Monday, March 24, 2008

With One Word I Was Married

I could never live in New York. It’s a great place to stay for a few days (or, as we did last week, for a few hours on our way home from LA), but the extremes of temperature would soon drive me into airconditioned madness. The winters are freezing and the summers are like a permanent steambath.

Joanna and I weren’t exactly prepared for the icy blasts down 5th Avenue. We only had clothes for 75-degree California, so we looked incongruous dressed in layers of t-shirts while everyone else wore overcoats.

My first trip to New York was a result of young love. In my first year at university I'd fallen for a girl called Mary and, having pledged eternal devotion, my world fell apart when she won a scholarship for a year at a New York university. Mary-less, I pined for about six months until my mother, despairing of all my moping, lent me some money to fly over and spend the summer vacation with my beloved in New York.

So, with clean socks and underwear, I set off promising my worried mother to contact her as soon as I arrived.

New York in June was in the nineties, both in temperature and humidity. It was pouring with hot rain and the moment I stepped off the plane I was bathed in a thick mask of perspiration. Mary was sharing an apartment on the Upper East Side with a neurotic actress, three cats and no airconditioning. It was hell, but somehow through the jetlag, despite the sweaty nights in a single bed, we seemed to be getting on OK.

So I dutifully sent my mother a telegram (it was 1972, well before the days of International Subscriber Trunk Dialling or the fax machine). Mum had given me strict instructions to report three key facts: Had I arrived? Where was I off to? and How were things with Mary? The trouble was, telegrams were charged by the word, and I could only afford twelve.

It took me two and a half hours to squeeze the facts into the limit, and I even managed to include a reference to the weather. Triumphantly I telephoned the result through to Western Union:


It wasn't until I returned to England two months later that I discovered the havoc my telegram had wreaked back home. Western Union had only got one word wrong, but it almost gave my mother a coronary:


She was devastated. I was her only son, and now I had married without even telling or inviting her. And we were off on honeymoon to Florida. Nevertheless, to Mum’s eternal credit, she went to St Nicholas’s Cathedral to light a candle for our future happiness.

The next time she heard from me was a month later. I sent a postcard from San Francisco saying I had run out of funds and was living on MacDonalds. By then I was marching behind Jane Fonda in support of McGovern against the evil Nixon. He lost by a landslide. But we were young, idealistic: and, in those days, very thin.

Speaking of which, I offer you all an apology. In my New Year’s Day blog, I swore I would lose 21 lbs by Easter. Of course I hadn’t reckoned on Easter being so absurdly early. Well, that’s my excuse and, yes, I failed. My cause wasn’t helped by the last three weeks in LA. My mother brought me up to eat everything on my plate, which is a really bad idea in the land of the giant portion.

On Easter Day I confess I was just 10 lbs lighter, and I have a feeling that Keith Hann, who took the challenge with me, will be gloating in his column tomorrow. My cheque book awaits the bad news.

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