Grist to the Mill

10 September, 2004


Saw this in the 8th September edition of the Times. It brought a smile to my face. So honest and funny. What a mistake it is to patronise the elderly. I can't stand it when younger people are disrespectful. It's going to be a lot of typing, but it's worthy of the task. Here is what Joan Wyndham (82), a restauranter, writer and food critic, had to say when asked "What does life tell us about love?" Here goes:

My parents' marriage was a disaster, mainly because - unlike most newlyweds today - they were virgins. My mother told me her wedding night put her off sex for life. [God? How could it have gone *so* wrong?!]

I was their only child and a huge disappointment to my father, an aristocrat who wanted a son and heir for the family mansion in Wiltshire. Soon after I was born he left my mother for the Marchioness of Queensberry. I hardly saw him until my late teens and he began taking me to parties given by his intellectual friends. He would get terribly drunk. Once, in a taxi, he mistook me for another woman and began kissing me and unbuttoning my shirt. Thank goodness it was a short journey home.

My mother adored me rather too much; she practically had a breakdown if I caught a cold. We lived in Fulham with her female companion (not a euphemism for lesbian friend, they were just desperately religious). I was sent to Catholic boarding schools where I proved to be the worst thing: brainy. Mine was a lonely childhood.

I was studying at Chelsea School of Art when I met my first love, Walter. He had a studio near mine and we'd get together every day for lunch and to play chess. When the Blitz started I was determined not to die a virgin so I let him seduce me. Unfortunately he didn't know how to make love. Afterwards I felt I would rather have had a smoke and go to the pictures.

The war stopped us all thinking too much about the future. I joined the WAAF and was posted to Inverness where we lived in a mixed mess with a pool. Sir Hugh Fraser, the brother of my best friend, was in the castle next door. We had the most marvellous affair. I'd have married him had he asked. I had another affair with a Norwegian sea captain, then there were the pilots. You couldn't say no to a pilot - he could have been dead the next day.

In London after the war I embarked on an affair with Lucian Freud, who even then hated being talked about. When it ended I hitchhiked to the Isles of Scilly to escape him, then headed to Oxford. There I met Maurice Rowdon, an intelligent, good-looking scholar. We fell in love, married and had a daughter, Claire. Then he got a teaching job in Baghdad. I rented our flat to a young Russian couple and travelled with him. I had to return a few months later, by which time the girl had gone away but her boyfriend had wanted to stay. One night he poured me a vodka and sang gypsy songs. Before I knew it, I was being bent backwards over the ironing board and kissed passionately. Maurice arrived three months later and saw instantly what was happening. Our marriage had had everything going for it apart from sex. With Sasha there was no such problem, which is why we are still together 52 years later. Good sex is essential for a good marriage. If you are repelled physically by your spouse, it will never work. But another reason Sasha and I have survived for so long is that we both tolerate infidelity. There was a period after my second daughter was born when he was having affairs and I was finding out about them. Rather than walk out, I picked up a handsome boy in a pub and embarked on an affair of my own. We saw each other on and off for five years. After that, my marriage was better.

To me, it has always seemed normal that men will be unfaithful. Having had a father who was incapable of fidelity, I think I almost expected it. I knew Sasha loved me and the occasional jaunt wouldn't stop that, so I took it in my stride.

We still share a bed, but no longer have sex - we can't be bothered. We cuddle, share a joke, read the same books, enjoy the companionship. My trust was never diminished by his dalliances. He has seen me through cancer, strokes and breakdowns. I know that if I am in trouble, he will look after me.

Way to go! It's the story of a busy, eventful life. Apart from that (having a rich and fulfilling life), it's also a story of "how the other people live". Only an aristocratic woman would have the effrontery and self-confidence to go into a pub in the post-war period! for the purpose of picking up a toyboy.

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