingly dangerous to himself and to no one else, should anyone manage to upset him any more.
“Now! Not this morning! I’m telling you both to get yourselves off and immediately…”
Minnie gushed at him, incensed. “Fuck you! Fuck you, and never you dare talk to me again in the fucking folk club!”
“The fucking fuck club,” I corrected.
Ash reiterated like a remarkably senile pedant: “Immediately!”
And then translated. “At once!”
I said to him by way of measured variation, “Get to fuck, Ashley aka Ash. Go and get the police, and tell them while you’re at it, that it’s all because Minnie O’Brien would never agree to date you, and certainly never race inside any tent at 80 degrees with you. Tell them you’re a Peeping Tom who goes prying around inside bushes for your Duke of Thingumee Award. As for us, we’ll leave when it suits us, and when we’ve breakfasted at length in the pub.”
Minnie tied the tent door and double pegged the wall into the ground from inside. Triumphantly, she lunged and grabbed me and pulled me inside of her, and within only a few minutes was unable to restrain her vocal climactic shouts. Ashley Ash, it soon became clear, had beat it for the hills as fast as any zealous Wasdale warden could go.