More than half a lifetime ago, midst an unhappy (is there any other kind?) marriage breakup, I fell in love and had a wild wonderful six months; the kind of feel-good, fun, we’ll-be-young-forever type love perfect to make you feel better after months of you-are-never-going-to-be-happy and who-will-ever-love-you. Instead of running off to England with him (he was from Manchester…actually, still is) I got back with my husband for a doomed last attempt and by the time that broke off my man from Manchester was 17,000 km away. I fell in love again…and married…someone else. We’re still together 28 years later (having lived all around the world) and have two children, and a joint novel coming out in October this year, set on the Camino, Two Steps Forward. But I hear a Mancunian accent—“me moom”(= my mum) or “Aye up”—and I am transported back…
One day, some years ago, after the first of two walks from central France to Santiago (which inspired Two Steps Forward), my husband, Graeme, and I were staying in France. It was warm, and we were drinking Beaujolais. Into the email box came “Aye up”.
Over the years, my Mancunian ex and I had kept in touch. I’d seen him a few times when I was in the UK at a conference, and he and his wife took me out to dinner once (and I really liked her). His accent hadn’t changed. But this “Aye up” was bad news—he and his wife had split. He sounded like shite. A year earlier a friend in similar circumstances had killed himself. As well as a novelist, I’m a psychiatrist—recently separated and divorced men in their middle age are at a high risk. Naturally, I suggested he come and cry on my shoulder. Over a Beaujolais or two.
It will surprise you to learn that my husband was not enthusiastic. I mean, it had been twenty-five years or so since they had met, so why the issue? Graeme hadn’t been my suitor at the time, but let’s say they didn’t get on well.
“Wanker” might have been mentioned by one or both back then.
Finally, years later, after a Burgundy or two, Graeme: “Okay. But no longer than three nights.”
Me: “Great. He arrives Friday and leaves Wednesday.”
My ex was still cute and didn’t look like shite at all, and his accent was still capable of making my stomach fill with butterflies…but it had been a long time since I had spent more than two hours with him.
What the hell had he put on the shelf in my fridge? Didn’t he know he needed to exercise regularly? OMG is he actually cooking LAMB’S FRY? Doesn’t he know how much cholesterol is in that?
And worse. He and Graeme were like best buddies. Like as in fishing buddies. Like going to the pub and getting drunk together buddies. And…telling dirty jokes. Really? I didn’t even know Graeme knew…why was he reciting the entire Eskimo Nell? How…or why does anyone ever learn it?
At the end of the five days, he turned to Graeme and said “Thanks mate for taking her off my hands.”
At least he made head way in the grief process.
Meantime, Graeme: “I’ve got a great idea for a book. What if he arrived and his accent had done more than just took you back down memory lane (along with the butterflies)?”
Roll on a couple of years (and a trip with said ex and husband to potential towns in UK for setting, as well as one or two more stints in the French abode) and The Best of Adam Sharp hits the book shelves.
No, I am not Angelina, Adam is not my ex and Charlie is not Graeme. But the house…well let’s say our friends who have stayed there had to go “la la la” while the audio version of the sex scene was running…images a bit too familiar. Of the house I mean. Oh, and it is true that like Angelina, I have sung at a few gigs, and do have a special mug…