THE CLINTON YEARS
There is currently a craze for adult colouring-in and painting-by-numbers (puts a whole new complexion on Fifty Shades of Grey!). Apparently, this derives from our misty-eyed reversion to the stress-free pleasures of a (prehistoric) age when children were children and Titty from Swallows and Amazons did not need to be rechristened Tatty to avert a chorus of knowing sniggers from the non-PC brigade. Ah, truly nostalgia ain’t what it used to be!
My late and not-overly-lamented inamorata, ET*, was a dedicated adherent of what I can only describe as romance-by-numbers. In the first flush of infatuation, I was bowled over by what I perceived to be his Blondel-like devotion to an ideal of courtly love. Once the bloom came off the rose, however, I started to feel less like the Princesse Lointaine and more like Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner!
The warning signs were all there. ET was an aficionado of cheesy jingles. You know, the appalling doggerel churned out by Clinton Cards and other purveyors of deeply insincere domestic endearment. Said ‘versicles’ did not have a smidgen of irony to redeem them. Not like those classics from many a decaying Victorian graveyard: “Here lies a Virtuous Wife. Her price was above Ruby’s.” Or the handiwork of the Yorkshire stonemason who, instructed to inscribe “God, she is thine” on a headstone, slipped up and carved “God, she is thin”; when irascibly informed that he had missed out an “e”, he amended the epitaph to “Ee God, she is thin”.
But I digress. When I spurned Clinton-spiel, ET went all Shakespearean on me: “Hath your love slept…And wakes it now to look so green and pale? From this time such do I account thy love” (or words to that effect). Speaking of the Bard, do you remember those lines from Romeo and Juliet that we all had to learn by heart: “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep. The more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite”? This might be said to lose something in translation when it came to ET for whom the exponential growth of our amour was based strictly on a card’s dimensions in centimetres and on embellishments – foil, ribbon, butterflies, balloons, loveable animals, general naffness. It was not so much the sea I had in sight as an enclosed basin or shrimp-pool.
ET’s undeviating devotion to a romantic template (circa 1950) that had somehow been imprinted on his inner circuitry, as ineradicably as DNA, even stalked us in the supermarket. Every Saturday, like Patient Grizell, I trailed after my beloved to our local emporium to purchase “the romantic meal for two”: pasta, ciabatta, artic roll (bland, blameless, boring). This was Ordeal-By-Food Selection. Like a medieval inquisitor, ET was alert for the slightest hint of my going gastronomically (and thereby morally) off-piste. Any subversive dash to the deli counter – all those dangerous spices – was headed off at the pass. Tentative suggestions that I might have my own wire basket, or make an independent foray for the food of love, produced a long-lived, wondering frown at the notion that such heretical practices could exist. No, the sanctity of the joint shopping trolley was not to be polluted. The couple that shops together etc etc.…..you get the picture.
ET was a car enthusiast – or fanatic, as I called him when we arrived in Recrimination-ville. This, as much as the yawning generation gap, no doubt had something to do with his mechanistic and formulaic approach to True Love. The subtle calibration of the (modern) female psyche is not, alas, always to be fathomed by a good rummage under the chassis. Ours was the boudoir as parade ground!
The story goes that RSM Desmond Lynch, supervising a passing out at Sandhurst in the presence of HM The Queen, once berated officer cadet King Hussain of Jordan in the following terms: “Stand still, you idle little monarch!” The funniest part of the tale is that Hussain, when recounting the story, smilingly added, “And, do you know, Her Majesty never flinched!” Queen of ET’s Heart I might have been (in Clinton-speak, you understand), but he had no compunction about military-style lèse-majesté when it came to the choreography of our love life. To hear was to obey.
There is a line from one of those comedy classics beloved of my ex-paratrooper father when brushing off his Fulton Mackay and Windsor Davies impressions. Namely: “Stand by your beds, wait for it, wait for it.” Having experienced an entirely different call to arms, I wasn’t exactly convulsed!
A famous Victorian writer once declared that in the case of romance, “we begin by knowing little and believing much, and we sometimes end by inverting the quantities”. Could be the epitaph for Clinton Cards!
* ET = Elderly Termagant