Friday 15 July 2016

Mrs Trefusis Retires...and reposts an old story to remind you of what she once was

Alas, dear readers,  I have so singularly failed to keep up with Mrs Trefusis as life has evolved, I am retiring her. I find I'm no longer very good at autobiographical writing, and as there are only so many words in me, I have discovered that the imaginative ones go into the great unfinished novel, and the rest go into keeping up with The Books That Built Me. She may well ride again, but for the moment, I'm taking the gold watch...

By way of a parting, I thought I'd re-post the the story of how Mr Trefusis and I ended up together, which I wrote in 2009, not long after I started blogging,  inspired by something the ineffable Belgian Waffling had written.
I've gathered all three episodes into one post. Well, someone said that reading things on a mobile phone was no impediment to the art of long-form writing...


Alas, disappointment awaits all tragic romantics: I seem not to have the depth of sentiment for 37°2 le matin. Beatrice Dalle would turn her nose up at the film script and sack her agent for suggesting it. Renee Zellwegger might consider it until the moment she realised it would require her to get fat again.
Mine is only an amour fou in the sense that it's utterly bonkers and quite silly. Sigh. I always wanted to be even a little bit poetic. But no.
This is not, I'm afraid, a tale of doomed love. There is nothing unrequited. No hopeless yearning. No notes slipped under the door, only to remain wedged under the carpet*. Then, as now, the only moonlight in the great Trefusis romance is in the gap between fusing all the lights and flipping the trip switch, candlelight is reserved for when we have people to dinner and need to disguise the parlous state of the paintwork. The closest we ever came to love songs was when I discovered a Michael Bolton CD in his possession. Reader, I nearly broke up with him on the spot: it's hard to deal with that kind of shocking truth. Another 'make or break' musical moment in our relationship came when I discovered Trefusis Major had downloaded Britney Spears' 'Pieces of Me' from iTunes. His defence was that he found it 'poignant'. Oh God, I thought, it surely can't get any worse.... Be not mislead by this: Mr T and I are devoted to one another. But Goethe would have walked on by and we'd be nothing more than colourful village rustics in the footnotes of a Hardy novel. But a nice cup of tea and a sit down is more my emotional style these days.
But so much is prologue. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that this whole story maybe prologue in an 'all gong and no dinner' sense. Tant pis. My story starts in the office, not too many months after 9/11. I am, unusually, single. I haven't been single since I was 18. Three -possibly four and a half - horribly serious long term relationships have come and gone, without so much as a wafer thin mint to pass between them, and now I've finally extricated myself from the latest kitchen sink drama I consider myself in retirement. Or more accurately, perhaps, in recovery.
My problem in relationships was always in inability to say no, so I'd find myself living with (and indeed, was once married to) entirely unsuitable people for years on end for a variety of entirely unsuitable reasons. Perhaps this might be something to return to, but for the moment you find me somewhere in early 2002 slaving over a hot spreadsheet being interrogated by my colleagues about why I'm so resolutely uninterested in putting some slap on and drinking vats of wine at an overpriced style bar in the interests of Being Chatted Up. But I know drinking wine on a thursday night is a merely the thin end of the wedge: some idiot will buy me a glass of sauvignon blanc and the next thing I know I'll be living with a balding photocopier salesman in a thirties semi in Cheam because I don't want him to be upset when I say I don't want to see him again. Go to the barber's often enough and you'll end up with a haircut. I don't want another bloody relationship, so I need to steer clear of all venues where relationships might be a possibility.
However, this being the moment of 'Sex and the City', I am rather intrigued by the notion of dating. As distinct from relationship. I surreptitiously watch a few episodes, purely in the spirit of research, SATC not being quite as, ahem, positive a viewing choice back then as it later became, and learn that dating appears to come without obligations. No one is going to start burning you CD's of Captain Beefheart's Ashtray Heart and insisting that their life will be ruined if you don't watch the directors cut of 'Last year in Marienbad' with them. What's more, one appears to be able to date several people concurrently, as long as one dates in the American sense ie no real physical contact.
This sounds like an excellent scheme. Dating. What I want is for someone to buy me expensive cocktails in hip hotel bars and laugh sycophantically at all my jokes. They don't have to do it twice, no one will be able to accuse me of being a porridge girl, easy to make but appalling to get off the saucepan afterwards. Alas, this is London in the very early noughties. All men have been dropped on their heads as adults and appear not to want to even wish an early thirty something girl a cheery 'Hello' in case she brandishes a set of ripe ovaries and a ticking biological clock in his direction. Datees appear to be in short supply. I am disgruntled.
"Internet dating" says Colleague A one afternoon, apropos of nothing.
"What?" say I, a swift, pithy response ever ready on your heroine's lips.
"Internet dating. Vast supply of ostensibly unattached men, all desperate to meet girls, not all of them photocopier engineers or Albanian refugees. Try it - it worked for my sister"
Why the hell not, I think. What can possibly go wrong? At worst I'll garner a few hilarious stories about putative serial killers and men with dishonourable intentions, and at best I may get a few expensive cocktails (and possibly cheap sex, though you should know that Mrs Trefusis is a woman of the highest moral probity and not easily parted from her virtue).
So I sign up immediately to one of the new fangled interweb dating sites and sit back happily as I watch the inbox of the iMac fill up with vast numbers of astonishingly normal looking thirty and forty something men, most of whom have their own teeth and hair. Admittedly, it takes me a few email exchanges to discover that GSOH doesn't stand for good salary own house, though I wish it did because i've always thought a sense of humour was an overrated commodity in a man. For the first time in my life I appear to be spoilt for choice - yes, I know they haven't met me yet, only my souped-up cyber-self - and I resolve to meet everyone who fits my stringent criteria (breathing, human, at least superficially male) for a coffee, and if they look promising, one of the aforementioned cocktails.
And so I embark on a thrilling frenzy of non-stop dating. Which is, predictably, Enormous Fun. There's only one slightly psychotic axe-murdering type and even the IT consultants are a laugh in their own trogloditic way.
And Mr Trefusis? Well, children, that will have to wait for another time....
*I read far too much Thomas Hardy as a child. Most deleterious to one's romantic benchmark.


