Digital detox

My father didn’t have holidays; my mother didn’t have holidays; my father’s father didn’t have holidays, rocking up, as he did in Tilbury from the Pogroms of Belarus. Neither did my mother’s mother who came from Minsk, Pinsk or Omsk, take your pick. So it stood to reason that my brother and I didn’t have holidays either.

We did observe the Jewish holidays, Passover, the Day of Atonement and Hanukkah. As my father, being the opportunistic atheist that he was, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Fuck ’em.”

So I had never experienced what it was like to amble and dream over a sunset. I had no idea what tides did or what paddling meant, and then in 1981 the young git and I had enough money to hop on a plane and fly to the Balearic Islands. On that first ever holiday, aged 32, I learnt to swim in our kidney shaped Spanish pool. My cohabiter swore I wouldn’t drown, that he would save me if anything went wrong. I kicked off and attempted my first ever breast stroke. My very own David Hasselhoff oversaw my doggy paddle as the Spanish sun burnt my shoulders. However, unbeknownst to me, my personal lifeguard was pissed out of his head on Cerveza and luke warm Sangria.
We Stayed in a self catering apartment which was featured on a television holiday programme. A week later, brown and relaxed, we stood in our Wapping living room and watched Judith Charmers trash the place. Who knew. She gave it nul point. Us, on the other hand, enjoyed our roll ups and coffee on the balcony and loved it because we knew no different.

My first job was with the Theatre in Education team at Watford Palace Theatre. We travelled to Denmark to make masks and meet other actors. It was my first trip abroad. We also did a children’s theatre festival in North Yorkshire.

1970. Walking through the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, my 21 year old self stopped as a man with curls was giving of his ‘Lion’ in the ‘Red Dragon’, and no, that’s not a pub, it was the name of the play. He was riveting. Six years later my theatre company was casting a show in Sheffield, an agent called offering up one of his actors.

His name?
Jim By…..
I needed no more, it was the very thespian with the curly hair and charisma I had seen in 1970.
We’ll have him.

It took six years, from Harrogate to Sheffield to nab the ‘oosbind. I was twenty seven; he was thirty three. The young git joined the group. I talked, he listened. He knew everything. He still does, according to him. We toured Ireland, we toured the UK and we toured Sweden. Then 250 kilometres from the arctic circle, the day as dark as night, the show over, we wrapped up and boarded the Orient Express from Umeå down to Lund, an ancient university town in the south of Sweden. Our banquettes remained untouched as we stood between the rocking and rolling carriages, talking all night as 733 miles whizzed past.

We arrived at 6.00a.m. and walked to Ralph’s house, a Swedish fan who was housing the itinerant theatre company. The kitchen was filled with English actors, the table full of Swedish breakfast food – fishy paste, cod roe spread – “Kaviar” from a tube – boiled eggs oatmeal porridge, muesli, cheese, ham and butter and a wheel of knackerbrød. Ralph put luscious Swedish bread in the toaster, as each slice popped up the Northern actor performed some daft antics that made me laugh. When I got a crumb of knackerbrød caught on my bottom lip I knew the game was up – I was too embarrassed to move it.
That kind of embarrassment is what happens when you fall in love, said my mother. I don’t know how she knew. I had no way of identifying what was going on. I was as out of touch with my feelings as an ageing moose on a frosty night alone in the middle of a forest somewhere near Jönköping.

When the camper van broke down on the side of a Swedish road, me in a faux fur coat and knitted gloves, him in his beige anorak, and he put his hand on my head, that was that. Five months later we moved in together, and the rest is Mills and Boon.

We took as many holidays as we could. From Scotland to Florence, from Paris to Porta Pollença. My father would have turned in his grave. Romance – well romance is how you see it innit? When we went to Essaouira, in Morocco, we stayed in a beautiful French souk. Candlelit streets, a candlelit communal table, artists and a shared tagine. We only found out a couple of days later that the candlelight was due to a power cut in the city. I had thought that that was how the French Moroccans lived.

Chez nous, we have candles on the table at all times.
Last night we had Ms Eunice visit us in East Sussex. She blew and she blew and she blew the lines down.
Finding fifteen candles was easy. Tea lights dotted around, a candelabra on the table. The old git even lit the old Victorian oil lamp.

We sat from noonish with out any form of entertainment. Then himself made a crackling log fire which lit up the room. He went and got a battery operated wireless from one of his sheds – we listened to local radio giving us stormy updates.

All routine down the pan we sat on the floor watching the flames, making pictures in the burning logs. He sat to the left of me and drunk his gin and tonic and I had a brandy and ginger. We lolled together on the rug in the dark, fifteen candles throwing shapes.
All routine gone we decided to eat supper whenever we wanted. The freezer was defrosting so we whipped out some peas, and a huge piece of breaded haddock and emptied a bag of half frozen chips into a wok. The gas was still working so we boiled up petit pois, put the haddock on his stove-top griddle and stir fried the chips in chilli oil. Five candles on the table. Five tea lights by the cooker. Two tea lights on the dresser and silence as we munched on the most unhealthy of dinners accompanied by tartare sauce. It was delicious.

Then at 18.55 we heard a click. We had lights, heat and the fridge started buzzing. We reset all the electric clocks and settled down in front of the telly.

The truth is that when those lights came on I felt a wave of disappointment.

It was just like Essaouira, just like The Orient Express. No distraction, just the dark and a howling wind. It was as romantic as it gets after 44 years of marital blitz. And then noise and halogen lamps interrupted what had been 6 hours of quiet pleasure.

I am grateful to South Eastern Electricity for giving us back our evening’s entertainment. But to be honest, I could have done with another 6 hours of quiet contemplation.

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