This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
In the Vignette, “Azzy – My love”, I wrote that Azzy was my first real love.
Upon reflection, I am not sure if that was really the case. Certainly Azzy was my first wife, and for sure it was by far the longest relationship that I had experienced up to that point in my life.
But there were two significant relationships before I ever met Azzy. The first was probably more of a teenage infatuation, but the second was the ‘real deal’.
It was with a lady called Mardie, and this is my story of “Mardie”
I was only twenty one when I met Mardie.
It was 1967 and Mardie was working as a temporary secretary for my employers, an American oil company, at our plush offices at Berkeley Square in the West end of London.
I had been working there for several months as an accountant, my first ‘proper’ job after completing my five year articles as a trainee Chartered Accountant, when the lovely Mardie walked in one day to report for work.
She was also twenty one, and worked for one of the largest temp agencies in the world, having been seconded from the New York office on some kind of exchange programme.
Mardie was petite, ( I like my women that way), slim, with a slightly swarthy complexion, and glorious legs that left little to the imagination in her micro min-skirt that was all the rage in swinging London. I was fascinated by her New York accent and her unique, outgoing approach to life – so different to all the English girls I had known up to that point in my life.
Mardie wasn’t brash – far from it – but she was very a confident, self assured young lady who knew what she wanted in life, and right now it was to see England and enjoy herself as much as possible.
I shared ‘Mardie the secretary’ with a few other accountants in the office, and she immediately hit it off with everyone. They were all captivated by her good looks and friendly, outgoing personality.
I was immediately attracted to her – as were a number of the other young accountants in the office – but such was my shyness and inexperience with women, that I had already resigned myself to being one of the ‘also runs’. Indeed it was inconceivable to me that such a lovely person didn’t already possess a string of boyfriends.
There was one particular ‘Romeo’ in our office, Jim, who seemed to spend his entire spare time chasing, and usually succeeded in ensnaring young ladies that he met and it didn’t take long for him to get his hooks into Mardie.
Within a few days of Mardie coming to work for us, he was escorting her from the office most evenings and he had clearly chalked up yet another conquest.
My faint hopes of trying to date Mardie were dashed and I resigned myself to yet more despair and disappointment.
At that point in my life I was desperately lonely. I had recently made the big move from my parents’ flat, and had rented a room in a large house in Bayswater.
But London can be a very unfriendly and lonely place for a single young man who had left all his friends behind in East London and was too shy and lacking in confidence to make new ones – especially friends of the opposite sex.
If Mardie hadn’t been American, I doubt if the relationship would have ever got off the ground. In the 1960’s, the men were still expected to make all the running as far as ‘chatting up ladies’ were concerned, and most English girls would never dream of making the first move, regardless of how much they may be attracted to a particular man.
In this regard, the Yanks were about twenty years ahead of their English cousins, and American ladies held no such compunctions in being the first to make an approach to a member of the opposite sex.
Mardie knew that I liked her – after all I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she walked seductively around the office in her high heels and micro minis, exposing most of her stunning, tantalizing thighs.
She would always give me a very warm smile, and when she came into my office to bring me her completed correspondence, she would sit down and chat for a while.
My shyness with her slowly evaporated and we started to get on very well together. She was intrigued by my reserved, English manner, and I was equally fascinated by her American mannerisms. We shared a sense of humour that poked fun at each other’s culture and language differences.
One day, out of the blue, Mardie asked me if I would like to have a drink with her after work.
I asked her about Jim – the guy that she seemed to be dating on most evenings. She brushed off the mention of his name and told me not to worry about him, that he wasn’t her boy friend.
I was completely bowled over and immediately agreed to a date that very evening.
In spite of her assurances about Jim, she obviously did not want to make our date public knowledge, and we arranged to meet downstairs in the reception area of Berkeley Square House, the building where I worked.
To this day I vividly remember meeting her at the appointed place and time and walking down the road together. She took my hand and at that moment, I must have been the happiest man in London – possibly the world.
She was truly a lovely girl, very intelligent and a delightful personality. Her grandparents had immigrated to the USA from the Lebanon, which her explained her slightly swarthy, exotic appearance.
One date followed another, and together we explored London. We went to all the well known tourist spots – many of which I had never visited – and also enjoyed lovely summer evenings at riverside pubs and other romantic places, most of them recommended to me by my work colleagues who knew far more about London than I did.
My colleague Jim, who it transpired had also fallen head over heels for Mardie, was none too pleased. He never spoke to me, but would commandeer Mardie for hours on end in the office. They would go into a huddle and Jim never gave up trying to persuade Mardie to give him another chance.
Mardie had told me that she had liked Jim very much at first, but that he had ‘come on too strong”, became very possessive and made too many demands on her. When she tried to assert her independence, he had had turned very angry, almost violent and she was a little scared of him. She told me that Jim wasn’t a particularly bad person, but she didn’t want to be involved with him anymore.
The whole office knew what was going on. Mardie had dumped Jim for me, and Jim wasn’t talking it lightly. When he wasn’t spending countless hours trying to persuade Mardie to change her mind, he was soliciting the sympathy of fellow workers, accusing me of stealing his girlfriend. It wasn’t long before the office started to split into two camps – those who supported me and those who threw in their lot with Jim.
I had the lion’s share of support, as I was seen as the young naïve, ‘innocent’ victim of Jim’s ridiculous accusations, but Jim also had some significant support from a few key people.
Mardie couldn’t stand it anymore, and one day she told me that she had requested a transfer to another company in London. I was pretty upset, but could see the logic of it, and after that things in the office calmed down a little, but Jim and some of his ‘supporters’ rarely spoke to me.
The relationship continued to blossom, and I spent many a happy evening at Mardie’s flat that she shared with two other young ladies.
Winter came and went and we wined, dined and danced the Summer away, going to shows in the West End, spending idyllic evenings in pubs and enjoying ourselves at boozy parties, listening to the Beatles music.
For Mobi, the swinging sixties had finally arrived, and one of my fondest memories is of a wild party at Mardie’s flat, with dozens of us stoned out of our minds, smooching to “Hey Jude” which seemed to go on forever – and probably did.
To this day, every time I hear that Beatles classic, I recall that crazy wonderful, love-filled evening I spent at Mardie’s flat, way back in the summer of 1968.