So. Where were we? Ah, yes. I was getting into dating as a cure for serial monogamy. Well, when I say 'monogamy' I am of course excising from the record the rather non-monogamous episode with that scoundrel Vronsky on the grounds that it was more than 10 years ago and the Statute of Limitations has expired. But essentially, there I was in 2002, having missed out on the excitement of 'dating' as a teenager, assuming it was even invented in the 1980's which I doubt*, mad keen to make up for lost time and enjoy a misspent adulthood.
Ah, the possibilities of new technology. Anyone that tells you there aren't any single men in London has merely set their standards too high. There's no point insisting on tall, or dark, or handsome, or rich, or poetic, or athletic, or funny or whatever else it is women are supposed to want from a man: he's just as likely to be Mr Wrong. So it was with a spirit of adventure that I accepted an invitation from anyone who emailed me and could also spell and demonstrate correct usage of the apostrophe (oh come on... low standards doesn't mean no standards). In practice, this sometimes meant two dates a day. I hasten to add that this was the early days of internet dating, there were many, many more men than women on the more popular sites, so it was very much a supply/demand issue, rather me being especially delicious. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. Or a coffee.
And so, for several weeks, I became Costa Coffee's best customer. I drank espressi with ad men, capucchini with the IT guys, machiati with lawyers (maybe it's the wig-like white foam?), San Pellegrino with journos and a diet coke with a former marine doing 'private protection work' for foreign nationals. He didn't progress to cocktails.
In the midst of all this coffee drinking (wired? Moi?) an email drops into my inbox. "I had to look up Manolo Blahnik**,” it says, “But I guess that means I'm not gay". There’s little more to go on, barely enough to prove proficiency with English grammar and punctuation. 'All-comers', I remind myself, encouraged by the fact that he’d at least had a look at my profile, and I click through to his, as taciturn as his email, yet with promising photos. However, though buff and intriguing in manner of ‘strong and silent’ Heyer hero, Manolo-Man lives Abroad. No sense in whetting one's appetite for someone who's 500 miles away from The Sanderson - look, it was the ne plus ultra of cool in those days. Times change. I send something relatively non-committal in reply and think no more about it.
This being the early days of online dating, there's a certain Austen-esque etiquette to the process. You don't scout round after a likely lad, they are obliged to come to you, and make some courteous remark indicating interest. If he has a face like Nosferatu and lists the cultivation of flesh-eating plants amongst his hobbies, the polite form of refusal is to thank him for his interest, and say 'you're not who I'm looking for right now: wishing you the best of luck with your search'. And after the consumption of coffee - Costa's baristas being every bit an assiduous a chaperone as Charlotte Bartlett was for Lucy Honeychurch - things either progress to a second meeting or there's an exchange of' you're not who I'm looking for etc' emails.
Some men give better email than others, though this is, sadly, no guarantee of fabulousness. I meet up with one promising chap and discover that whilst his body was designed by Apple, his mind is definitely Microsoft Windows 2000, and realise that his mate Cyrano must have been helping him with the fancier elements of his on-screen wooing. And then there are those who tick every box, can quote poetry, have no visible literacy problems and dress unobtrusively, but with whom there’s absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. Sigh.
Anyway, if I detail all of the very nice men I met during my dating frenzy, I’m never going to get round to the story of Mr Trefusis.
Perhaps I have attention deficit disorder, but after several weeks of caffeine overdose and more expensive cocktails and sycophantic laughter than I knew I wanted, I realise that I have Worked Through Some Issues –I’m a quick study – and am ready to work out What To Do Next.
This is what I’ve learned. Hold your breath and wait for the astonishing insights:
There are a zillion single men in London. I don’t need to go out with the first one who expresses an interest. Hah! I can now say ‘Thank you for your interest but not if you were the last man on earth’.
Being picky is silly. Everyone looks pretty promising after a lavender martini.
Martinis are like breasts. One's not enough. Three's too many.
Through-put is easy. Chemistry is elusive.
I decide I’m still not looking for Mr Right. But I reckon I could cope with Mr All-Right-For-Now . Maybe I could meet someone I liked enough to progress from a coffee and a cocktail to a trip to the cinema?

