Speakers’ Corner – Alabaster

Alabaster is the gift to be exchanged on a thirty-seventh wedding anniversary.  That seems appropriate as that was the silky-smooth complexion I remember when Sue walked past me in the Students’ Union all those years ago– 1982, to be exact.  She glided like a model, wearing a large grey coat and a purple turtleneck sweater, and flicked her auburn hair like the Timotei adverts.  It was as if time stood still – I know this is clichéd rubbish – but that image is still vivid.  I was trying to act cool by playing pool with my friends.  Oh, the delusion of youth.  Sue didn’t acknowledge any of the gathered throng hustling at the pool table, but as she left the room, she glanced in my direction with her brown eyes, and I was smitten.  At least, that’s the version I remember; Sue says she noticed me one night in the Union bar when I rugby tackled a man with a tray of beers.  Embarrassingly, she thought that guy in the duffle coat, yes, the duffle coat, seemed funny.

            Things moved fast, and we moved into a flat together within a month.  I recall leaning on the wall next to the payphone in the flat and watching her explain to her bemused parents in Cheshire that she’d met a Scotsman.  I witnessed the silence on the other end of the phone; it was deafening.  The conversations with my parents were different.  Mum just shrugged and moved on, and my dad was dad.

            ‘I met a girl called Sue, and we’ve moved in together,’ I said down a crackling line.

            ‘Aha,’ his standard response, as he bought time, preparing for the inevitable request for money or some favour.

            ‘Yes,’ I added breathlessly, ‘we’ve got the top flat of a large house in Palmer’s Green.’

            Aha,’ he paused, ‘I see.’

            His silence forced me to ramble on,’ she’s English,’ I blurted out.

            ‘I’m sure we won’t hold that against her. ‘

            ‘She’s beautiful.’


            I was losing him, his Presbyterian morals pretending to be offended.

‘I’m paying £35 a week, and Sue was paying £28; it seemed such a waste of money.  You know how expensive it’s in London,’ I replied, searching for common ground.  There was further silence.

‘Saving yourselves £28 a week?  Sounds good,’ he mulled, there was another break, but

I could see his smile cracking.

‘That’s wonderful news,’ he added. ‘when will we meet this sassenach Sue then?’

            The partnership had begun, and we married on the 25th of July 1986, in a small village church in Stoak, outside Chester.  I’ll avoid the old parole jokes; that’s nearly three life sentences.  Our marriage has not been something to endure.  That’s my opinion, Sue may have a different view, but that’s the point: We’ve different perspectives on politics, life, how to bring up kids, the best way to wash the dishes, and what determines when grilled bacon is ready.  I’ve such bad OCD that I have an order and method of cleaning the dishes; I’m afraid my Six Sigma lean manufacturing approach doesn’t bode well with Sue.  I know I’m a challenge to live with; I often recognise the knowing looks Sue receives when I’m the topic of conversations.  The whispered asides, ‘she’s a saint; how does she put up with that man?’ and those sympathetic nods have me nodding in agreement. 

Our relationship can be defined by an advert and a film.  The avert is for the Prudential pension broadcast in the early 1990s, where a couple faces the camera, and the man says, ‘we want to be together.’  The wife’s expression says something different.  Similarly, in the movie around the same period, War of the Roses, starring Kathleen Turner and Micheal Douglas. It’s a comedy about the breakdown of a marriage and the lengths both partners will go to end it.  Throughout the film, there is this niggling twist that they may still love each other, and the viewer is glued to the chance that they might see them reconcile.  However, they fight and destroy their house.  In the final scene, they both fall from a great height from a glass chandelier.  They appear dead, but Douglas wakes first and flops a hand on Turner as they lay prone. The camera zooms in on Turner’s hand as she moves it towards Douglas.  It’s as if they have had to destroy everything before they can recognise their love.  Except, Turner picks up his hand and throws it off her with disdain.  Cue for the titles to roll.

You see, Sue’s nice, me well. Or phrased another way, she’s the Ying to my Yang.  And maybe that’s the secret.  It’s said that opposites attract, so perhaps that is the secret of our longevity. We’ve continued to be friends through ups and downs, our disagreements transitory, not our love.  We have been through much: three wonderful children, nine boxer dogs, and soon-to-be grandparents.  I’ve no answer to why it’s worked, just thankful it has.  As to what Sue thinks of our thirty-seventh wedding anniversary, you’d have to ask her.  And that’s just the way we like it. 

All I can say with certainty, she still can take my breath away with a joke, a glance, a smile, or a touch of her alabaster skin.