August Bank holiday was still at the start of August in those far off days, and we both decided to take a few days off so we drove down to the West Country for a week’s holiday.
The roads to the West Country in the 1960′s still left a lot to be desired, and of course the summer bank holiday had brought ‘the world and their cars’ out onto England’s inadequate highways.
Progress to Cornwall was painfully slow, and after many hours on the road, Mardie volunteered to take over the driving. I was little sceptical about this, as she had never driven on the left side of the road before and I had no idea how skilled a driver she was. Nevertheless, against my better judgment, I moved over to let her take the wheel.
It was a disaster. She drove too fast, did not know how to use a manual gear box and kept hitting the curb on the left side of the road. I was beside myself, fearing an accident at any moment, to say nothing of the damage she was doing to my precious Cortina.
I asked her to stop, but she kept going, continuing to crunch the gear box and scrape the curb. Finally I lost my temper and screamed at her to stop.
She stopped, but she couldn’t understand what she had been doing wrong, and didn’t seem to realize that she had been scraping the curb, and damaging my car.
I tried to explain the problem, but she said nothing, and I knew she was very upset with me.
I drove the rest of the way to Cornwall in complete silence, and it wasn’t really until the following day that she began to talk to me and behave in a manner close to her normal, cheerful demeanour.
It was our first real fight, and I suspect that the effects of it on her were much deeper than I had imagined at the time.
Following that holiday, which was not an unmitigated success, we started arguing on a regular basis. It was as though the fight on the road had unleashed our innermost frustrations with each other, and once out, we couldn’t put the ‘genie’ back in the bottle.
Mardie started to distance herself from me, and made excuses not to see me every day.
But I was still madly in love with her and was totally miserable when I wasn’t with her.
As if to rub salt into the wound, Jim came by my office one morning with a big grin on his face and took great pleasure in informing me that he had dated Mardie the previous evening.
It felt like a stab in the back, and I immediately called her but she wasn’t available. When I eventually did get hold of her, she assured me that the date meant nothing and that she had only agreed to see him because he wouldn’t stop pestering her. I wasn’t sure if she was telling me the truth but was willing to believe anything.
Then the axe fell. It was early September, and Mardie informed me that she had to return to New York. I was devastated. I couldn’t understand why she wanted to go back; I thought she was happy living in London.
She told me that she had a problem with the lease on her New York apartment that she had sub-let to a friend. Apparently the friend had failed to pay the rent for several months and the landlord was now suing her. She said she had no choice – she had to go back, get a job in New York so that she could stay in her apartment and pay the rent herself.
Mardie was clearly resolved on this course of action, and there was no arguing with her. She told me she would be leaving within two weeks.
Those final two weeks were not a particularly happy time. The change in our relationship had left its mark on me and my unhappy state of mind was now compounded by Mardie’s imminent departure.
When the day arrived, I took her to the airport and I was so miserable I was inconsolable. Mardie, on the other hand seemed to bearing up pretty well and showed little signs of sadness.
In truth, I think she was looking forward to going home after such a long time away.
However, I do think she was sorry for me and that in her own mind she probably thought that our relationship was over and that she would never see me again.
But for me, I had no intention of letting go just yet. I told her that we would keep in touch and that as soon as it was possible, I would fly to New York and visit her.
She assured me that I would be welcome there at any time. We had arrived at the departure gate and we kissed briefly. She looked back, gave a little wave and she was gone.
I drove slowly back to London, feeling very miserable. I loved her so much, and I was determined not to lose her, whatever it may take, and whatever sacrifices I may be obliged to make to see her again.
SOME YEARS later, when I recalled my affair with Mardie, I understood many aspects of my relationship with her, which at the time; I don’t think I had the first inkling.
I think the relationship started to go downhill on that August bank Holiday, when we had that big bust up after she took over the driving on our way to Cornwall.
Her behaviour towards me was never the same after that incident and looking back, I can see that she tried to distance herself from me, but I was too ‘head-over heels’ in love to realise what was happening.
I had experienced a lonely, unhappy upbringing, due to my father’s domineering personality, to the extent that I grew up to be totally lacking in self esteem and was incredibly shy, especially with members of the opposite sex.
I had only recently broken free of my father’s ‘apron strings’ but my new social life as a single man living in a lonely room in central London was pathetically nonexistent. I simply did not possess the requisite social skills to make new friends.
So apart from a very unhappy teenage infatuation, which due to my own ridiculous shyness became a case of unrequited love, my affair with Mardie was the first real thing, and I was already twenty one, going on twenty two.
I was emotionally immature, (probably still am), and totally inexperienced in having a relationship and keeping a woman happy.
Upon reflection, I now realise that Mardie was far more mature than I; more experienced with the world at large and used to dealing with the lecherous men who were naturally attracted to her.
She was a very attractive young lady and by her own admittance had had many boyfriends and casual affairs before she met me.
Mardie was initially attracted to me because of my “Englishness”, my ‘reserve’, which was really just shyness. As the relationship developed I think she began to see that I was an emotionally immature person and that I was becoming far too serious and ‘clingy’.
Mardie was a confident, modern young lady travelling the world to have a good time and have casual affairs with young men who would take her around and wine and dine her. She wasn’t looking for a serious relationship. But I was.
As I have mentioned previously, I think that when I said goodbye to her at Heathrow, she never expected to hear or me or see me again.
For the first few weeks after Mardie’s departure, I could barely get her out of my mind. In fact she occupied my every moment to such an extent that my work started to suffer and I had to stay at the office later and later, just to keep up with my daily duties. Even then I often found my work becoming totally bogged down. Sometimes, I had to make a superhuman effort to get her out of my mind and concentrate on the tasks in hand.
I would write to Mardie almost every day – long rambling epistles, declaring my undying love, and hoping that we could meet again soon and imploring her to write back to me.
Weeks went by and not a word from her. I was distraught, but there was nothing I could do. No internet in those days, and I didn’t even have her phone number.
Then, about a month after she had left, there it was on the floor of my room – an airmail letter in Mardie’s distinctive writing style. I feverishly opened it.
The letter was disappointingly brief – almost a ‘post card’ in content. She told me that she had arrived back safely, had sorted out her apartment problems and had started a new job in downtown Manhattan. That was it. No declarations of affection or love, no romantic messages of how much she missed me, nothing. It was the sort of letter one would write to a friend or acquaintance.