And what of Manolo-Man? Am I prepared to widen my dating territory outside W1? And what is the true identity of the International Man of Mystery? Will I work my way through The Sanderson's entire cocktail menu? Are you bored by this tale yet?

Wait for the next exciting*** instalment….
*I think we called it 'getting off with' and, if that happened more than once, 'going out with'.
**[about the only thing I'd put in my 'interests' box, not wanting my bluestocking tendencies to put prospective dates off]
***I realise this is a purely subjective judgement.


Enough of the specious nonsense. On with the plot or I'll lose my audience - yes, you three, I can see you yawning. It might be dull but it's my life and you'll enjoy it even if I have to bribe you with promises of champagne cocktails in Claridges.
So. It's Easter 2002. London is, as ever on a public holiday, empty of everyone and everything. Thursday's copy of The Evening Standard blows like tumbleweed around the legs of the Japanese tourists blocking the entrance to the escalator at Piccadilly Circus. All of my friends appear to have dashed off in a fit of giggling coupledom in the direction of Babington House or other hip Mr&Mrs Smith hangout. Honestly, that kind of behaviour is designed to bring the twisted spinster out in even the most resolute dating devotee. And when one's audience has disappeared, gathering petits amuses about lecherous lecturers or demented dentists begins to pall.
I mooch around for a bit on Good Friday, watching Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story and spend some time in front of the mirror draping a black scarf round my head, wondering if taking up Holy Orders might not be just the thing. And then, whilst idling on the internet - not nearly as fun as it is now, due to it only being web 1 point zero, or whatever it was called before it was 2.0 - a couple of more than fortuitous emails drop into my inbox. One is from Manolo-Man, with whom I've had a little desultory email exchange since the initial one-liner. The other is from Canadian Banker who, despite littering his emails with the kind of literary pretension guaranteed to get my pulses racing, has been irritatingly tardy in extending an invitation to meet. Being an ex-pat, he's evidently bored and home alone with the Audrey Hepburn box set too. Or possibly something a bit more rugged because I've just made him sound very gay. Maybe he was, albeit locked in a B&B Italia closet of his own choosing. I never stopped to find out.
Canadian Banker suggests getting together for the Modernism exhibition at the RA, and frankly, meeting for just a grande frappe latte at Costa isn't going to fill anything like enough of the long weekend stretching and yawning before me. But Manolo-Man's email is, curiously, much more intriguing. "I've had to come over on business, and I've stayed for the long weekend. Don't suppose you're free for dinner tomorrow night?" Well, the mountain has come to mohammed. MM is no longer in parts foreign, at least temporarily. Left to my own devices, Saturday dinner would be pasta with pesto at best: dinner in a proper restaurant with The International Man of Mystery is far to good to pass up on the grounds that I suspect he may be a man of few words. Yippee, I think, the weekend might not be miserable after all, send 'yes' replies to both invitations and nip off to start the laborious process of de-spinsterfying myself.
This involves more than an emergency Show Me Your Wardrobe session, though frankly it's a good job neither of the prospective candidates could have seen the Sweaty Betty yoga pants and a fleece so unattractive that I couldn't even have fancied myself. Obviously there's eyebrows to be plucked, face packs to be smeared on, hair to be laboriously blowdried, nails to be painted etc etc. God that I could have the time to go to this level of effort for anything these days. It's possibly so memorable because it's the last time I did. But it's relevant here, readers, because I break my golden rule: I shave my legs. Now, mistake me not - the hairy legs have nothing to do with sisterhood, though if you've been party to my rants about Observer Woman, you'll know that feminist is a much cherished word in my vocabulary. The unshaven legs were my tried, tested and trusted way of remaining chaste, despite all temptation and the most fervent persuasion. I have too much vanity to be in a situation where I get my kit off only to be unmasked as Mr Tumnus. But although I've read Freud's Psychopathology Of Everyday Life, consciously I believe I'm only defoliating because I have time to kill, rather than because my unconscious is almost certainly Up For It.
The following day, I present myself at the Royal Academy ticket office, and recognise Canadian Banker at once, he having helpfully worn an enormous pair of yellow Oliver Peoples sunglasses in the manner of Bono. Which he doesn't take off during the whole exhibition. In manner of Anna Wintour. We show off madly to each other, and nearly come to blows rushing to translate L.H.O.O.Q on Duchamp's Mona Lisa in a bid to prove that we're so damn cool we love a clever joke in a foreign language (though he cheated, obviously, being Canadian). He's utterly fabulous but really, we were too busy scoring points to notice if there was anything swirling in the undercurrent. And perhaps, dear reader, something has picqued my interest about the trappist with whom I'm due to have dinner....
Unfortunately for you, it's way past my bedtime, and this post has gone on long enough. To discover the true identity of Manolo Man, and to find out whether my unconscious knew what it was doing when it made me wield the Bic razor, you'll have to wait. Again. But I solemnly promise to finish the story next time, if only so I can get on with the business of telling you all about my super-strength British Botox.
Ok, here's a sneak preview for those of you who haven't already guessed the end: Manolo Man is, naturally, Mr Trefusis. But what's more, he's far from a man of few words and reminds me most spookily of favourite Heyer Hero, the Marquis of Alverstoke. Not only that, but I discover an Interesting Truth about myself. And yes, oh yes: Lady Luck has shone upon the future Mrs Trefusis and in the fullness of time, you'll get your happy ever after...Possibly in time for Valentine's Day.


