My eyes met my mother’s over his shoulder as he embraced me warmly and held me close. Because he was smaller than me, I could see how she was trying not to look shocked. Her recently widowed daughter, devastated by her loss, actually enjoying the company of another man! A small, bespectacled man with curly blond hair, wearing Oxfam clothes and a pair of leather clogs had taken over the kitchen, shooing the children out, while he concocted delicious savoury morsels, omelettes and crepes, and served filtered coffee with dark chocolate biscuits, his clogs neatly tucked under a coffee table, his books, mostly classics and poetry, piled on top.
Perhaps it was because my parents seemed unduly influenced by what other people might think, I became fascinated by eccentics. They just seemed more interesting to me. My husband Chris was eccentric to some extent – he didn’t care what people thought of him, but everyone liked him anyway. Ian was so eccentric that people gave up trying to understand him. He would talk about his travels and the people he had met, lapsing into French and other languages, but somehow managing to convey very little about himself. Our relationship was very intuitive. He could not be understood at a cerebral level, and most people gave up trying. But it was just what I needed – not to be analysed and told what to do, just to be loved, with loving actions, a cup of coffee, a walk in the park, a meal with another mutual friend, a glass of wine, someone to spend the evening with when the children went to bed. It was romantic in the purest sense, a true platonic friendship, so pure that he would even lie beside me when I’d gone to bed, like a friendly dog that senses his master is sad. And even on an occasion when we’d both had too much wine, and we got a bit maudlin over each other, he just could not take advantage of his very dear friend’s trusting widow.
Sometimes we entertain the most unlikely angels unawares, and only God could have sent such a one to me. I adored him, even contemplated eventual marriage, but the thought never seemed to occur to him. He loved very deeply, especially older people and animals, but knew well he was not accepted by most because of his eccentricity. And yet he was very physical and sensual, a huggy sort of person, who would wander around the house in his underpants. My friends would be horrified I knew, but it didn’t bother me at all. In a sense it was exactly what I needed, to fill the gap of the physical absence of my departed husband, yet not infringing the still present sense of his spirit in the house. There was a bond of friendship too from their schooldays together, through the years when Ian was abroad, to the last few months of Chris’s life, when I sensed how much Ian cared for his friend. And indeed, his very real grief at his death.
No-one knew the hours we spent together. We were both ‘morning’ people, and I would waken to hear him tiptoe up the stairs with a first cup of coffee, followed often by a walk along the beach. We thumbed our noses at polite Christian society, but we did not sin. The cynic would think it improbable, but yes, there is life without sex between a woman and a caring man , there is relationship with more depth than can be found in the most conventional marriages.
Ian introduced me to radio, and together we explored the wavebands, BBC Radio 4 being the favourite, and still is! Television was opened up for me too, as we watched classics, comedy, word games and French cinema. But books were all-important, and my new ‘classics master’ introduced me to philosophy, psychology, the Jesuit, and classic stories such as The Leopard, The Little Prince, and many more.
Sadly, over the years, we have lost contact. Ian moved to England, coming back to visit on occasions, sometimes outstaying his welcome as I was now back at work, and on one occasion having crashed my car, refusing to co-operate with the insurance company. He phoned from time to time, and then it stopped. I have tried to find him, with no success. It was good while it lasted, and I was sorry to think he might have died without an opportunity for me to say goodbye. I learned later through an old Sullivan friend of his sister that he had a massive heart attack and died alone. R.I.P. IAN