Theirs was an Anglo-Gallic connection, with a little Czech thrown in. Strangers seated together on a late night Eurostar, Christophe-Karel and Ursula bonded instantly – not over anything in particular, simply through personality’s give and take. The one mapped onto the other, like overlaying diagrams or the sky blanketing landscape and landscape rising to meet sky. Had the train’s guard set his stopwatch on their love, he would have recorded that within the ninety minutes subsequent to meeting, they had become Chunnel club members. On entering the tunnel, CK whispered in her ear and rose, not daring to look behind him, knowing his whole world depended upon what happened next. Thirty seconds later Ursula made her way along the aisle too. The impatient knocking on the toilet door they only incorporated into their urgent, appetent rhythms.
In the days and weeks to come they were insatiable, comme des lapins, or cockerel and hen. They had sex whenever and wherever they could. At each other’s workplaces, on beaches, in restaurant toilets, gardens and parks, cemeteries and countryside declivities, cars and cinemas, hotels and tents, and naturally at CK’s apartment in Belleville and Ursula’s in Bow. Neither were intimate acquaintances’ spare bedrooms spared. Their coupling might be violently quick one moment, languorously slow the next. Each place in which they made love suggested a rhythm and a manner.
But as well as being highly sexed, CK and Ursula were also incurable romantics, and decided to do what Parisian lovers do – engrave their ampersanded names into a padlock’s brushed metal sheen, and ceremonially go to the Pont des Arts to lock it into place on the railings there. But they did not deposit the keys into the Seine, as tradition dictated. Instead each would wear theirs around their necks; should circumstances change, and one or the other wished to take down the padlock, either to throw it in the river or simply pocket it, they remained entirely at liberty to do so.
Sorbonne-educated, CK was somewhat theoretical in his outlook, and as they dined that night at Les Ombres – in darkness Gustave’s tower sparkles on the hour – he ventured a somewhat dubious lock and key metaphor. His cock, he said, had unlocked her cunt; it was the key to her mechanism. But – and he was quick to stress this – it wasn’t as simple as that, it wasn’t all down to the key; because the mechanism was a complex thing; it chose when to give, and to whom. She laughed, and said, more keys have worked on my lock than just yours, you know; but seeing his crest droop a little, she made it and his key stand tall by going on to tell him that no-one had ever unlocked her as completely as him, personne. And it was true – simply his voice, the way he said cock and lock and mechanism and cunt was enough to render her entirely oiled and open to him.
And because theirs was an Anglo-Gallic connection, they hit upon the idea that they should also have a love-lock in London, and hang not one but two keys around their necks. There were wires stretching the Millennium Bridge’s length which could take a padlock. Theirs was the maiden lock. Go there now and there are thousands upon thousands. Initially the Trust which owns the bridge sheared away CK & U’s padlock along with the others. But as well as being incurable romantics, they were also a bloody-minded pair, and so secured another, and then another. Soon the phenomenon grew wings, and men armed with bolt cutters began to be jeered as they went about their business. The public outcry obliged the Mayor to request a moratorium on both locking and cutting while a long-term policy was hammered out. But lovers aren’t as easily dissuaded as corporate maintenance, and the remaining gaps on the wires soon disappeared.
London seemed evenly split over the padlocks. Hard-hearted heritage protectors decried the damage done to the city’s most recent bridge, but to lovers the city is a playground, and they played on, oblivious to their detractors. The issue was debated in the London Assembly, and when it came down to it, the Mayor – not unhappy with his own reputation as a Casanova – gave the padlocks his backing. He liked the idea that London might displace Paris as Europe’s romantic capital, and had an unlikely ally in the bridge’s original engineers, who discovered that the padlocks helped dampen the bridge’s synchronous lateral excitation, or wobble, so notoriously troublesome when it originally opened. The mayor correctly judged that the hard-hearted traditionalists in his own party weren’t numerous enough to carry the day; the vote was narrowly won, and the padlocks were granted a reprieve, CK & U’s latest among them.
Though they continue to lead separate lives, CK in Paris and Ursula in London, they still give each other synchronous lateral excitation whenever they can, and to this day both lovers wear two coupled, jangling keys around their necks.