It was the spring of 1982, I was nineteen and remember how I felt walking through the city to work in the mornings. I felt free. Excited to be living alone. Relieved at finally leaving Silverhip. I'd tried for two and half years to be good. Most of the time, I'd tried. I would never be the type of girl who was suited to him and I was pleased I'd finally admitted that. Not half as pleased as his Father was.
I bought some bronze court shoes, bleached drainpipe jeans and a green cropped jacket with three quarter length sleeves. I decided I did like huge silver loop earrings and heels and lipstick and all manner of things that Silverhip and his friends considered tacky. Well fuck you lot in your desert boots and flares with your old man beards and corduroy jackets. It made me smile to think they might drive past and not recognise me. I liked the sound of those heels on the pavement and how they made me walk tall.
Higgins would drive over most evenings. I only had to call him from work just as I was leaving and by the time I was half way along my home street, the sound of the Triumph Spitfire engine catching up with me would make my heart race and my hips swing. There was no way he would drive past and not recognise me. That made me smile too.
I'd never heard the word alcoholic. I knew some folk drank and others didn't. I knew some folk drank more than others. Too much. I didn't know about any sort of addiction. I'd taken every drug on offer in Oxford, where after realising my aunty's house was not the place to be, I'd latched on to a much older group of hippies. I joined in with their LSD trips, their magic mushroom tea parties, their trips to Stonehenge and Glastonbury in the summer of '79 where I discovered the delights of dancing wild and free to Steve Hillage, Gong and Roy Harper. I smoked endless chillums, bongs and pipes with them. I knew some of them injected some sort of drug but I couldn't imagine why. I couldn't fathom how anything could take you further away from reality than LSD, whether it was a on a square piece of paper, in a pill, a pipe, or a needle. And of course, I never asked. I just took whatever I was offered like a grateful stray cat, I was never offered a needle. I thought they did it all for fun. I had no idea anyone needed to do it. Least of all me.
So I thought nothing of Higgins drinking a bottle of wine or two during his nightly visits. I smoked my joints and he would have the odd toke. He drank his wine and I would have the odd swig. He had so many stories to tell. Of course he did, he was forty nine . . . and I was nineteen. He'd travelled the world and knew famous people. I'd never heard of most of these people, which both irritated and intrigued him. Where had I been for nineteen years. Where indeed? He'd been very close to fame himself in the early sixties, but the death of the General, had left him with way too much money. He needed drink more than money, or fame.
I wasn't aware, at this point, of him being wealthy. Of course I knew his family were, but he didn't appear to be part of his family and it was of no interest to me. Maybe he wanted to be sure that I wanted him, not his money. For richer or poorer. Or maybe not.
"Twiddlestick, let's go to Spain. I have to find a property there for "The Old Thing" (his Mother) . . . We could live there some of the time . . . and travel some of the time. O come on Twiddle, let's leave this ghastly grey island and find some sun . . . find some fun!"
"What would we do there? What about work . . . money? The language? How would we live?"
"You are funny Eliza with your worried little face . . . Come here, let me tell you sweetness that there are far better ways of making money than sitting in that God forsaken office of yours for eight hours a day"
"Really, without speaking the language?" For some reason this made him roar with laughter.
"O Eliza!" tears streaming down his face by now, ever the thespian. I had no idea what was so funny but I was stoned so I laughed along, mainly at his eyebrows, until he composed himself.
"Dearest Twiddle you're nineteen, you're desirable and you're a raving nymphomaniac, I'm forty-nine, nigh on bloody impotent, but not without my needs . . .
Well, yes that hadn't escaped me. He was certainly lacking in that area. I'd imagined it was down to being upper class, public school and all that. Hidden tendencies. I had no idea it might be to do with alcohol. Who knows, whatever the cause, it didn't bother me in the slightest. He could satisfy my mind. He knew where I was coming from and where I needed to go. And he could take me right there, anytime and every time. I'd never found this much pleasure before and I wasn't about to let it go. We needed each other.
He poured another one, I rolled another one.
"I have many connections. Beautiful Spanish Toreros" he said, a little too longingly. Yes, of course he was on his feet by now, extending his imaginary cape, head held high and tilted in true matador style, shuffling backwards. Damn sofa. My turn to laugh.
"Little one, these men have women falling at their feet. They are Spanish legends. They are proud men and lead very private lives . . . They pay high for discretion" he then said something salacious in Spanish which I didn't understand but I got the gist.
"The universal language d'amour, ma petite, you are fluent in that . . . O yes"
"Tell me you will put in a passport application, tomorrow! . . . We'll go for a week, just a holiday, See what you think of Espana. You will love it. The Flamenco, the heat, the passion . . . Either way I have to go as "The old thing" is intent on buying an apartment there . . . You must come Eliza. Heaven forbid that I leave you here alone, to your own devices"
"Twi-ddle-stick, hmmm?" A little more wine and persuasion followed. A little more proof that we could not be without each other.
"How do I apply for a passport?"
"O Eliza, we will have such fun, really . . . We will"