Despite its brevity and lack of romance, I clung to it as proof that she hadn’t forgotten me and still wanted to keep in touch.
In reality, she probably wrote it because she felt she had to do something after all the letters I had written to her, and no doubt thought that a brief, totally impersonal letter would send me a clear message that she was no longer romantically interested in me.
However, I derived false encouragement from the fact that she had finally replied and continued to bombard her with letters, suggesting that I came to visit her for a holiday early in the New Year.
A few weeks later she wrote to me again very briefly, telling me that I was welcome to come to New York and that I was welcome to stay at her apartment.
Again, I now believe her thought process was that I had been so good to her when she was in England and taken her everywhere, including the West Country, that the least she could do in return was to offer me a place to stay in New York if I wanted to come for a holiday. I dare say she came to regret it.
It wasn’t that long since Harold Wilson had devalued the pound from its ‘pegged rate’ of two dollars eighty to the pound to a new rate of two dollars forty, and exchange control rules were being strictly enforced.
This meant that I was severely hampered by how much currency I was allowed to take with me on an overseas holiday, and because of this I started to enclose bank notes in my letters to Mardie, asking her to keep them for me until my arrival. Remarkably, I never lost a single bank note and it gave me yet another reason to write to her – all too frequently.
Flights from London to New York were still very expensive in those far off days – there were no budget airlines, or even budget airfares. All airfares were set and controlled by IATA and all air tickets were fully exchangeable to any other airline, as all airlines charged the same price. A million miles from today’s ‘laissez-faire’ market.
I couldn’t afford the price of the ticket, but a kind lady in my company’s personnel department arranged a special “air ticket loan’ for me, which I had to repay by instalments over a six month period, which enabled me to book my flight on Pan Am, scheduled to depart in early January.
Although I had made a few trips to France, Germany and other European countries by sea ferry, I had never flown before, and it was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I impatiently awaited the day when I would fly out across the Atlantic Ocean and once more be reunited with my beloved.
Deep down I was very concerned as to the reception I would receive. It hadn’t escaped even my myopic attention that something wasn’t quite right with the way Mardie had been writing to me. I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at JFK, but I hoped to God that at the very least she would be there, waiting for me.
THE FLIGHT in the Pan Am 707 to New York was exciting and a bit scary – my very first time in a plane. This first air journey heralded a lifetime of winging my way to almost every corner of the world; some of those ‘corners’, many, many times in the years that followed.
It was about an eight hour flight, and I left in the late afternoon, but still arrived at JFK that evening due to the time difference.
It was with some trepidation that I disembarked and made my way to the arrival hall, hoping with all my might that Mardie would be there to meet me.
She didn’t let me down – there she was dressed up in her winter finest – The temperature was below zero – and was accompanied by another girl, who looked about her age.
I was greeted without any great display of affection, which I put down to the presence of her friend, and was then introduced to Sally, her flat mate.
Mardie led us out of the airport and thence to the New York subway to take the relatively short journey across Queens, the New York borough where JFK was located and the same borough in which she lived.
From the subway exit, it was a ten minute walk to her apartment, and although I was carrying quite a lot of luggage, it wasn’t a problem – shared between the three of us.
I was feeling very tired and not a little frustrated at Mardie’s insistence on small talk with Sally. There was barely a word about having missed me and a total lack of any sign that she still had feelings for me.
She had a nice, modern apartment on the sixth floor. It had two bedrooms, was centrally heated, and was well furnished with comfortable modern furniture.
I had assumed that I would be sharing a bedroom with Mardie, but she had other ideas.
I was shown into a sort of small anti-room, which had connecting doors to her bedroom and the bathroom. It was there that I was given a mattress to unroll and set out onto the floor and which was to be my bed for the next two weeks.
I was feeling ever more dismayed at the turn of events, when Mardie capped it by informing me that she was going to bed as she had to get up early the following morning. She had to make it to work at her office in Manhattan by nine ‘o clock.
I had assumed she would be taking some time off to show me around, but not a bit of it. What on earth was I to do, all alone in Queens, with my seemingly ex-girl friend at work all day?
Mardie disappeared into the bathroom, and with a brief smile and a “See you in the morning”, she went into her bedroom, and pointedly locked the door.
I was very tired, physically and emotionally, but lay awake for half the night, wondering what the hell I had let myself in for. I was madly in love with her, hadn’t seen her for four months, and had been greeted and treated like a distant friend. Not a kiss, not a cuddle; nothing.
I must have eventually drifted asleep from pure exhaustion, for the next thing I remember is Mardie leaning over me, fully dressed in a smart, matching top and mini-skirt, giving me a gentle shake.
She said that she was off to work, and told me to rest up and help myself to any food I wanted in the apartment.
I sleepily asked her when I would see her, and she replied that if I wanted to, I could meet her for lunch. This immediately perked up my interest and my mood, and I asked her where she worked.
She gave me a subway map and a map of Manhattan, and marked the location of her office building and gave me her address. She showed me which subway station to go to, and said I wouldn’t have any problems finding her office building as it was just down the road from the Rockefeller Centre.
With that, she gave me a big kiss on my cheek and said she would be waiting in the lobby of her office building at one o’clock. A bright smile from the door of my ‘bedroom’, and she was gone.
I immediately started to feel better about things and gave the maps a quick perusal, realising that it should be a relatively simple matter to find my way to her office, provided I could remember the way to the subway entrance.
Maybe things weren’t as bad as I had thought so with rising spirits I showered, shaved and found something to eat, before eagerly taking the lift out of the building to head off to Manhattan. It was only ten o’clock, but I didn’t care. I wanted to get on my way.
My journey to Manhattan nearly came to a premature end when I walked out of the building and immediately lost my footing on the icy sidewalk and went down on my back with a nasty bump. I gingerly got to my feet, fearing another slip, and I now realised the entire sidewalk and road was covered in a layer of ice. It was bitterly cold, but there was no snow, just what appeared to be freezing rain. I had never seen such thing before. The rain was ice cold and it froze as soon as it hit the ground, making walking nigh on impossible.
I looked around and saw that I wasn’t the only one who was having problems keeping my balance on the treacherous surface, but also noted that most of my fellow pedestrians had rubber boots on and some even had cloth wrapped around the heels to give them a better grip on the ice. They had obviously experienced such conditions before.
