Day 3 – Cholsey

Got up early after a patchy night to a “dingo’s breakfast”- a fart and a look around.

Met up with another excellent chatty group of ZANE donors. One prospective walker got himself hopelessly lost and spent the day playing hide-and-seek trying to find us.

Little Shops and Horror

Many of the Wallingford shops have closed, all victims of COVID. I doubt whether the little shops will survive the lockdown? I wonder when the elderly will get over their nervousness and start to live once more? One thing the government has succeeded in doing really well is planting fear in the hearts so many lonely people.

Wind in the Whither?

Our little group marched along the river bank where the great Graham Greene sited “The Wind in the Willows”. We expected to see Mole and Ratty’s’ boat carrying their wonderful picnic rowing past us at any time. And at least half a dozen of the houses we passed could have well have graced the great Toad. Mile after mile of flatlands but as ever we charged down a path only to have to retrace our steps when we discover that our Satnav anchorman has gone mad.

It was a shock yesterday to see a face in the street: I was dimly reminded of my first love. She didn’t look like her at all really, maybe just the faintest impression but the decades just melted away.

I Remember It Well

Maurice Chevalier in Gigi understated things when he sang, “Ah yes, I remember it well.”

For such is the intensity of youth, I recall my first relationship not just “well” but in excruciating detail: it’s still emblazoned in my mind’s eye, and even today the relationship seems to have endured as long as youth itself. Now and then the past makes a pass at me, and when I glimpse someone who reminds me of her, I am sent tumbling back through the decades.

She was the daughter of a general, I’ll call her Mary. We met at a party when I was on leave from Sandhurst. She wasn’t pretty in the traditional sense but I thought she was vastly attractive. I was instantly smitten and the next two years were churned into emotional turmoil. The Italians have a phrase (the Italians would), colpo di fulmine – which translates as “love that strikes like a bolt of lightening”.

This was over a half a century ago, mind: I was an innocent as most of us were – my contemporaries who pretended otherwise were mostly lying. That the past is a foreign country and they do things differently there is, of course, true: those distant times are summed up by the poet Larkin:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty three
(which was rather late for me)
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles first LP.

First Love

Anyway we went out, we kissed, we wrote, we kissed, I phoned. Don’t forget the huge change made by mobile phones – in those long-ago days I had to ring her parents who lived in some style near Perth to ask whether I could speak to my love? Her immediate family knew I was on the chase, but today, because of mobiles, affairs can be conducted without family knowing anything about it. I am yet to be convinced, as far as first love is concerned anyway, that this particular communication revolution is necessarily an improvement.

Very soon, I told Mary I loved her; then after some reflection she, to my overwhelming joy, told me she loved me too.

Then a problem… I was posted for a year to Kenya, then to the Sultan of Muscat’s armed forces. I wrote, Mary answered – indeed I wrote lots for there was no romance in Arabia other than camels. I was aware there were irritating pauses before she replied, but then, after a year – it seemed an eternity – I was on leave.     

Then the car crash. At first, to my distress, Mary seemed reluctant to meet me; then when she was cornered, to my stupefaction she stuttered she was pregnant, the father being some low-life show jumper. I was profoundly shocked and I remember thinking that if I chose not to believe, the whole thing might vanish like some hideous dream. But, as Mary was demonstrably pregnant, her family insisted she marry the swine. And so she did, in Edinburgh Castle chapel as I recall. I remember weeping bitterly, my happiness terminated. Then I thought I would emulate Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, and beat wildly on the windows of the chapel, screaming to disrupt the ghastly and mistaken proceedings, and elope with Mary. But a tiny trickle of common sense just about percolated through my emotional fog: the fact she was pregnant persuaded me that it had to be “Benyon: game over”.

Tormented, I wondered why cruel fate had dealt me such a foul hand? I felt sure that if there was a God in heaven, he would have prevented such misery. And then slowly – oh so slowly, and bit by bit – I realised some essential truths. While for me the relationship had been an obsessive passion, for Mary it had been a flirtation and she had grown fearful of the intensity of my feelings. We were from totally different worlds, and so after she had married someone else, there was no point in pretending that we could be “close friends” for that had never been the basis of our relationship. And I understood that love should always die spectacularly, or at least with dignity, and not of a wasting disease.

I recovered – sort of. Two years later, I met Jane Scott Plummer. Reader, I married her and lived happily ever afterwards – she is my soulmate and the light of my life.     

What happened to Mary? Her marriage wasn’t happy and when I heard this, I tried – more or less successfully – not to be too pleased. Then, very tragically, Mary contracted ovarian cancer around 1988 and died.

On cool reflection, if I had married her – as I would have done if my immediate and insistent prayers had been answered – Jane and I would never have got married. Then, of course, Clare, Milly, Thomas and Oliver would never have been born, and nor would 11 blessed grandchildren. It would have been another world.

I told this story to one of my grandchildren when a relationship had gone awry. Never let a near disaster go to waste. When God fails to answer your passionate prayers of the heart, it is nearly always a good thing.

Oh yes, and be careful what you wish for.     

Take That!

Glad for all over a certain age to see HM The Queen riding, aged 94, in Windsor Great Park… and without a hard hat.

Royal sucks to health and safety!

1 comment

    • Rupert Bowen on September 15, 2020 at 9:26 am

    Dulce and I very much enjoyed our walk with you and Jane and plan to repeat the experience at some future date. We also enjoyed your self-revelatory blog. “Be careful what you wish for” – yes indeed. You Brexiters beware! Boris’s cloven hoof is now very much on show. Another useful adage to add to your repertoire “No good deed goes unpunished”.
    You mentioned the Remembrance Day sermon that you were preparing and said you would send us a copy of it. Please do.

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