A worried young man from Stamboul
Found blotchy red spots on his tool.
Said the doctor, a cynic,
"Get out of my clinic,
and wipe off the lipstick, you fool!"
No, I'm not from "Stamboul". Unless you're a history freak, or a fan of Graham Greene, you're unlikely to know this old name for Istanbul. I certainly didn't until I looked it up after finding the limerick. And while I'm sure you can be George (or something equivalent) in Turkish, my ancestry is British (whatever that actually means), not Turkish.
Nor were my worries unfounded. No amount of wiping would remove the red blotches and the stinging sensation when urinating was acutely painful. I was also feeling really crook.
However my doctor was cynical when I protested – and kept on protesting, even under the threat of legal repercussions – that my one and only sexual partner for the last nearly nine years was my wife of over seven years, Deidre.
I got out of his clinic with a prescription for some hefty antibiotics, which he, with no small amount of glee, informed me would make me feel like shit for weeks, causing unspeakable mayhem to my digestive system (thus making me actually shit for weeks) and make me "reflect on my sins". Further, he informed me, he would have to re-evaluate our doctor-patient relationship when it was shown that I had lied to him about my sexual partners.
"When", not "if". You noticed that, didn't you? Perhaps it was a poor idea using my usual GP for something like this, given that he is Deidre's maternal uncle, but at that point I had frankly not even considered the possibility that I had an STD (or a VD as they are still known by old-fashioned doctors over here). I mean, if you are in a monogamous relationship you don't have to worry about that kind of thing, do you?
Perhaps you'd (rightly) consider me a dim-wit for not learning from my mistake in choice of doctor since I essentially repeated it five minutes later when I handed in the prescription at the local pharmacy to get it filled. The pharmacist and doctor are brothers, you see – and their sister is Deidre's mother.
But like with the doctor, I didn't have all that much choice - there is only one of each in our little hole of a town,
Anyway, the pharmacist too made the wrong inference at once. He treated me like a leper and was far from discreet in handing me the offensive medication.
His pharmacy was full of the usual gossips who would undoubtedly swap notes with the old biddies back in the waiting room at the doctor's surgery whom, I am sure, had overhead my dressing down by his brother earlier on – the doctor was loud, the door is thin and their prim faces closely resembled chooks' arses when I left. I was in for interesting times.
On mature consideration I decided it was unlikely that Uncle Graham, as the pharmacist was known to me then, would be sympathetic in assisting me with obtaining ameliorating remedies to counter the oncoming mayhem in my digestive tract that his brother, Uncle Russell, had taken so much pleasure in forewarning me about. I bought yoghurt in a local shop instead and by and large that's what I lived on for the next several weeks, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
On my way back to work, I was taking stock. I had the clap – and there was only one person I could have gotten it from – Deidre. That surprised me; our marriage was to put it mildly no longer loving and trusting and our sex-life had dwindled to a mercy-fuck once in a blue moon, but infidelity was not something I would have suspected Deidre of. I knew her strong views on the subject. I would never ever have thought that either of us would bring anything of that nature home to the other.
The funny thing is that I have from time to time brought home smudges of lipstick. Not on so incriminating a place as my dick I hasten to add, but even a trace on my cheek could make Deidre go ballistic. One infamous example was shortly after we were married. One Saturday I had gone to see my parents (something Deidre went to great lengths to avoid even back then) and Great Aunt Margaret was visiting. Now she is a character and something of a trial. At least I thought so then; later I came to a very different opinion and today I will defend her with my dying breath. But that is an aside I will take up later.
Anyway! Great Aunt Margaret was there. She had made it clear she thought Deidre was a sad mistake on my part, and managed to monopolise the entire conversation with that theme during lunch. On leaving, I went through a routine ordeal that I had feared and loathed all my life. It is called "Give Auntie A Nice Kiss". I left the house with a large red smudge of lipstick on my cheek. Regrettably, I was unaware of it.
That ignorance ended a few milliseconds after I was home, and for the next hour or so Deidre was yelling and screaming at me for my transgression. At no stage was I allowed to get a word in and before long she had herself worked up to a state that could hardly have been worse if she had caught me in flagrante delicto with three prostitutes of varying genders.
Just before physical violence was inflicted on my unworthy body, the phone rang. It was Mum who wanted to remind me to wipe off Great Aunt Margaret's lipstick. She had been unable to warn me at the time and Great Aunt Margaret had only just left now. Since Deidre was closest to the phone, possibly in preparation to throw it at me, or strangling me with the cord, she took the call.
