Some years ago I was in Oxford with Peter. He must have had an appointment somewhere because I was alone for a few hours enjoying a book-buying spree in the city centre. While sauntering along minding my own business I saw three people strolling toward me, a man and two women. Age hard to guess, but he looked to be in his thirties or early forties, and one of the women was older, though not so that you’d notice. The three were arm in arm, him in the middle, and they were laughing and clearly enjoying themselves. They were beautifully dressed, the man in one of those generously cut heavy woollen overcoats that cost as much as a small car, the women in understated shirtwaist dresses under long, swinging cardigans. A smattering of discreet jewellery. Fantastic, glossy hair, all three of them. Definitely not British. I think I heard Italian as they passed, but my heart was drumming in my ears and so everything sounded as if I were underwater.
I stood transfixed, turning to watch them, book-filled carrier bags around my feet. He was half a head taller than his companions. They looked as though they owned the day. Magnificent. His beauty was heartstopping.
I followed them. Oh, not for very long – I’m not a stalker – but I just wanted to drink in more. Hurtling down a side street I managed to loop round and get ahead of them, and by dint of pretending that I was waiting for someone – I even checked my watch to appear more convincing – I stood where I could get a better look.
The subterfuge was unnecessary. They were absorbed in the moment and in each other. I could have been in a Mickey Mouse costume and they wouldn’t have noticed. Looking at his broad back as he and his companions disappeared into the Oxford crowds I thought faintly, where the fuck do you go to get that hair, that skin, those teeth, that mesmerisingly deep voice, height, physical ease and presence? I felt like a hamster watching a puma walk past.
His face has never left me, etched sharply by whatever chemistry surged through my brain at the sight of him. Here he is, at the top of this post, reinvented as Bertilak de Hautdesert.