It took me a quite a while to slowly edge my way to the subway, grabbing onto anything at hand as I continued to almost lose my footing any number of times.
For the second time since I arrived in this country, I began to wonder what the hell I had let myself in for.
I still made it to the designated subway stop in Manhattan with more than an hour to spare, and having perused my tourist literature, decided to spend the spare time looking around the Rockefeller Centre.
Thank God the weather in Manhattan was dry and I didn’t have and more icy walkways to contend with. According to my map I should be close to the famous Centre, but I couldn’t see any sign of it. I looked and looked and walked up and down the wide avenue I was in, gazing at the awe inspiring Sky Scrapers, but could see no signs showing the way to the Rockefeller Centre.
In desperation I decided to ask. The first three people I asked looked at me as if I was crazy. They seemed to have no idea what I was talking about and walked on. Then I asked an elderly man, and he too looked at me as if I was crazy.
“The Rockefeller Centre?” he asked me, with obvious puzzlement on his face.
“Yes,” I replied”, “Can you tell me where it is, please?”
“Buddy”, he said, “You are standing right in the middle of it!”
With that, he walked on and left me standing there, scratching my head. In truth I didn’t really know what the centre was all about. I had only glanced at the tourist book briefly, and just assumed it was some kind of building dedicated to one of New York’s famous millionaires. I pulled out the book and read further:
“Rockefeller Centre is a complex of 19 commercial buildings covering 22 acres between 48th and 51st streets in New York City. Built by the Rockefeller family, it is located in the centre of Midtown Manhattan, spanning the area between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue.”
I now realised why everyone thought I was completely mad. I had indeed being standing at the very heart of it, and just about every building within my view was part of the Centre.
I had started to learn something about New Yorkers - they don’t suffer fools gladly.
I decided to find my way to Mardie’s office and leave exploring the Centre for another time, and I walked down the road a couple of blocks, hopefully in the right direction.
This time I was more successful in my map reading as there, in front of me, was the designated building. I walked into the lobby area to await Mardie’s arrival.
She came out of the lift, bright and smiling and whisked me off to lunch at a nearby, typical New York diner. She seemed much friendlier than the previous evening, and once more my spirits rose, and I decided it would only be a matter of time before the relationship returned to where we had left off in London.
I was further encouraged by Mardie suggesting that I spend the afternoon exploring New York City, mentioning some interesting places I could get to on the subway and then meeting her back at her office at six p.m. when we could go out for a meal together.
That evening, after our meal in downtown Manhattan, we returned to her apartment, and I did indeed feel that things were on the up and up. Mardie came to lie down with me on my mattress for a while and we had a little cuddle and kiss, before she went to her bedroom. Yes, for sure it wouldn’t be long before things were back to the way they were.
That night I had the soundest sleep in weeks, if not months.
It was probably the happiest I was to be during those two weeks in New York.
THE NEXT day’s plan was a re-run of my first full day in New York, except that I didn’t see Mardie for lunch, as she told me she had a prior appointment.
So I spent the day doing the sights of New York and duly ensconced myself in the lobby of Mardie’s office building at the appointed hour.
I waited…. and waited….probably an hour all told, before she finally appeared at the lift door. I could have sworn I saw her swiftly withdraw her hand with the guy standing next to her as they exited the lift, but maybe I had imagined it. My mind had been creating all kinds of painful scenarios while I had been sitting in the lobby wondering what had become of her.
Mardie caught sight of me and scampered over to where I was sitting, full of apologies about working late and also full of smiles, which I hadn’t seen much of since my arrival in the USA.
To my total surprise she actually gave me a public kiss on my lips, most unusual for her, but as I savoured the kiss, licking my lips, I detected the distinct taste of alcohol, and as I made to give her a hug, my suspicions were confirmed; she had been drinking. But not in the office surely – and if she had a drink at lunchtime, it would have long since dissipated from her breath.
I kept my thoughts to myself, but as we walked towards the street exit, I looked around, and asked her if there was more than one block of elevators. Without thinking, she said “yes” and pointed to the other end of the lobby. Then she asked? “Why?”
“Oh…no reason, I just wondered… after all it’s a big building.”
She stopped walking and gave me a long hard look. “Mobi, are you trying to have a fight?”
“Me…no…of course not, come on, it’s nothing.”
Mardie followed me in silence, but as we approached the subway entrance, she informed me that she was feeling very tired and we would go straight back to her apartment tonight, and buy a couple of “TV meals” on the way.
She reverted back to her stony silence, and I was left to my own thoughts. They weren’t very good thoughts either. I decided that she had probably lied to me and had been out for a drink with someone, after work, and had then sneaked back to her office in the other lift, which was out of sight from where I had been sitting. Why else would she smell of alcohol, and why would she turn so angry when I asked her about another elevator in her building.
Even in those far off, naïve days, I understood that for many women, and certainly Mardie, the best form of defence was attack. Had I had got a bit too near the mark for Mardie’s comfort?
We stopped off at a corner grocery storm around the corner from her building, and duly arrived back at her building, still in silence.
When we sat down to eat our meal I couldn’t stand it any longer and broached the subject of her late arrival after work. I suggested that she may have gone out for a drink, as I could smell the alcohol on her breath.
For a long time, she said nothing, but finally she put down her knife and fork, turned to look at me, and gave me a weak smile.
“Mobi, you have to understand that I am not a nun. Surely you can’t imagine that I wouldn’t have any dates since returned to New York?
“Well, no, of course not, but I didn’t expect you would have a date while I was here, and especially when I was waiting for you at your office. I was sitting there, waiting for you and you were out, boozing it up with another man!”
The anger came to the surface again and I could see she was becoming increasingly irritated with the direction of my remarks.
But I couldn’t stop myself.
“Mardie, don’t you understand how much I’ve missed you? How much I love you? I’ve been counting the days to when I would see you again, ever since the very day you left London.
“I’ve flown half way across the world, just to spend a few days with you, and you have barely made me welcome, hardly a kiss – except that drunken one this evening! And now to top it all, you stand me up, go out canoodling with some office hunk and lie to me to boot!”
She was furious.