At least the make-up sex was great in those days. The somewhat contrite Deidre, in a moment of post-coital bliss, reminded me that we had promised each other fidelity to the forsaking of all others. I agreed, laughingly, that I had no doubt she was serious on that point. But she needn't worry – so was I; never would anyone replace her in my affections – just as I knew she would never do that to me either. Funny thing was I actually really, as in really-really, believed that then.
But back to the day of the unpleasant diagnosis. I didn't have all that much time for my musings – getting time off to go to the doctor had not been popular, so I had to rush. And once back at work, I had to concentrate on what I was doing (or I could end up short of a hand); so there was little time for further thought.
I operate complex manufacturing machines. Or rather, I set them up for operation. I am an engineer and was employed with Theo Travis and Co a few weeks after graduating. The job wasn't great and the location in a small town in semi-rural West Yorkshire was dreadful, but jobs were sparse at the time and at least I'd get to use my education. And since it was reasonably close to my parents' home in Wakefield, they were happy.
Theo Travis & Co was still owned and run by the Travis family. Just. Roger Travis, the last male of the family, was the great-great-grandson of the founder and that was the absolutely only reason he was involved with the company, since he was notoriously stupid in matters of business and so ignorant about what the company was producing that it defies description. The actual leader of the company was his brother-in-law Gregory Haines, brother of the aforementioned Russell and Graham Haines – and of Gladys Travis, née Haines. If Gregory Haines ran Mr Travis' company for him, Gladys Travis ran his life. If you do a Google Image search on "pussy whipped West Yorkshire" you ought to get a page full of photos of the late lamented Roger. Oh, and of me, I fear.
And if you think being the son-in-law of the owner and nephew-in-law of the actual leader secured me a comfy cushioned pretend-job, you're sadly mistaken. My pay was fine until that catastrophic day, but that was earned. I had few special perks to speak of.
Anyway, with the exception of his bizarre personnel skills, Uncle Gregory was an excellent business leader. He was a visionary and foretold the need to introduce more modern technology to salvage Theo Travis & Co from going the same way as the many other companies in West Yorkshire's then dwindling, but formerly proud industrial heartland. I was part of that strategy, having specialised in advanced computer controlled automation at a time when that was new and rare, and while the initial pay was dismal, the conditions unfavourable and my treatment borderline abusive, I was given excellent opportunities to prove what I, and the technology, could do.
With absolutely nothing else to do (the town had no life beyond a boring pub), I threw myself into that task and did very well for the first year – so well that even Gregory Haines moderated the abuse (slightly) and raised my pay (even more slightly). What he didn't bank on was that I would help myself to improving my life, particularly my private life, on his account. That happened at the company Christmas party in mid-December where I fell for an absolutely gorgeous brunette hitherto unknown to me. I'd been involuntarily celibate for the whole year, so just about any pretty girl would have piqued my interest, but this girl was hot and it was lust at first sight.
Had I had my eyes more open the few times I'd been in the Director's office, I would have recognised her from a string of photographs. She was one Deidre Travis, daughter and only child (and sole heir) of the owner. She was home on Christmas holidays from her last year at Uni and bored out of her mind. I was practically the only male there younger than her uncle. I am also not outright ugly, so Deidre willingly let herself be captured by my tried-an-tired routine pick-up lines.
We spent the entire evening dancing, drinking and fooling around, and ended up more than a little drunk in my small apartment where we woke up the following morning with both physical and moral hangovers. The physical hangovers were easily explained by our immoderate consumption of Newcastle Brown the night before. The moral side was due to having leapt into bed with a complete stranger with no thought of the consequences. Neither of us had any strong recollection of what we'd been doing, although the state of Deidre's crotch left us in no doubt that we had not taken any precautions. We didn't become parents as a result of that night, but only just not. And a delay of more than a week and a half of Deidre's otherwise regular period two weeks later had a profound impact on my life.
Anyway, Deidre cleaned up and snuck out of my apartment to go home and face the music – at 21 she still went in some awe of her mother. Our farewell was hardly the stuff of romances; we were both acutely embarrassed and avoided each other's eyes and it could easily have been the end of the affair. OK, she was very easy on the eye and she'd ended up in my bed. But where's the fun in having your ashes hauled by a gorgeous girl if you can't remember any of it? Besides, the daughter of the Director? What was I thinking? With the little head, obviously. Forget it!