He was taller than [she] had at first supposed, rather loose-limbed and he bore himself with a faint suggestion of swash-buckling arrogance.....he was dark, his countenance lean and rather swarthy, marked with lines of dissipation....*
Manolo-Man is something of a surprise: as I'm walking towards him through the stygian gloom of La Poule Au Pot, a Pimlico restaurant so busy doing authentic french paysanne bistro it could audition for a part in a Stella Artois commercial, I realise that contrary to internet dating protocol, Manolo-Man's photos have greatly understated his looks. He's channelling brooding byronic hero, euro-banker, officer-material and repressed output of English public school all at the same time. Not only that, but the fit of his jacket over his broad shoulders would not have disgraced Weston**. As Mr Trefusis -Manolo-Man being too flimsy a soubriquet for such substantial virility - stands up for me as I reach the table, I realise the dinner has distinct promise.
But the pleasing mien and elegant manners count for nothing compared to the real clincher of the evening. The waiter, straight out of central casting with white apron and superior attitude, comes over to talk about the specials or the wine list or some such, and Mr Trefusis, english as a scone or cricket or a red postbox, breaks into a volley of such fluent, flawless french, I can only gawp at him, captivated and drooling. Reader, early imprinting is not confined to dress sense. A pre-teen run-in with 'A Fish Called Wanda' left me fatally scarred: I go wild for a man who talks foreign and right now, listening to Mr Trefusis recite the menu, I feel like Wandawhen Otto speaks 'Italian'. Oh yes. Oh Yes.
I have absolutely no recollection what we talked about that evening, in English or in French. My pants had flown off at the moment he started on the parley-voo, and all thoughts of not being 'that kind of girl' and of reputation and respect and similar archaic nonsense had flown with them. The next thing I recall is sharing a bottle of Laurent Perrier in the bar of the Royal Court theatre, and brazenly asking him if his hotel was conveniently at hand.
One taxi ride later, I find myself clutched to his manly bosom, and, like Barbara Cartland, I shall leave you shut firmly on the other side of the hotel bedroom door. All I shall say is that my unconscious knew what it was doing when it prompted me to shave my legs in the bath that afternoon. Though such was the allure of Mr Trefusis, I doubt I'd have cared if they'd been bristly as a badger.
A month later, and apropos of absolutely nothing at all not least a conversation with me, Mr Trefusis announces to my father he's going to marry me. The fact that I heartily disagree with this at the time, and vehemently protest I don't want a relationship, hardly matters now, being mere detail and history. And that I finish with him, heartlessly and unceremoniously, halfway through a holiday in Venice a month or so after that, doesn't seem to put him off either. Mr Trefusis knows better than I that my dating days are done. He has set his cap at me, and eventually, I concede he's right.
The moral of this tale? Ignore anyone who tells you a man won't respect you in the morning***. Reader, I married him....
Seven years later, we're still living happily ever after. And because this is Valentine's Day, I should say something nice, and possibly even romantic. But I find that I've come over all British, and although I don't want sentiment, I shall probably eschew the writing of poetry in favour of a comradely and playful punch on the shoulder.
*Venetia. Damerel is one of Heyer's very best heroes.
** Another little detail for Heyer fans
***this is a moot point: it was after midnight, so technically it was the second date. That's my story and I've stuck to it til now despite it being utter nonsense
You tube: a fish called wanda- otto speaking italian