“OK, I admit I went out for a drink – but I wasn’t boozing it up, nor was I canoodling with an office hunk. If you must know, my boss took me out for a quick drink because he wanted to offer me a new job – a promotion, with more money! OK? You stupid, fucking limey! And by the way, you might think you’re in love with me, but you’re not. You’re too young, too stupid. You know nothing about love! And I tell you buster, I most certainly do not love you!”
With that she stormed into her bedroom and locked the door, leaving her half eaten meal still on the table.
I was distraught – I had screwed up big time and had no idea how to repair the damage.
I spent another sleepless night. The following day was Saturday, and Mardie wouldn’t be going to work. I had no idea what was going to happen between us.
As before, I finally fell asleep just before dawn, and by the time I came round, Mardie had been up for ages and was busy cooking breakfast. Sally, her flat mate, was also there, helping her.
Mardie behaved as though the previous evening’s row had never happened, and I immediately started to feel a bit better.
She cooked a lovely breakfast and as the three of us sat down to eat, she gave me a warm smile and announced the plans for the day.
We had been invited by a friend to his house for an early evening meal – following which, he was going to drive us ‘Up-State’ to Bear mountain, where we would go ice skating.
This sounded fine to me, except for the fact that I had never been ice skating in my life.
I began to think that we had put the unpleasantness of the previous evening behind us.
Things started quite well, despite the fact that Mardie’s male friend was a six foot four, sixteen stone hunk, with a really swish, huge American auto. He looked down on me, literally, and welcomed me to his country and asked me what I did for a living. I told him and returned the query.
He looked at me and smiled, and said carefully in his all New York accent:
“I’m a Lorry driver. That’s what you limeys call them don’t you? Lorries?”
I smiled shyly and agreed he was correct.
Somehow, this little exchange seemed to put me at a psychological disadvantage, and from then on Chuck Jr, (yes of course he had to be a “Chuck Jr”), seemed to take charge of me and the day.
The three of us took the lift to the car park, where I was directed to the back seat and Mardie sat up front with Chuck Jr, even though there would have been more than enough room for the three of us in the front seat of Chuck’s enormous ‘auto’.
But it seemed that Chuck Jr wanted to share some secrets with Mardie and he kept talking to her in a low voice, which I couldn’t make out, and Mardie would respond with delighted giggles.
The first stop was the supermarket, where Chuck Jr did his food shopping for our forthcoming meal.
Thence to Chuck’s impressive pad, where he and Mardie got to work on preparing the food.
Of course it couldn’t be anything else but enormous T-Bone steaks and the trimmings. In spite of the freezing weather, Chuck cranked up the Barbeque out on his balcony and braved the elements to cook up our repast.
During the process of overcooking the steaks, Chuck Jr. produced a bottle of malt whiskey from his bar and asked me if I would like a snifter. He said he had bought the bottle especially for me, as he knew I was a limey. There was little doubt that this giant of a man would be offended if I didn’t join him.
I was feeling somewhat intimidated, not to say quite miserable, at the way the day was developing. I was disturbingly aware of the obvious chemistry between Chuck Jr. and Mardie; so I actually welcomed the idea of a drink, reasoning that it might help to relax me.
Chuck poured an enormous ‘snifter’ into a tumbler with ice, while at the same time telling me that he knew I wouldn’t want anything added to spoil the taste of the pure malt liquor. He had this way of telling me what I should do.
I took a large swig at the snifter, as did Chuck Jr. from his own glass. I wasn’t going to let him get the better of me in the drinking stakes.
That might well have been the biggest single mistake I made on my trip to New York.
I could hold my drink, and as I have written elsewhere, was already on my way to being a serious drinker, but I wasn’t yet in Chuck Jr.’s league. He downed his glass in two gulps, so I did the same. Refill followed refill, with Chuck periodically rushing outside to tend to the steaks for a few minutes, before returning to down yet another “snifter’ and looking at me to do likewise, which of course, like a fool, I did.
By the time the meal was served, I was already well on the way to being extremely pissed, and the wine that was served with the food only served to add to my already unsteady state.
Chuck Jr. appeared to be stone sober – and probably was – by his drinking standards.
The meal was finally over and we adjourned back to the car for the late afternoon journey to Bear Mountain.
The seating arrangements were the same as before, except that I noticed through my drunken haze that Chuck Jr. kept putting arm around Mardie on the front bench seat, and drove the car with a single hand on the wheel.
I was feeling so drunk by this time that I was almost past caring, and then the combination of a sleepless night; countless snifters of malt whiskey, followed by a belly full of T-bone steak all conspired to send me immediately into a deep drunken sleep.
I awoke as we drove into the car park of the ice skating centre. We were way up in the mountains and the temperature was well below zero, and snow had settled all around.
I felt dreadful. I was still drunk and had a terrible headache.
I staggered after Mardie and Chuck Jr. as they entered the building, and looked forward to finding a suitable seat to lie down on and continue my sleep.
But my nemesis was having none of it. Chuck Jr. and Mardie exhorted me to follow them to the skate-hire counter. I protested that I had never skated before, and that I wasn’t feeling too good, but they would have none of it. They more or less pushed me toward the counter and asked me my shoe size, and before I knew it I was putting on my first (and last) pair of ice skates.
(I should add that I had never even been on roller skates, so I had absolutely no skating balance whatsoever.)
I gingerly followed them onto the ice. It was bloody freezing, and no sooner had my skates hit the ice, than I went flying. I was bruised but still conscious, so Chuck Jr. and Mardie took me by the arms and pulled me up and attempted to skate with me around the perimeter of the rink.
I must have looked absolutely ridiculous as I was being held up by my two companions and my feet were going in every which direction, as though they had lives of their own.
After a few minutes Chuck became weary with this game, and let go of my arm and skated away, showing one and all his skating prowess.
I almost hit the decks again, but Mardie saved me, and gently helped me towards the edge of the ice where I grabbed the barrier as though my life depended on it.
Mardie spent a further few minutes trying to coax me back onto the ice, and gave me some brief instructions on how to stay upright, but every time I let go of the barrier, within seconds I was flat on my back.
Then she too grew weary of this inept Englishman, and she sped away to join Chuck Jr. who was doing what looked like pirouettes in the middle of the ice.