On that morning I was left with the distinct feeling that Deidre was more than happy to forget about it too. She didn't know me at all, she actually had a boyfriend or two back at Uni, and I had only been a distraction – and one she didn't remember much of either, although in retrospect she must have been far less drunk than me.
But our embarrassed parting was not how it ended. If Gladys Travis was a manic stubborn manipulating control-freak, Deidre was a young and beautiful manic stubborn manipulating control-freak. And she had learned from the best – Gladys. I was obviously not present in the Travis household when Deidre returned home, but the outcome of the shouting match between her and her mother was that I received an invitation, nay a guilt-edged summons, to attend New Year's Eve celebrations at Akroyd Hall; the Travis family's stately home.
Work was winding down for the Christmas break, but I was kept hard at it to prepare a new production-line that would start in early January. For that reason I spent much time with Gregory Haines. At first he was his usual stand-offish self, treating me like a lowly, if skilled, serf. But the last day before Christmas he suddenly remarked "You seem to have made a complete conquest of my niece."
That was news to me; apart from the highly surprising invitation for the New Year bash, I had heard nothing. I hadn't even seen Deidre since that fateful morning. I was about to mumble some non-committal noises when he fixed his eyes on mine and said "I like young men with initiative. I'm sure you'll go far."
My indistinct mumbles were quickly turned into a clear and respectful "Thank you Sir. I shall do my best to live up to your trust and expectations." In those days I could brown-nose with the best of them.
I spent Christmas with my parents like I've always done. There is only me, having been born as an unexpected surprise to my parents long after they'd decided that no children would ever come. Christmas was nice and relaxed; just hanging out with my parents who, while they were slowing down physically, were still completely on the ball mentally. Dad had been an engineer just like me, and Mum a school mistress but they were both long retired.
We talked about anything and everything like we always did, but I somehow failed to mention Deidre. I mean, what was there to mention that was suitable for my mother's ears? At that stage I didn't know the underlying reason for the New Year invitation – all I had was that guilt-edged printed card that'd arrived in the mail. It was only Gregory's mysterious comment that could suggest that perhaps I was marked as special. But I hadn't made that inference; for all I knew it could be that all clerical staff above a certain level was invited. What would I know? I mean, I was new to the company and heaven knows Akroyd Hall is big enough!
The day before New Year's Eve that bubble burst. Deidre rang me at work, told me she was fairly certain she was pregnant and instructed me to 1) obtain an engagement ring size C— and 2) make sure that my parents would come to the New Year's Eve do too, since that was now going to be our engagement party. Before I could recover enough from the shock to make some reply the call ended.
WTF – engagement?! Funny thing is I couldn't remember having proposed! (If I did so during our drunken couplings I definitely can't remember it.)
But as a good little boy I did what I was told. I asked Gregory for a couple of hours off since I had "a special purchase to make", and to my amazement I was sent on my way with a wink and a cheerful "Good luck." The ring I found cleaned me out completely, but I reckoned I would be under close scrutiny by Deidre's family, friends and relations, and the ring had better be good.
Having performed instruction number one to the best of my ability, I immediately continued with instruction number two when I got back to work. To say that Mum and Dad were surprised would be to put it very mildly. I somehow shied away from telling Mum that I was equally surprised; I don't think that would have gone down well. Mum wanted to know all sorts of things about my fiancée which was awkward since I didn't know myself. I kept telling her that she could have a heart-to-heart with Deidre at the party. Questions about when the wedding was going to be and where we were going to live were answered with completely truthful but evasive statements like "We haven't talked about that yet". But I assured Mum that it would be a summer wedding at the earliest since Deidre had to finish her degree. Mercifully Mum didn't ask what Deidre was studying or where; it would have been embarrassing since I didn't know the answers. And while I was aware that Deidre's possible pregnancy could have a major influence on the wedding date, I somehow didn't feel any strong urge to bring that up. There are things you don't tell your mother!
Despite my almost complete lack of knowledge about my fiancée, the conversation with Mum still went well – she was excited and happy. But I was acutely aware that I could get into deep waters quickly when I met the friends-and-relations, so with some trepidation, but with the practical approach to difficulties and obstacles that my profession is justifiably known for, I rang Deidre and requested an interview. This sounds bizarre, I'm sure, but that's essentially what happened.
