He was Professor Higgins to my Eliza . . . He called me Eliza, among other things. Twiddlestick. Traitor. Sweetness. Gutter snipe. The Executioner . . . But mostly Eliza.
It's been an hour since I wrote that. So many are the memories that spanned our 20 years of knowing each other. I can't say 20 years of us "being together" because it wasn't always the case . . . Far from it . . . Six of those years I stayed in France after having ran away from him in Spain. Even during those 6 years I managed to pay him a couple of very surprise, but always very welcomed, visits whilst I was back in England on holiday. I couldn't stay away for ever.
I was 17 and had recently returned to the Midlands to be near my new boyfriend; a totally cool and hip silversmith who specialised in woodwind instrument repair and made beautiful jewellery. He, lets call him Silverhip, played the guitar well, cooked well and was a well-adjusted, educated young man of 21. He spoke well. I suppose looking back he was middle class . . . Yes he was. He is. And so very PC and organic way before PC was thought necessary.
His Father, who we'll call Brollyman, made his money hand-making "bespoke" umbrellas and was supplying Burberry's at the time, which was lost on me as I'd never heard of Burberry's. I was a savage. Fresh from the cave. One of the first few times I met with Brollyman, he asked me "Which of the seasons do you find most pleasing" . . . a perfectly reasonable question. I gave it some thought and struggled. Tried a bit harder . . . No. I really couldn't relate to the question . . . "Erm . . . I don't think they make any difference to me really" I couldn't see for the life of me why one season would be more pleasing than another. He thought I was plain ignorant, I probably was.
His father despised me . . . "A gutter snipe" he called me on one occasion. Something to do with me holding my knife incorrectly. How awfully British. Ha . . . funny because I really was a "gutter snipe" to professor Higgins, yet he loved me. And didn't give a damn how I held my knife.
But they (Silverhip and his Father) didn't know about Professor Higgins . . . O they knew him. Who didn't. They lived in the same village as him. "Brolly man" who was the spit of David Niven and spoke like Kenneth Williams had known Higgins's father; An extremely wealthy General, known for his diaries of WW1 . . . They were a well known family. But no-one had any idea how well I knew Higgins. Not a clue . . . Not yet.
I'd taken a live-in job at the local hotel/bar/carvery in the same village. There was a Cabaret on a Saturday night. It was popular and buzzing but I was always the on-looker. Totally apart from the rest. I didn't get them and had no idea nor any care what they thought of me. I didn't have reason to talk to anyone much. I don't think I had anything to say really.
It was quiet . . .
I didn't hear any more of what he was saying. I was transfixed, magnetised . . . stuck.
And so was he . . . There was an instant massive connection, attraction, deja vu, . . . call it what you will. Le coup de foudre.
Before long, most afternoons as I finished work at 3pm, I was running off down the lane to the dark, dusty, forbidden "house" that was his home. It was his Mother's home too and there was no way she could know about me . . . That suited me fine. I had nothing to say.
So it was in through the "walled garden" gate, through another small door just inside the kitchen that led to a "secret staircase" inside the wall. Yes, in a narrow gap between the outer and an inner wall, there was a staircase with doors leading into cupboards on each floor. Higgins had his studio in part of the roof space . . . a huge room where he wrote, painted, drank and tortured his own soul. Easels, Canvases, photographs, books, amazing clothes, theatre props . . . stuff everywhere. I never wanted to leave. There was red wine and cigarettes, I didn't smoke or drink in real life but this was different. This was not real life. Dory Previn sang to us. He was 47 . . . Almost as old as I am now. It was obvious to us both that our paths were meant to cross. He was charming, fascinating and intelligent. He was also an eccentric alcoholic with very little patience and some bizarre sexual tendencies. He could talk all day . . . Which was just as well as I had nothing to say.
One winter's afternoon it was snowing heavily, he was at the carvery/bar chatting with the locals. A few of them liked him, a few more of them tolerated him and his money . . . but most of them thought him a disgrace to the General's memory. A squanderer. Living in "The old house" with his Mother. Travelling the world as and when he pleased . . . Never having to work and constantly swirling a very large Brandy.
I finished my shift and instead of us walking down to his place we decided to use my room in the hotel for a change. It was tiny, just a single bed and a sink.
A couple of hours later we were pulled out of half-asleepness by a knock on my door . . . Strange . . . It must be one of the other live-in staff. I put on my dressing gown and opened the door very slightly. Woah! No! It was Silverhip, otherwise known as my boyfriend. He worked in the city nearby but had come back to the village early due to the snow . . . and thought he would pop in and surprise me . . . O he surprised me!
"Hi . . . Aren't you going to ask me in?" His head was already in . . . there was no point shutting the rest out now . . .
"Oh . . Er . . yeah . . . OK . . ."
Seeing Higgins sat on my bed in nothing but his cravat, he said . . .
"Maybe my father was right" . . . Maybe he was. I had nothing to say. (to be continued)
I have only ever kept one photo of Higgins. A black and white A4 publicity shot from some theatre. It disappeared in France . . . I suspected my man at the time. Years later when we were back together I kept another copy of it . . . I looked for it tonight to accompany the post . . . Gone!
So the nearest thing is a portrait I drew of Peter O'Toole whilst I was living in France. I probably did it at the time to "replace" the missing photo.