I tried a few more times to re-commence my career as an ice skater, but each time I achieved the same result, with ever more bruises, so finally I gave up the unequal battle and virtually crawled my way onto dry ground, where I sat down on the nearest bench and heaved an enormous sigh of relief.
Never again, in my whole life would I venture onto an ice skating rink.
I removed my skates, and all of a sudden I felt a pain in my feet that quickly became excruciating. My feet were killing me. Looking down I could see that both feet had blood oozing through two my layers of socks. I was truly in a fine, bloody mess.
I sat there for probably an hour while Chuck Jr. and Mardie enjoyed themselves on the ice, no doubt laughing together at the helpless, gangling limey who had come with them.
By the time they came back to me, my head felt it was about to explode and I was in a pretty bad state. But I still had a bit of British “stiff upper lip” left in my soul, so I didn’t let on that I felt ill, nor did I tell them that my feet were bathed in blood and hurting like hell. I had put my shoes back on and the blood was barely visible.
Unfortunately my nightmare day wasn’t yet over.
I hobbled back to the car, slid into my back seat position and lay down to get some desperately needed sleep.
We must have been about half way home when I woke with a start, and before I knew what was happening, I puked up – all over myself and all over Chuck Jr.’s beautiful, shiny car.
Chuck Jr. was not impressed. Of course it was mainly the booze, plus a stomach full of undigested food plus all the other unpleasant things that had been going on in my body that evening.
But I told them that it was just the food that had somehow disagreed with me, not wishing them to know that on top of all my other failings, I couldn’t hold my liquor.
It transpired that Chuck Jr. was more solicitous to my welfare than my erstwhile lover, and he produced tissues and swabs and helped me clean up my mess as best as we were able and then we continued our journey back to Queens and thence to Mardie’s apartment. The smell was overpowering, but no-one was saying anything – especially Mardie, who kept a stony silence throughout the journey.
We finally made it back, and I staggered into the lift, smelling like the worst ‘down and out’ from the Bowery.
Once back in Mardie’s home, I felt sick again and barely made it to the bathroom before I threw up yet again. I was in a terrible state Most of you have been there at some point in your lives so you will know how I felt. I managed to crawl back into my room, but the room was spinning around and I felt worse than ever.
Then I threw up again, on the floor of the bedroom. Mardie came near the room and asked me if I was OK? I replied in the affirmative, and she slammed the door and disappeared to spend the night with her flat mate.
I lay there in my own mess for a while, and then gathered sufficient strength, to return to the bathroom, get hold of some tissues and clean up the floor as best as I was able. Then I collapsed again and fell into a very long, very drunken sleep.
This romantic holiday that I had been looking forward to for so long had turned into a disastrous nightmare.
RELATIONS WERE a bit frosty, to say the least, when I awoke late on Sunday morning. Mardie was civil, polite even, but there was little warmth in her smiles, and even a young, naive Mobi, realised that he had probably blown it, big time.
I still had ten days to go on my holiday, and even though I felt devastated by the turn of events, I resolved to try and pull myself together and see what could be salvaged of my relationship; after all I still had ten days to try and repair relations with my beloved.
Mardie announced over a very late breakfast that she was taking me to see the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, and on the way back we would stop at a few more landmarks , such as the Empire State building and Central Park.
We duly did the tourist bit on a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon and Mardie behaved more akin to a tour guide than a girl friend. I guess she felt obliged to go through the motions after I had taken such good care of her in London. Besides, she knew very well that I had been saving up for this holiday for months.
On Monday she was back at work and I resigned myself to ‘doing’ the rest of New York, on my own with the assistance of a guide book. I seemed to be making little progress on the romantic front so I resolved to suppress my disappointment and try to make the best of things.
I became an expert on the notoriously complex New York subway, and I also got quite used the city buses, the routes of which were slightly easier to comprehend, but, as I soon discovered, the drivers insisted on passengers giving them the exact change. Before they would let me on I had to put the exact fare into the coin slot; waving dollar bills at the driver got me nowhere.
I actually got around quite a bit and explored all the boroughs of New York, from Brooklyn, to Manhattan, to Bronx, to Queens and Staten Island. I even made it to Coney Island, all in the bitter, sub zero January weather.
It was the start of a long love affair with New York. I don’t know why, but I related to it and I started to like the crazy, brash, no nonsense New Yorkers. I hated London – to me so unfriendly, but New York seemed to suit my style.
I loved their ‘Diners’; fast food restaurants where you sat at a circular counter, and they cooked your food in front of you, fresh and delicious. Some of the best breakfasts I have ever tasted were cooked in those downtown establishments. I especially enjoyed the home fries and the eggs done to order.
I well recall the first time I ever ordered coffee in New York. The guy looked at me as though I had come from the moon. I had to repeat myself three times and point to the coffee pot before he understood what I was saying. In spite of the Beatles-led, ‘England swings’- invasion of America, most Americans were even more insular then than they are today and the average new Yorker struggled mightily to understand our ‘cute’, English accents.
The subway seemed to be a microcosm of New York people and their culture.
In the late sixties the city was an extremely violent place – murders and muggings were common place – and you would be chancing your arm if you rode the subway after ten at night unless you sat in the one carriage which contained the obligatory armed cop.
Unlike the London underground, New Yorkers were always willing to help a lost or confused soul – be it a fellow New Yorker, a country cousin from the ‘untamed’ west, or a shy, diffident young soul from the other side of the pond.
It used to amuse me, because such was the complexity of the subways, (sometimes there were proper interchanges, but on other occasions you actually had to exit the subway, walk a block before re-entering to take a different line – then there were ‘express’ trains that didn’t stop at every station, and so on….phew!), that even most seasoned travellers only knew their particular journeys, and were often totally at sea when it came to other people’s travel routes.
But that didn’t prevent them from chiming in and offering their advice on which way to go and where to change lines. Inevitably an argument would develop, and before you knew what was happening, the whole carriage had joined in, all shouting and gesticulating and insisting that they were right and everyone else was wrong.
Can you imagine such an event happening on the London Underground? Yet this was a daily occurrence on the subway – and I loved it!
So I was learning my way around a place which, in later years, was to become one my favourite cities. But at the same time I was desolate at the way my love affair was going down the tubes.
I still met Mardie after work and we would either go for a meal downtown, or do a bit of shopping and cook back at her apartment, but there were few signs of affection from my pretty little New York lady.
