The house was in Redland, at the junction of Ravenswood Road and Woodstock Avenue. It was built solely in creamy Bath stone and couldn’t help being rather more elegant than the other houses on the street, which like so many buildings in Bristol combined Bath stone quoins with a facing of light red Pennant. On the corner of the plot where the streets met stood a huge copper beech tree, its branches bare, it being the dead of winter. But you could tell it would be magnificent come spring.
Our love depended on the telling of a lie – a little white one – to enable me to get a place to live on returning from France. I had decided to give Bristol a go, it being where a bunch of friends lived. The landlord of the bedsit I liked required me to be working, which I wasn’t yet. Drawing on my London Underground experience, I pretended I worked for British Rail up at Temple Meads, Bristol’s fairy tale train station. With the help of my friends, I may even have faked a letter to prove it. I’m not sure the landlord was entirely convinced, but even though he worked in insurance, he allowed himself to buy it and take the month in advance.
I met her for the first time on the day I moved in. My friends had all come over to check out my new place, and were piling out the door – Monkees monkeying around – as she reached the landing on to which it opened. I can still remember what she was wearing. A red jumper with a wide neck and patterned lilac leggings. She was beautiful, with full lips and lots of golden brown hair and pinked and shapely cheeks. One friend after meeting her for the first time said that I’d found a real English rose but by blood she was three-quarters Irish. You could see that in her smiling eyes. We shook hands (having come back from France, I shook hands left, right and centre) and exchanged a few words. I expect I apologised for my friends. She had the ground floor room, whose light was filtered through its bay window by the beech’s canopy; brighter in winter and dark in summer. Her appearance there on the landing convinced me that I had chosen the right place to live.
But we took a winding path into love, the relationship not even hinting at beginning until after she had moved out, seven months later. On a summer’s day she returned on an antiquated bicycle to pick up mail and came into my room for the very first time to drink some water. She had on a flowery summer dress and settled into my flowery red armchair while I sat facing her, and through the thick warmth of the air, with the reddish-purple leaves of the beech visible outside the two open sash windows, I think we could both tell that something was starting. We arranged to meet the following week, at a pub up by the Downs. Of course, her boyfriend would be there too.
I don’t think I was quite myself that night at the Port of Call. I was merciless in my mockery of him. It was easy, he was a Liberal Democrat. She laughed a lot. He hid any gall well. That summer, having finished a thesis which combined readings of Shakespeare and Austen, she polished off all of Das Kapital. She remains the only person I know who has read the entirety of its three hefty volumes.
I made them (her) a tape. I called it ‘Heard through a wall’, after a Del Amitri tune. It was half-filled with love songs. The message must have been unmistakeable, to both of them.
But suddenly she was no longer in Bristol, having got a job in a place a hundred miles to the east. She invited me to stay, even while she was nominally still with the Liberal Democrat. Mortifyingly during the visit my false front tooth fell out and if I smiled you could see the spike to which it was usually fixed. And still she wasn’t put off. In the night, in the dark, having resisted all temptation, she got out of her bed and came and sat on mine, and stroked my hair.
And then, back in Bristol after visiting the Liberal Democrat for the weekend, she dropped in on me with flowers but found me having a fish and chip and curry sauce supper with my sister and her boyfriend and wouldn’t join us. But it was ending between them. The next time she came back to the house in which she used to live, in the lee of the copper beech whose branches were once again bare, it was to stay the night.
Photo of Ravenswood Road, Bristol by awildslimalien.