OK, actually I rang the Travis residence and got to talk to the Lady of the House – Gladys at her most formidable. Putting the brown-nosing in overdrive, I thanked her profusely for the invitation both on my own and on my parents' behalf, saying we were looking very much forward to it and a lot of similar polite blether. "Very well Mr Hennessey – or I suppose I should call you George, we shall expect you and your parents tomorrow a six-thirty for seven" Gladys said and signalled the end of the conversation.
"Eh, could I possibly speak to Deidre?" I asked at the last possible moment.
There was an unpleasant pause while this unreasonable, unwelcome and apparently outright rude request was being considered. "I shall see if she is available," came the answer at last – granting my wish, but putting me in my place."
If Gladys was cold, Deidre was warm. "Hello lover," she gushed. "Did you get some nice sparkly for my finger?"
That opening put me totally at ease. It was the kind of thing I imagined a well-established couple would say to each other
"I sure did," I replied, and then added, with a nervous hesitation that was not at all difficult to mobilise, "Or at least I hope so. I don't really know your taste in engagement rings."
The bait was taken. "I guess not," she laughed – a sweet bubbly sound. "I'm not even sure I know myself."
Seizing that very opportune opening, I stated the real reason for calling. "Deidre, could we meet somewhere before the party?"
"Are you getting cold feet?" she asked with more than a hint of an edge to her voice.
"Absolutely not!" I replied – and in that statement I was completely sincere. I mean, she was an extremely tasty piece, bright enough for a university degree and wealthy and well connected to boot. What was there not to like? But first and last she was possibly pregnant with my child. Even if she'd been a real dog, I would have stood by her.
An audible sigh of relief was heard on the phone, so I continued explaining. "I've just had a surreal conversation with my mother. She is very excited and wants to know all about you. To be honest, so do I – do you know, I couldn't answer a single of her questions about my wife-to-be!"
"No I guess you couldn't," Deidre laughed. "I, on the other hand, have been pumping Uncle Gregory for information about you so I know almost all there is to know – I've even read your personnel file."
That certainly explained Gregory's conquest comment. "You have me at disadvantage My Lady," I said. "I never dared to ask Gregory about you."
"I know you didn't," Deidre replied. "He told me you hadn't. He teased me terribly that you didn't seem interested at all."
I mumbled something indistinct about not exactly being best-pals with her formidable Uncle Gregory, but Deidre just laughed and called me a silly boy.
"So," I started again
"So?" she teased.
"Can we meet for Morning coffee?" I asked.
"Happily," she chirped. "Your place as usual?"
While 'as usual' was stretching it, I readily agreed. I had planned on neutral ground like a café, but privacy is hard to find in small-town café and I anticipated a rather personal conversation, so at home was an unexpected bonus.
"Ten o'clock?" she suggested.
"Certainly M'Lady", I replied. "I'll tell the footman to admit you. I shall be home for no-one but you."
"Silly boy," Deidre laughed and ended the call.
I finished the tasks that had been neglected by my shopping expedition and long private phone calls. Luckily it didn't involve machinery; I was more than a little distracted. In about 16 hours I would have a much better idea where my life was going. To say I was nervous or anxious didn't quite describe it; I simply had no idea what to expect.
When I got home I put on Pink Floyd's 'Momentary Lapse of Reason'. The lyrics to 'One Slip' – the quasi-title song – goes something like ' ... a momentary lapse of reason that binds a life for life." That summed up the situation perfectly, didn't it? What had I gotten myself into? Who was this girl I seemingly was destined to spend my life with?
I've always been a good sleeper no matter what, so I slept well, but when I got up the unsettled feeling returned. I was ready way before ten, but didn't have to wait very long: Deidre – who I later learned was otherwise always punctual to a fault – was also much less cool about it all than she had let on and rang the doorbell more than half an hour early.
I let her in, got her coat and hung it up while she rid herself of her winter boots and fixed her hair. Not a word had yet been spoken. Not really knowing what to do, I opened my arms to her and she came flying into them. Suddenly everything fell right.
Believe it or not: I fell in love that morning.
We talked and talked and talked and talked. Around noon I think we really knew everything about each other. Deidre was quite candid about not being a virgin before our tryst (not that I expected a hot-looking 21 year old university student to be that!). She also explained that she had been stringing a couple of guys along recently, but that was totally and completely history now. One of them – who possibly thought he was in there with a chance for something more permanent, poor lad – had rung her over Christmas, but she had firmly told him it was over: Her wild days were a thing of the past; they ended now that she had me.
