Whither Romance?

London Newspaper Group — CN/WPN 30-05-1980

Long Look

By Christopher Long

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So, once again, Spring is in the air. Sparrow flirts with sparrow and the pigeons are chatting each other up. Enter romance - and we, that gallant band of young, single and lusty males, are once more lightly turning our fancies to love.

How could we not?

Just like those macho pigeons, we swell our chests, display our vigour and watch our females pottering around in dotty delight doing their best not to notice our attentions.

The sun shines. Warm breezes sway the trees. We sit amid the daffodils and smell of cut grass and we marvel.

... except that some of us aren't quite as young as we were and we tend to forget what we're supposed to do. Having elevated us into the upper echelons of the animal kingdom, Mother Nature has unfortunately forgotten to endow some of us with that instinctive know-how and technique that she so liberally dishes out to the sparrows and pigeons of this world each spring.

So when Spring appeared in Chelsea, I felt I needed a refresher course in romance, which is why I found myself soaking up the sun on a bench in Cheyne Walk, reading the only book I had which seemed likely to offer any hints on the subject. It was one of those rather lurid, romantic novelettes that seem so popular with many of our women folk.

A dark tragic beauty stared hauntingly at me from the cover, while a strong, stern man with that big game-hunter-look-of-the-lonely-life-in-the-wide-open-spaces-that-has-no-room-for-a-lady stared evenly into the distance.

I was about to be baptised. Like drinking one's first pint, smoking one's first cigarette or using a stand-up urinal for the first time, this was a significant moment. I was about to read my first trashy romance.

Chapter One got off to a spanking pace. The hero and heroine saw each other. This naturally led on to Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5, during which our heroine analysed her feelings, discussed her anatomy, stripped bare her soul and dwelt at length on every detail of that first look at each other, before, during and after.

Putting the book down, I chose this as a suitable moment to exchange a meaning look with a sylph-like goddess who was sitting on the next park bench.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" (or perhaps, "What the hell do you think I am?") her blank stare at me seemed to be saying.

Was I dismayed?

No. I took courage from a less than wholly loveable pigeon with a deformed foot who happened to be passing by and seemed to be having a similar problem with a rather flighty collar-dove, but who was persevering nevertheless.

In Chapter Six hero spoke to heroine. This led to a great deal of yes-ing, really-ing, perhaps-ing and no-ing on her part, until he made his exit and she was at last able to confide a wealth of stirred emotions, pangs of passion, familiar flutterings and longings deep within her, as well as doubts, guilts, uncertainties and fears.

This took us to Chapter 11.

I should perhaps have looked to see if the goddess on the next bench was showing any of these symptoms, but by this time I was deep into an action-packed Chapter Twelve where she discovers a fatal flaw in his character that convinces her of her love for him and shows him that he is but an empty shell and lost without her love and understanding.

He needs her even more than he needed that one remaining bullet that felled a charging bull-elephant and saved his life out there on the Serengeti Plain.

Fatal flaws! I had fatal flaws, didn't I? Fatal flaws were my stock-in-trade. Which fatal flaw would my goddess find most heart-rending?

Hard to say, I thought, as I watched her grind three quarters of a king-size filter-tip into the tarmac beneath her delicately moulded foot.

I caught her eye and smiled.

She looked at me.

Then she looked through me. Then, with studied indifference, she looked back over her other shoulder to see, out of sheer boredom, just who it might be that I was smiling at.

What would our hero have done, I wondered.

("Shot her with his last remaining bullet," said a small, unromantic devil within me.)

Probably nothing, I decided.

Indeed, during Chapters 13, 14, 15 and 16, he seemed to be doing mighty little and saying still less - which seemed odd considering how well he was doing.

Only a bit-part actor would have condescended to play this role, I'd already decided. Nevertheless, he succeeded in inflaming our heroine's passion with his muscular jaw, his sinewy limbs, his animal warmth and his clear, penetrating eyes.

Eyes, I should add, which had seen things she could only guess at.

By this stage hero and heroine were practically bivouacking and Chapter 17 seemed fated to be the scene of their first long-awaited 'union'.

I felt that the goddess and I had quite a lot of catching up to do.

But by this stage, the long shadows were dimming as the sun set behind World's End towers, while the house-boats were getting up off their bottoms on the surging flood tide, preparatory to a night of nudgings and canoodlings over the Embankment wall, and already peering into the less-than-enchanted garden I shared with the goddess.

I got up to go, closed my book, stretched my legs and collected my belongings. My faithful dog was watching me from the car awaiting my return. Perhaps he and I shared more than we thought with our hero. Perhaps we too were destined for a lonely life on the Serengeti plain where there's no room for a lady and men see things that a woman can only guess at.

If so, we were about to be joined by the less than wholly loveable pigeon whose fatal flaw was making his chances of success with the object of his desire less and less likely by the minute.

So, with a wordless glance I took a last look at the goddess.

And would you believe it, I swear she must have been just about reaching Chapter 17 of a book almost identical to mine. Different hero and heroine, of course, but really, I thought as I headed for the Serengeti, Romance being what it is, her story couldn't have been much different from mine.

Ah well, as I stare out into the distance with my even gaze, at least I have the comfort of knowing there's always that last remaining bullet in my pocket.

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© (1980) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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