We started to argue with increasing frequency, and I well recall one major row which, of all things, concerned how to get to a particular place on the subway. By this time I considered myself an expert, and I remember having a blazing row with not only Mardie but her flat mate as well, insisting that they were wrong on their proposed route. I forget who proved to be ultimately correct – probably them – but it served to emphasise how relations had dipped to an all time low.
I think we must have been on our way home on Thursday evening, when, to my surprise, Mardie announced that she was taking the Friday off, and would I like to go to Washington for the weekend?
This seemed like an offer I couldn’t refuse, but just when I was relishing this proposed intimate weekend in the Capital City, Mardie added that I must agree that we stay in separate rooms.
This was a body blow, but it was better than nothing, so I eagerly agreed to the conditions and the following day we took the subway to the downtown Greyhound Bus station, and boarded a bus for Washington.
Apart from my obvious interest and enjoyment of seeing all the famous sights for the first time: Lincoln Memorial, the White house, Federal Government buildings, Arlington cemetery with its Kennedy memorial (it was only a few years previously that he had been assassinated and feeling was still very high), the Veteran’s memorials, and other famous and interesting spots in and around the capital and so on, two particular events stand out in my memory from that long ago trip.
The first was when we arrived at the bus station in Washington. It was already dark and we had nowhere to stay. Mardie had reasoned that it would be an easy matter to find a bed and breakfast place in the nation’s capital.
It transpired that the bus terminus was in a pretty rough area of downtown Washington. In fact, in the 1960’s pretty much the whole of downtown area was pretty rough and was largely a no-go area after dark.
As soon as we emerged from the terminus building we were approached and jostled and by huge, poorly dressed blacks who asked us for money and gave us the ‘once over’ with menacing eyes.
We looked around for taxis, but there were none in sight – just crowds of blacks, seemingly hanging around, doing nothing.
My naivety prevented me from panicking too much, but Mardie was not at all happy. She grabbed hold of me and said we better go back into the bus terminal. I resisted, asking her what good that would do? We needed to find somewhere to stay.
We were still arguing and the blacks were becoming ever more interested in these two white folk who had suddenly appeared in their midst when a taxi drove into view. The driver took one look at us, wound down his window and beckoned us.
We hurried over, and the guy, a black, jumped out of his cab, threw our bags in the trunk, literally pushed us into the back seat and sped off.
He didn’t stop cursing us for five minutes.
“What in God’s sweet name was you white folks doing out there at this time of night? You must be plain crazy! Don’t yer know that there’s at least five murders a night in that neighbourhood?
“That place is real bad – full of bad assed ‘nigras’ – murderers, pimps and druggies. You two both lucky you not already dead!”
Of course we didn’t know and we told him so, but it didn’t stop his tirade.
As it turned out it was very difficult to find a place to stay and we eventually ended up quite a way outside the city, which cost us a fortune in taxi fares, but I guess cheap at the price, considering the alternative might have been a quick mugging and possibly death at the hands of ‘city residents’.
As agreed, we took separate rooms.
All of which, in an indirect manner, led me to my second memorable incident. The high cost of the taxi and the cost of the rooms which had to be paid for in advance blew my budget, so I needed to change some money.
Fortunately the banks were open on Saturday morning, so we stopped by a bank armed with my crisp ten pound notes and a passport. The bank took one look at my money and declined to change it. They had never seen British currency before in their lives.
Ok it was a bit of an ‘out of town’ branch, so when we arrived at the centre of Washington, we tried again – same result; second bank, third bank, fourth bank – all with the same result. Sorry we don’t change British money here.
I had not encountered any problems in changing my pounds in New York and I was amazed that the banks in the capital city of the richest, most powerful and technologically advanced country in the world could be so ‘provincial’.
In the end, Mardie lent me some money and I repaid her when we returned to ‘civilisation’.
We enjoyed our stay in Washington and I detected a slight thawing in our relationship.
By the time we returned to New York, I only had a couple of days of my trip remaining. Mardie was becoming increasingly friendly and the night before my flight, for the first time since my early days in New York, she came to me in my ‘bedroom’ and we had a little canoodle – foreplay but no sex.
Looking back, I think she felt sorry for me. She knew that I was crazy about her and that I was very upset at the souring of our relationship. I think she wanted to cheer me up and send me back home in reasonably good spirits.
She continued in the same vein when she took me to the airport then following day – very friendly, almost loving. When she said goodbye to me at the airport departure gate, I am sure I detected a tear in her eye as she gave me a full blooded kiss on the lips.
At the time, I thought that she was crying at the thought of me going away again; but in reality, it was probably because she believed she would never see me again.
She was wrong.
I FLEW back to London with what turned out to be false optimism. I was so desperate for any sign that my relationship with Mardie was back on course that I misread her behaviour towards me in the last couple of days I was with her in New York. I had mistakenly taken it as a sign that the affair was far from over.
I returned to work, dreamily remembering the good parts of my trip and conveniently blacking out most of the time when I was feeling pretty miserable.
As before, I wrote almost daily letters to Mardie, and received the occasional one paragraph reply, but after a month or so, the letters stopped completely and I became increasingly concerned as to what was going on with Mardie in the Big Apple.
Transatlantic telephone conversations in those days were still rather primitive as compared to today’s instant world- wide mobile access, and I used my company’s facilities to book an evening call to Mardie’s apartment number, hoping to catch her before she went to work.
By the time the call came through, Mardie had gone but I managed to get hold of Sally, her flat mate, who told me that she was fine. At least I now knew that nothing untoward had happened to her.
I kept trying to make contact and on about the fourth occasion I called, I finally managed to get hold of an offhand Mardie who sounded a bit irritated that I had disturbed her when she was getting ready to go to work.
However she did say that she missed me and this gave me enough encouragement to get my mind working overtime.
Mardie clearly had no intention of coming back to England, so if I didn’t want to lose her, I would have to go to her. The more I thought, the more this seemed like the solution to my problems.
However, after a bit of research, I realised that there was one insurmountable problem. If I did decide to go to New York, there was no chance that I could obtain a ‘green card’ and stay there unless I married an American citizen. I realised that this would be a bridge too far for the “on again off again” Mardie.