Being told that by the prettiest girl in the county strokes your ego, of course. I explained that I hadn't been a virgin either, but that I had no unfinished business anywhere – in fact, until that fateful Christmas party I'd been celibate for over a year.
"Poor darling," Deidre teased. "That explained the state of my panties afterwards. I swear I was leaking all day!"
"Eh, yeah, sorry about that," I faltered. "I didn't handle that too well, did I? I didn't expect to get lucky – I'm not even sure I have any condoms. But if you, you know, have been having a bit of fun, how come you're not on the pill?"
"Ah, I can hear you're used to big-city anonymity," Deidre laughed. "You try to get a prescription for contraception in a two-bit town where the only doctor is your uncle and the only pharmacist is his brother!"
Having been in excellent health so far, I hadn't noticed the surnames of said professional gentlemen, but I got the implication at once. "Ouch, yeah, I see. But isn't there a student clinic at your Uni? There was at the one I went to."
"Oh, there is," Deidre agreed, "but they tend to inform your home-GP so the prescription is on file. I couldn't have that. Besides, condoms protect you against more than merely pregnancy."
Too true. A pity she didn't think of that all those years later, but I'm getting ahead of myself again.
During the entire Q-and-A session, we'd been sitting very closely together. When we ran out of immediately urgent things to ask each other about, we started making out. Before long I had a naked Deidre sprawled over the sofa. God, she was a sight and a half – I couldn't believe my luck! My own clothing was by then reduced to a pair of grotesquely tented underwear. Deidre was tugging at them, but I stopped her by saying "Wait a mo. There's something I've got to get first".
"Silly boy," Deidre laughed, evidently misunderstanding me. "No point in shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted!"
"Oh I know that," I replied. "It's something else."
I dashed to the bedroom, picked up yesterday's purchase and returned to the living room, kneeling in front of the sofa. "Deidre Travis, my sweet companion and mother of my children to be. Will you marry me?"
"Of course I will, silly boy," Deidre replied with a sparkle in her eyes. "I told you I would, didn't I? But full marks for how you phrased the question." She opened the little box and let out an excited gasp. "And full marks for choosing such a gorgeous ring. Boy, are you going to get lucky now!"
I did. We screwed like bunnies for the next many hours and ended up showering together (not easy in my tiny bathroom) before Deidre absolutely had to hurry home to get ready for the party.
"Please don't let on to Mum that we've been, you know, intimate, today," Deidre said. I must have looked somewhat mystified. "Oh, if it turns out that I am pregnant then we'll have to change the tune," Deidre explained, "but Mum is very straight-laced. Quite the pillar of the local church. I have kind of told her that the Christmas party was completely out of character for both of us and that we would be on our absolute best behaviour until we're married."
"Sure," I agreed. "For you, anything."
I walked her to the door, kissed her again – and then took courage, "Listen," I said. "I hope you won't find it corny, or in bad taste – us having been at it all afternoon, but unlikely as it may sound, I love you."
"Silly boy," Deidre said with a glint in her eyes. "I know you do."
The New Year's Eve party was in retrospect not a success. Sure, there was much conventional congratulation and the ring was duly admired. But there was absolutely no chemistry between the families. My parents were dressed in their best and willing to be open, but they found very little common ground with my coming in-laws. Of course Deidre's parents were very much younger than them – not so much so Roger, but Gladys was and she was fairly condescending. And to my regret, Deidre and Mum didn't hit off either. Could have been some kind of mutual jealousy – Deidre jealous with Mum because she knew so much about me, Mum jealous with Deidre because she had stolen her boy. Who knows – they just never clicked.
Besides, the extended Haines clan (and there were a lot of them) was a trial. Especially Deidre's male second cousins. What a flock of Hoorah Henrys! I didn't care much for the way they were looking at, or talking to my bride-to-be. But when I voiced my unease to Deidre she just called me a silly boy.
The party got rather wild – for an avowed churchwoman, Gladys certainly let her hair down. Returning from a bathroom stop, I accidently overheard a very drunk Gladys in one of the smaller drawing rooms talking to somebody. "A pity randy old Roger only had one good shot in him leaving Deidre an only child," she slurred. "Every girl ought to have three brothers – one for each hole."
