When Harry Met Sally is one of my favourite films. It has an incredibly witty script and great performances from Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, playing Sally Allbright and Harry Burns. When I watched this film in the year of its release, 1989, I had no idea that my life would pan out in a similar way, but with a slightly sadder ending.
In 1988, at the age of 16, I attended a Kate Bush fan gathering at Haworth, West Yorkshire, home of the Bronte sisters. Kate Bush was (and still is) an English songwriter and musician who had a number one hit in 1978 with Wuthering Heights, a song inspired by the work of Emily Bronte, which is why this particular fan gathering took place at Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse on the bleak Yorkshire moors.
It was on November the 5th that we met and a small handful of roughly 20 fans, from all parts of the country, gathered together on that cold afternoon.
I made a few friends there, namely Neil Davison and Alan Patterson (if you stumble upon this blog post guys, get in touch. It’s been a long time…), and I also met the editors of the Kate Bush fanzine called ‘Homeground’ which was popular at the time. Unbeknownst to me (Unbeknownst – a great word, innit?) there was also a couple there – Pami and Paul Gill – though I never got around to speaking to them.
The next year, sometime in the spring of 1989, I attended another Kate Bush fan meeting. This time it was at the flat of Paul Gardener in Manchester. Again, Pami and Paul Gill were amongst the guests there on that evening and it was Paul that I got talking to first. Paul Gill was an art teacher in a comprehensive school in Chester at the time, and ten years older than myself. We got talking and it turned out we had a mutual love of the same films and also both played guitar. At some point Pami joined us too and entered the conversation. She struck me then as a very beautiful lady, gothic in appearance, with jet black hair and a black crushed velvet dress. They left later that evening, but not before Paul had given me their address and said “drop us a letter”.
I stayed that night in Paul Gardener’s flat, along with ten or twelve other Kate fans. All of us snuggled in our sleeping bags, strewn across the living room, hallway and bedroom. They were great days and I have such great memories of those more carefree times. Paul Gardener sadly passed away from cancer some years ago. I had lost touch with him in the early nineties and was saddened to hear of his death. I wish I had known him more.
I wrote to Paul Gill but it was Pami who replied. Paul, she said, always enjoyed receiving my letters, but was a poor letter writer. It was always Pami who wrote to me. I had a number of pen-friends back then and would dedicate an awful lot of time throughout each week, composing and writing letters. In these days of email and the internet, handwritten letters from friends are rare, which is a shame as I remember it being one of the most enjoyable things – waiting for the postman each morning to see if a letter from a pen-pal would be pushed through the door.
I had an invitation to visit them at their home in Chester, so visit them I did. It was a wonderful weekend. Paul was a kind and generous man, maybe a bit ‘teacherly’ and parental at times, but his heart was in the right place. He was artistic yet practical. Pami was a strange but alluring mixture. Although outwardly, she could appear quite gothic, her ideas and beliefs were very hippyish. She loved fairies, ghosts, the supernatural, Laurel & Hardy, Monty Python, the myths of Glastonbury, Kate Bush (of course) and many other things that intrigued me.
Later that year I visited them again, along with Krystyna and Peter Fitzgerald-Morris, the editors of Homeground magazine. On that particular weekend we visited Pendle Hill in Lancashire, famous for the ‘Pendle Witch Trials’ that took place in 1612. It was a rainy day and the four of us spent a few hours hiking to the top of that hill, barely able to see more than ten feet in front of us due to the dense fog that increased the higher we got. I remember resting at one point and being able to sit next to Pami, on a large flat stone. I had no confidence with women at that point in my life. At 18, I could barely say hello to a girl without laughing to hide my acute embarrassment. Pami, being ten years older, made me feel comfortable. I could talk to her and I enjoyed her company a lot.
The years passed by. Letters came and went. I lived in Cwmbran, South Wales and Pami and Paul lived in Chester. Most of my Kate Bush friends lived far from me and I was only on the Youth Training Scheme allowance of £27 a week at the time, so didn’t get the chance to visit my friends that often.
Their friendship with the Fitzgeralds turned into something more. I visited them one weekend and Paul and I were at a pub alone, when suddenly he asked me what I thought of ‘swinging’.
“Well, I’ve always preferred the slide,” I said, which was true. “But if you can get on a really cool roundabout, then that can be so much fun.”
Paul patiently explained to me that swinging wasn’t about slides, swings, roundabouts or those little painted horses on springs that rock back and fore. He told me that he and Pami were now happily involved in an ‘open’ relationship with Krys and Peter. I felt a strange mixture of emotions at this revelation. A part of me was slightly jealous as it seemed to follow the bohemian way of life – that ‘hippy ideal’ – that I had romanticised for so long. But to paraphrase a Woody Allen quote from ‘Manhattan’ – I had romanticised that sort of life out of all proportion.
Paul continued talking and I half listened, but my mind was elsewhere. Things had changed.
I went to college for a few years. I forgot my old Kate Bush fan friends for a few years. I became a full time carer for my grandmother for a few years. She passed away in 1998. I got a job, met a girl, settled down and married. I was living the dream (or was I living the Cat Stevens song? I’m not sure now). It was 2001 and I was now 27. My friendships with a lot of the Kate Bush crowd had waxed and waned though there were a few constants.
“Just before our love got lost you said
‘I am as constant as the northern star’….” – Joni Mitchell ‘A Case Of You’
Pami and Paul were a constant and I renewed contact with them again in the summer of 2007 and once again, began visiting them several times a year. They had by this time moved to Calne, Wiltshire and also, by this time, Pami had given birth to two children, Jake and Emily. Their days of swinging had long since passed. Pami was eager to tell me that on my first visit to them in their new home, and they seemed to have settled down into a comfortable (from the outside) middle-aged lifestyle. By this time they were both in their late 40s and I was in my mid thirties. I was no longer the insecure, gawky, naive teenager they had first met on the moors over twenty years ago. I was now a tall, gawky adult, confident, inquisitive and creative.
Pami introduced me to Facebook and a curious thing began to happen. The little messages and posts we began to send each other, began to matter more and more to me. Her comments to my posts were waited for with baited breath. Pictures she posted to my wall made me beam and I treasured the little pm’s we would share. I began to realise I was very attracted to her and, from the messages I was receiving from Pami, my hunch was that this was a mutual attraction.
In the summer of 2008 a Kate Bush fan gathering was arranged at Glastonbury Tor, and Pami and Paul invited me to their home in Calne on that weekend, where on the Saturday we would go to Glastonbury together to meet up with other Kate Bush fans.
I looked forward to that weekend a lot and I had a strange feeling that if Pami and I had an opportunity to be alone together, something good was going to happen…
TO BE CONTINUED…