This is the story of a young(ish) couple who inadvertently flew too near the sun. James and Penny are fictional, but the events that are told here did happen, and many of the words used come directly from James’ diaries or from my conversations with them.
A couple of summers ago I met James and Penny for the first time. James was about 26 at that point, Penny a couple of years younger. They had been together about 5 or 6 years by this time. They were very much in love, but not in a way that made me feel envious or nauseas, which are two of my most common reactions to ‘young love’. They were just as comfortable in each other’s company as a couple of old shoes (I heard that in a bad film once, the name of the film escapes me, but I like the sentiment). They had met through a mutual friend, while James had been at university in London. I remember James telling me this funny story from years earlier, he had just quit school with almost no qualifications, and his Dad had not been too impressed, this being his only son, however, his fatherly concern was received by James as a simple lack of understanding, it represented command and authority, and at that time James did not have much time for either. Anyway, they had been arguing a while when his Dad, in sheer frustration, had said ‘If you don’t go to university how can you expect to find a wife’. Years later, James would notice these little turning points in arguments with Penny, where it stops being an argument because the other person has said something that you both immediately find ridiculous, and are unable to hide it. However, on this occasion it was only James who found this comment ridiculous – not least because he was then struggling somewhat with his sexuality, and wasn’t sure if he was ‘in the vagina business’ at all, and far far less sure of ever ‘finding a wife’ – thus, he hid his mirth and left the room. Six years later he found himself both at university and falling in love-at-first-sight with a girl, Penny, and his father’s words revisited him and he was able to smile at them again.
It often seems that life is considerably easier for some people than others. I do not necessarily mean in the material sense, clearly it is much easier in many respects for the ‘haves’ to get by easier than the ‘have nots’, and we are constantly visited by chilling reminders of the consequences of having not. In actual fact I am a have, and James and Penny are haves. Thus perhaps I can only speak as such. Perhaps my entire evaluation of having it easy or not having it easy is completely limited by my position as a have. Perhaps I can only speak for other haves, perhaps I cannot even do this. Nevertheless, I shall say that I often find myself thinking that other haves have it easier than I do. I think many of us think like this. The grass is always greener, and there is no warmer place of solitude than self pity. However, I also felt it about James and Penny. Not because they moaned or complained or told great stories of their misfortune, it was much less easily attributed than this, it was just a sense that they had a bit of a struggle on their hands. In actual fact this feeling rather jarred with their carefree manner. On reflection perhaps this manner was a response to the struggle. Anyway, I felt it then and I feel it now. Though now the actual misfortune is more clearly writ for me.
James had proposed to Penny about six months before I met them both. He had done so while on holiday in the far east, and they had a nice endearing story to go with it about how it had been their last day, and Penny had been feeling crappy, and they had just been hanging around in this noisy smelly city waiting for their transfer, and how they had gone for a walk, not for any other purpose than to relieve the boredom, and had somehow come away with an engagement ring. They were not sure at this time when they would get married, though Penny was not keen on the idea of a long engagement, but by her own admission, she had never really been that keen on the idea of marriage either. That following Christmas I saw them in London and as we ambled, half drunk, between two of my favourite Fleet Street haunts, Penny told me that they were thinking of planning the wedding for the following summer. I could see her excitement lurking just beneath the ‘devil may care’ exterior, and I could see James tempering his own excitement in response; his default setting was always parity.
The thing that really worried Penny (and thus James also) was her family.