Knowing Gladys and her three brothers (the doctor and the pharmacist were there too), that statement set off some rather ugly images in my mind's eye. But I promptly forgot about it, putting it down to drink.
I shouldn't have.
I saw Deidre for lunch every day after New Year and most afternoons after work too. I was completely and totally besotted and she was in turn utterly sweet. She teased me continuously, calling me "silly boy" all the time. I took it as a term of endearment. Perhaps it was. At least most of the time.
On the eighth of January she was visibly unwell when she came to see me for lunch. "No baby this time," she said quietly when we were alone.
To my surprise, I felt disappointed. I must have looked it too. "Oh you sweet and silly boy," Deidre said, and there was real love in her eyes. "I want your babies too, but you must admit it is practical that we wait a little, isn't it?"
I nodded, but said nothing – my mind going at a hundred miles an hour. There was a longish pause where we just stood there, looking at each other; Deidre looking uncertain now. Finally we started to speak at the same time, held back, started again at the same time, and then stopped once more.
The third time I started first. "As long as you don't dump me now that you don't have to marry me," I blurted out; voicing the fear I'd suddenly been struck by.
Deidre's face changed back to her usual self-assured calm. "Silly boy," she said. "I'll never let you go."
She proceeded to lick my tonsils and didn't even look embarrassed when we were disturbed by the very loud clearing of throat signalling that Gregory had entered my tiny office. We separated and joined him for lunch. He was being quite chummy to me – at least when his niece was around. And his presence obviously precluded further discussions between Deidre and me regarding our relationship.
They say timing is everything: Whoever blinks first loses. I can't help but think that had Deidre spoken first that January day everything would have been different – the entire dynamics of our relationship would have shifted. It turns out she was just as uncertain as I was and feared just as much that I would bail out now that the immediate cause for getting engaged was gone. Not likely, of course, but had she been allowed to voice that fear so it was me reassuring her and not the other way around, then our relationship would have proceeded on a much more level footing and I'm sure we would have been together today, the happy parents of a flock of children.
As it was, I blinked first and our relationship was lopsided from the start.
Deidre returned to the final semester at Uni. She would graduate in the summer with a business degree and the plan was that she would join the company with a view to help steering its finances – as the only heir of the owner, she was to be groomed to take it over one day and she seemed happy enough with that idea.
She promised to visit often (she did too) and when she left, she whispered in my ear "Don't buy condoms in this town – my mother is certain to find out." I got the hint and took care of that little detail in Wakefield when visiting my parents. I made sure to always have good stocks when Deidre visited; we went through a lot of them in the small amount of time we had in private. We had to keep up the charade, so what usually happened was that Deidre would tell her parents she was coming to visit for the weekend arriving on Saturday midday, but in reality showing up at my place Friday night, boinking me senseless all night, and then appearing as by magic at the railway station at the agreed time. I think good old Roger had us sussed out, but he never commented. He may have been stupid in business matters, but he was a man of the world and a good sort, really.
Anyway, summer came and with that Deidre's graduation and our wedding. It was a grand affair. And somewhat unbalanced. Even when I had roped in every old Uni friend I could think of, the bride's side still vastly outnumbered the groom's: My family is pretty thin on the ground – at the time of the wedding, in addition to my parents it only included a further four people that you'd dare to let out: In the older generation were the aforementioned Great Aunt Margaret and her brother Great Uncle George after whom I'm named. They are cousins of my long gone paternal grandfather and share a rambling house in Leeds. Great Uncle George has never married. Great Aunt Margaret, long widowed, had an only daughter with serious mental issues – and through her two grandchildren whose parentage is not immediately obvious since their mother had never been in a long lasting relationship. She was now permanently committed to a mental institution (a fact that didn't endear us to Gladys – she found it almost scandalous) and the children were living with Great Aunt Margaret and Great Uncle George. The boy Brian, then aged 20, has always been exceedingly intelligent. He was studying to become a doctor (a fact that did endear us to Gladys) and as my only living male relative of similar age he was roped in as my best man – a task he undertook with gusto. (That endeared him to Roger.)
His little sister (or half-sister, one must assume) is called Ella. She was, most reluctantly, included amongst Deidre's countless attending women as a flower girl. At almost 13 years of age, she was arguably too old for that role. Ella was, to put it mildly, not a gracious looking child – she was, to quote my fiancée, "a blob of lard". Deidre sneered that the fat was the only reason for discernible tits – in fact, Deidre went so out of her way to be unpleasant to poor Ella that I remarked on it. I had otherwise never really noticed the girl – her being so much younger than me. As it turns out, that disinterest was NOT reciprocated. Far from it. That could explain Deidre's reaction to Ella – sensing a "rival", no matter how unlikely, triggered her extreme jealousy.
