train the babble all around me was about relationships. On my right:
“Can you believe she left me because she said I never listen to her?” said one man who talked non-stop for 20 minutes without
requiring a response from his friend. To my left, a woman agitating to
another: “Why are men so afraid of commitment? As soon as he thinks
it’s getting intense between us, he withdraws and I don’t hear from
him.” And on and on till the train halted.
emerged from the underground to a dark wet evening whirling with russet
leaves, to the hustle of commuters going home, meeting friends, running to
meet trains to the West End for a night out. Autumn had arrived, and
people pulled their coats around themselves, bracing for winter. I was
waiting (with an armful of bright summer flowers) to be picked up by Jane,
a friend of a friend who, hearing I was in town, invited me to dinner.
fifteen minute drive later, we were sitting in a warm sitting room talking
about the inevitable: Relationships. Over the bottle of red. “There are many ways to live, said the feisty Australian,
Sheila, sparkling at Jane. They have been together for nine years.” Then
Jane was talking about her visit to Trinidad: “I find it astonishing the
way the people on those islands base their entire sense of self on a
public display of their sexuality.” Sheila couldn’t resist: “ You,
my darling, are also sexy, but in private.” Jane blushed.
women in their fifties, from reasonably privileged backgrounds, both
artistic, one a published author, the other an embryonic one, being
tender, protective and adventurous together.
Then, Jane asked Sheila to help her with the cake made with butter,
chocolate and raspberries. There was a struggle, as they tried to get it
out intact from the cake pan. They made a charming tableau set against a
pretty kitchen, and a window through which you could just see the climbing
green veins of a well-tended garden.
curious like crazy. And they indulged me. Is a relationship between two
women different to that of a man and a woman? They both said yes. Sheila,
who has also had serious relationships with men, said, “We talk more. If
we are upset we say how we feel. I think that’s the main
difference." We were onto the bottle of white. I must have had my
mouth open for a full five minutes while Sheila told me how she dressed up
like a man for four months and travelled through Pakistan. And being a
woman with some dash and class she went to the make up artist who did the
actors in ‘A Room With A View’ until she got it right.
to picture her with a moustache, the turban, the Pakistani tunics, sitting
and eating with all these highly chauvinistic men and we all laughed
uproariously. “There are many ways to live.” What a liberating
sentence. Being with these two cultured women whose humanity and humour
was so obvious it made me think of the waste. Of all those people who live
their entire lives not for themselves but others. Of those who don’t
even stop and look away from cardboard conventional values to examine
themselves for what they want out of
a lull in the conversation, my mind wandered to the other side of London
where earlier that afternoon, I was having a cuppa with my flat-mate
Joanna. She was choking over her cigarette and spilling tears into her tea
over the end of her affair with a 28 year old man: “I’m 37 years old,
and I’m going to be alone again What am I going to do.” She sobbed:
“I don’t want to be a strong independent woman anymore. I want
someone to take care of me.” But I didn’t think it was the right time
to remind Joanna that in the last two years she had rejected two offers of
marriage because her suitors were either too boring or too possessive. And
even as she wept the phone rang for her repeatedly. For every man who
breaks her heart, there are two others waiting to rescue her. At 37, she
has regrets. She wants security and children. The sensible thing for her
to do would be to return to her native Canada and settle down with a safe
man. However, she prefers the excitement of London of her work here. She
is attracted to interesting but not so reliable men. Obviously, everything
has a price tag attached to it. She can’t have it all, but the fact that
she takes chances will make her life fuller than that of most people.
Unconsciously or consciously it is the choice she has made. And the gamble
she has taken is she may yet have it all.
dessert, Sheila, Jane and I were back on the red wine. It is now a
metaphor for some of the women I met on my travels.
Red is not a colour of innocence. But it is a colour of depth, of
heady excitement, of possibility, of warmth, of gambles, of options, of
blood and pain, of life itself. A colour which says yes to life. It is
with a glass of red that I toast them.