Late one chilly but sunny afternoon on the 14th of May 1992, 29 years ago, I sat at a pub table beside the River Thames in Windsor. It’s now an ultra-posh gastro-pub called The Boatman, but it was then called The Donkey House, having once been a stable for the donkeys that plodded the towpath, pulling barges along the river. A fairly basic place full of slightly sinister young men in dark suits, ‘security’ and off-duty policemen.
Nowadays it is, according to their website, “Windsor’s only pub on the river… nestled below Windsor Castle beside the River Thames and overlooking Eton Bridge. It is just a short stroll from the Queen Victoria Statue and the Changing of the Guards at Windsor Castle and is not far from the footpaths and walks around Eton.”
All of which contains a fair bit of poetic licence, but we’ll let that pass.
Where now sits an enclosed ‘riverside terrace’ was then an area of tarmac with high tables and barstools. This particular breezy spring afternoon was chilly, and, as usual, I was early. I sat shivering, not entirely with nerves.
I hadn’t seen a picture of my date, so I only had his somewhat enigmatic description to go on. We had come across each other via Teletext, that odd technology that transmits pages of crude pixelated text via the unused lines of a television picture. Some of the pages were contact ads – and he had replied to mine. All our ‘conversations’ had been via this rather stilted medium.
This, remember, is in the days before the internet, when mobile phones were rare objects the size and weight of house-bricks. And nearly as expensive as the house.
I had asked him what he looked like. I had specified that, among other things, I liked shortish men, with ‘good legs’, like soccer or rugger players. He felt he qualified. As to his overall appearance:
“Down South,” he wrote, meaning back in his home country of the USA, “they take me for a Mexican. But in Alaska they think I’m Inuit.”
The sun began to go down, the breeze picked up, and I got chillier. The appointed hour approached. I’d positioned myself so that I could see everyone walking through from the carpark. Was that him? No, too tall, and besides, not that unusual in appearance. How about this one? Right height, but not enough heft. Had I been stood up, I wondered?
Nope, this is the one: brown leather aviator jacket with sheepskin collar, aviator sunglasses, chambray shirt, button-fly Levi’s, and ‘Weejuns’. And no socks. He was in fact dressed exactly as my previous (Italian-American) lover had dressed.
In case you’re wondering, ‘Weejuns’ is short for ‘Norwegians’, and refers to a particular style of brown leather loafer/moccasin/deck shoe. See above.
He told me something about himself. How his appearance came from his blend of Japanese, Chinese, Caucasian and Hawaiian ancestry – if you ever come to Hawaii you’ll see lots of guys like me, he said.
He was right. I almost lost him the first time we arrived at Honolulu airport, when he dashed off, with cries of delight, to buy us a couple of spam musubi. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
He suggested dinner at “this little Italian restaurant” just across the bridge in Eton. This is going well, I thought. It turned out to be the sort of discreetly expensive place where the parents of boys up at Eton might go for dinner: white tablecloths, dark-suited waiters, heavy drapes, dark panelling, chairs as well-upholstered as the patrons.
Dinner got off to a great start when he asked if I minded if he ordered liver.
“Mind?” I said. “Why should I mind? I love liver.”
Apparently this was a test, which I passed, because he warmed up after that, and dinner went well. We talked a lot more, and I guess we must have been a bit exuberant and unguarded. I became aware of some of the other diners looking over their metaphorical pince-nez at us.
I asked the waiter for direction to the Gents – and found myself at the door to the Ladies. Very funny, Giovanni – no tip for you tonight!
We walked back to the carpark along the river, tiptoeing through sleeping swans. He shyly asked me if I wanted to come back to his place for a cup of tea. I said I had to get home and feed the cats. He told me he was off overseas on a business trip the next day.
“How long will you be gone?”
“About a fortnight.”
“Well, call me when you get back: here’s my number.”
He renewed the offer of tea: I again declined. I’d been on so many of these sort of dates before that I had developed a rule: no intimacy on the first date. I didn’t say that outright, of course.
We parted amicably, And I drove out of Windsor through what seemed like endless troops of cavalry – they were setting up some sort of event for the next day.
Two weeks later the phone rang.
“Hi, I’m at the airport, can I come to your place?”
He never left.
Happy 29th Anniversary darling: and happy fourth wedding anniversary for tomorrow.