The "tug of war" between Mum and Deidre also continued, Deidre emerging victorious of course, but dignified it was not. These little flies in the ointment aside, the wedding was roaring good fun. Roger and Gladys had gone all out for the only daughter's wedding and you'd be hard pressed not to have a good time. I certainly did, and so did my Uni mates, three of whom ended up in long-lasting relationships with the more delectable of Deidre's attending women.
And the bride herself? She was gorgeous beyond description and everything went like clockwork. No tardiness here; she was at the door on the spot, walking up the aisle on her justifiably proud father's arm in perfect sync to the music and made her wows in a loud and clear voice.
If only she had kept them.
We had an ultra-romantic honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands "living on love, spring water and oat-cakes" and returned happy and very much in love to our new house, new jobs (Deidre joined the company and I was given extended responsibilities) and every expectation of a long and happy married life.
At least that's how I saw things through rose-tinted glasses. There could also be another reading of the facts.
"You don't marry your in-laws", someone once said. In my case, a less true word was never spoken. Everything, as in everything in my life was in the hands of my in-laws: My wife (obviously), my job, my car (a company car), our house, everything was controlled by the Haines clan. I was owned outright. I was caged. It might have been a golden cage at first, but a cage nonetheless.
It took me a couple of years to work it out. I was young and naïve and, curiously, I was deeply in love with Deidre. My relationship with my parents suffered greatly. That is one of my deep and lasting regrets; Deidre and her family thought nothing of them and in my controlled and blinkered existence I didn't keep in touch. Mum died all of a sudden; it turns out she had an undiagnosed cancer. Dad followed her a few months later. The cause of death was vague; in layman's terms he died of a broken heart. From a medical point of view there is no such thing, but that's what it was.
Deidre and her family treated these events with cold indifference.
The passing of my parents – and especially my mother's dying comment that she regretted never becoming a grandmother – made me start wondering, what was happening in my life. Ostensibly Deidre and I had gotten together because we thought we were going to be parents. When Deidre miscarried, she had reiterated her desire for babies. But now children seemed to be right off the agenda – she had gone on the pill a month before our wedding and had no intention of dropping them again. Deidre was thriving in, and excelling at, her job and she made it clear she had no interest, at least in the short term, in breaking off her promising career.
I didn't put my foot down (and I mean, you have to agree to such things, don't you?), nor even voice my desires forcefully, but it was my first gentle wake-up call that all was not right.
If the slight disagreement over when to start our own family was a gentle call, what really should have woken me up completely was a sinister development that began towards the end of our third year of married life not long after my Dad had died. Deidre started to go to Haines "family retreats" – typically over long weekends and often taking place at the country homes of the more affluent second cousins.
I was not invited, and my presence clearly not desired. Usually the only people left behind were me, Roger and Gregory's wife Diana (the other brothers were bachelors). We were (individually, of course) told that these retreats were "just not our thing" and that we should be happy to be let off the hook. At least that's what I discovered both Diana and I were told when we eventually swapped notes; I never got to ask Roger.
After the first few "retreats" Deidre was unsettled for a couple of days – and very loving, wearing me out in bed, but gradually that effect wore off to be replaced by different, ill-boding changes to our relationship.
In retrospect I should have smelled a rat, but I didn't. In a nutshell, I was incapable of comprehending what took place during those weekends. Even to this day I find it difficult to come to terms with the depravity.
So I didn't directly suspect anything, but there were plenty of warning signs – chiefly the change in Deidre's demeanour. Sex was becoming infrequent, while her contempt of me – even openly at work – frequent.
To be honest, I don't think she ever respected me. I'm sure she really loved me unconditionally in the beginning, but it didn't last and I was too besotted to notice.
For the next several years I led a humdrum existence. I was not happy, but I was too coved to realise it and I didn't do anything about it. The pretty vivacious girl I had married was still beautiful, but the love that I'd always imagined flowing my way had dried up. Of sex there was little, and in bitter retrospect I can see it only happened when there hadn't been a "family retreat" for a long time. She was also slightly less abusive of me – in private and in public – at those times, but after each weekend away she got colder and colder.