A glamorous meeting

  • Posted on July 25, 2014 at 7:34 pm

This one may surprise you. It did me. It was a chance encounter in the least likely place under the least likely circumstances. But first, let’s go back to the late 70’s. Let’s go back to a frightened adolescent boy …

Way back in time

The boy is sitting in his bedroom. He has a girlfriend. They share real and deep feelings; they are in love. Both are evangelically religious, so in almost every way they are ‘keeping themselves’ for marriage. He does not know what she looks like naked. In fact he has no real idea of the detail at all. In those days detail in magazines was illegal. His school mates (not close) used to have mags like that, they said. Some of them were well acquainted with sex, or so they said. Or their brothers.

He is looking at a mag. He has a few, not illegal, not remotely so, and he found once, given the courage to enter the right shop in great trepidation, that he doesn’t want pictures of sex, pictures with men in them, pictures of women being subject. The store holder was bemused, and he left ashamed and empty-handed. And so here he is now, bedroom door closed, simply looking. What he sees is beauty. It used to be called glamour, until glamour became sex like the rest. There was enticement, let’s not claim feminism is in this picture! But he is seeing a kind of honesty, not naughtiness.

What are women really like? How are they different? Why is it a secret? Why is it bad to know? Does this make him bad?

He always looks at the photographers’ names. They have signature styles with clothing (yes!), sets and lighting, and the way the models look and are made up. Again and again, one name is against some he particularly likes. It is a woman’s name. A woman, doing this (naughty, bad, shameful) thing that he has to hide? More confusion: what are women really like? He imagines the women together, making beautiful images in a studio. He remembers her name.

History peeks its nose

A woman in her 50s is clearing the loft. The house must be sold because she’s getting divorced. There are a number of boxes that have travelled house to house, loft to loft for half a lifetime. Dry brown tape peels dustily away from cardboard flaps covered in roof-dust that escaped her damp cloth. School physics lab books, her own, full of mysteries in fountain pen ink. A box of letters. Love letters. And underneath, some quaintly old glamour magazines, unseen for many years. She leafs them open. There is such strange familiarity in the innocent pages. She glances at the photographer names. One catches her eye; the name of a woman, who must be older than she is, somewhere now perhaps as unbelonging as this.

It’s a grand clearing out. ‘Everything must go!’ Closing down. Half her life seems boxed ready for disposal. The few mags go into the recycling, covered over by much more recent daily detritus, despite surviving over 30 years. Boys these days; they see it all and to extremes on the Internet. She wonders if they ever think of a woman beautifully capturing another on real film.

No. She doesn’t wonder. She knows, because she also has a son, and intercepted some of his teenage downloads. She knows that unleashed testosterone doesn’t care about the people, only the stimulus, the craving for more. She knows that this chemical drive in any male life, overcomes all restraint, even as it uncovers every imaginable, or unimagined, detail. She really knows. The lid clatters down on the recycling bin, on a history, on a memory of more innocent enquiry, and what it turned into.

Strange encounter

The terrace is beautiful, overlooking the Downs, rolling down to the sea, bathed in July sunshine. I am sitting alone at one of a number of empty tables, toying with a newspaper, enjoying the whole environment. Classic FM is playing softly in the café area behind me; the hospital foyer. I am serene, my stay almost over, and feeling amazingly good. I’ve already thought of witty captions for the sculptures in the grounds and posted them on Facebook. The day is Good. A woman looking not much older than I approaches, asks if I mind?

Not at all. We talk easily, about life, about loss and grief, about being on our own. About coping. We share, as women do. We are both creative types, wondering how we might expand our new single lives, becoming more our unrestrained selves. Her line? Oh, photography. She is interested in using imagery afresh to show beauty in the inner selves of those who perhaps feel they have lost theirs. Her sister is visiting outpatients to see a radiographer. She comes by, smiles, and we exchange first names and pleasantries before she goes to wait inside.

I ask about her photography. She used to do different stuff, with her husband, some time ago, and by standing in for him almost by accident, discovered a signature of her own with sets, models, make-up, that magazines liked. He didn’t understand her poses. In the end he destroyed all her original film, replacing it with scanned facsimiles ‘like a print of a Picasso and throwing the canvas away’.

A friend of mine arrives, a lovely surprise. She goes to get a coffee so we can finish talking.

‘You must give me your details’, she says, and I pull out my poet’s notepad to scribble ‘www.andiesplace.co.uk’. ‘You’ll find it a bit unusual, I say, passing her the pad to swap, and smiling. ‘So’s mine’, she says, writing it down, passing it back.

‘I know this name!’ I exclaim.
‘Oh? Where?’
‘It used to be down the side of photos I used to really like, a long time ago …’


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