I came up with a possible solution. New York City was only a bus ride away from the Canadian border, and as my father was a Canadian citizen, it should prove a relatively easy matter to get a residence visa in Montreal, just over the border.
It was not an ideal situation, but I would be infinitely closer to my beloved, and if I worked in Montreal I would be able to make frequent trips to New York to see Mardie, and maybe she could return the compliment and visit me in Montreal.
In this manner I would be able to continue my relationship and hopefully bring it back to the happy state it used to be when Mardie was in London, and who knows – maybe even happier.
I broached the subject with Mardie, the next time I was able to make contact on the phone and while she wasn’t wildly enthusiastic, she seemed to be telling me that it was a good idea.
Whether or not I misconstrued what she was saying I will never know. After all, many of our disagreements in the past had been caused by language confusion, (“two nations divided by a common language”).
Nevertheless I took Mardie’s perceived ‘positive’ encouragement as a signal that I should put my plan into action, and duly informed my employers that I would be leaving in due course as I was planning to emigrate to Canada.
Now to my bloody father.
Since I had been old enough to remember he had told his family that he was Canadian. He certainly had a North American accent, and we had some black and white photographs of him in the Canadian Rockies, when for some reason he had been posted there by the RAF during the 2nd World War.
Indeed, at the end of the war, my father, mother, brother and sister had their passages booked to emigrate to Canada, and it was only cancelled at the very last moment as my mother was heavily pregnant with the urchin that was later to become the Mobi that you all love to hate. As a consequence, she was forbidden to make the long voyage across the Atlantic.
I had even seen an old Canadian passport at home with my father’s name in it.
So I had no reason to assume that he was anything other than what he purported to be and I duly went to the Canadian Consulate to commence the process of obtaining immigrant status.
The forms were all pretty straight forward and the officer assured me that in view of my father’s Canadian citizenship, my approval would be automatic, and I even qualified to apply for Canadian citizenship for myself.
As I was planning to leave within the next month or so, I decided to give up my room in Bayswater and move back home for my remaining time in the UK, and when I arrived home that night, I approached my father to permission to borrow his birth certificate or some other document that verified his Canadian citizenship.
I hadn’t realised what a hornet’s nest I had awoken by this apparently simple and reasonable request.
My father immediately became aggressive and tried to convince me that I could get immigrant status without any proof of citizenship from him. When I insisted that he give them to me, he lost his temper and screamed at me that he didn’t have any documents – he had lost them many years ago.
I stood my ground and told him that he could get replacements. All he had to do was to take his expired passport to the Consulate and they would be able to check the records back in Canada and issue new documents.
He insisted that it would be impossible, but wouldn’t explain why, and refused to discuss the matter any further and stormed out of the room.
Later he calmed down and told me that he would go and see the Consular officer himself and see what he could do. He asked me to give him all my documents, and two days later he travelled up to London to see the officer.
I felt very reassured, as my father invariably got his way, sometimes against seemingly impossible odds. As well as being a very intimidating man, from both his size and appearance, he was also a very intelligent person and he knew how to persuade, cajole and even threaten when the occasion demanded it.
I also surmised that he did indeed have proof of his citizenship, but for some reason did not wish me to see it. He was an extremely secretive man.
I was wrong. When I saw him that evening after work he was almost contrite. He told me that he had spoken to the officer for hours, and had even insisted on seeing his boss but to no avail.
They absolutely refused to issue me with an immigrant visa if he couldn’t provide evidence of his citizenship. He told me that the officer’s advice was for me to go to Canada as a tourist, (which didn’t require a visa), and then once there, apply to be a ‘landed immigrant’.
I tried to ask him why he couldn’t get them to do a search for his details, but he refused to discuss the matter further and said it would be impossible.
That was that, but I was upset and disappointed. I couldn’t understand his refusal to try and obtain copy documents.
I resolved to see if I could do it by myself; all I needed was his passport and I would make a note of his date and place of birth and then take these details to the Consulate and ask them to do the necessary searches.
My opportunity arose a couple of weeks later when my parents went for a long weekend to stay with my aunt and uncle in Margate. I knew that he kept his private papers in a drawer in his bedroom, so with some trepidation, I entered the ‘forbidden territory’ and started rifling through his papers to search for the expired passport.
This was the first time I had ever dared to venture into his bedroom and do such a thing. Even as an adult I still feared him. His dark, intimidating personality seemed to permeate the room, even when he was miles away.
I didn’t find the passport, but what I did find shocked me out of my skin, and to this day I have still not managed to put together all the pieces of my father’s real past.
What I found was an ‘alien’ book. The book was in a completely different name to my father’s and stated that he was born in Zhitomir, Ukraine, (then part of the Soviet Union), in 1901. The book bore recent ‘stamps’ from a local London police station. I leafed through the book and read that the holder was required to report to the local police station every three months.
I rummaged further and found county court documents, dating back to the mid 1950’s that related to a court case when my father, under his original name, but also containing his ‘new’ name as an ‘AKA’, was summonsed to appear in court to answer a proposed order seeking to deport him from the United kingdom.
I was astonished. To my own knowledge my father had been living in England since the 1930’s when had he met my mother.
I know that he had qualified as a chiropodist at the Chelsea school of chiropody; he had served in the Royal Air force for the entire war, had an honourable discharge, was married to a British woman and had three British children, all born in England.
What possible reason could there be for wanting to deport him? Amongst the documents were his honourable discharge papers from the Air force, together with a letter of commendation from his commanding officer, both of which were no doubt presented in court in an effort to persuade the justices to turn down the deportation request. This they must have done as he was still there, albeit having to report as an alien every three months.
My discovery asked as many questions as it had answered. I now knew why he refused to let me do a search for his Canadian citizenship, for the simple reason that he wasn’t Canadian.
He was Ukranian, although in those days we regarded anyone from the Soviet Empire as “Russian”. Back then, the ‘cold war’ was still at its height, and it hadn’t been that long since the Cuban missile crisis that had brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war.
One thing was for sure; I would have to do as the consular official had suggested, and go to Canada as a tourist and try to sort out my immigrant status, once I was in the country.
Somewhat ruefully, I finalised my plans to fly back ‘over the pond’ for good, which included spending a further two to three weeks with Mardie in New York before jumping on a bus and seeking out job opportunities in Montreal.
I had saved up a little nest egg, (part of the reason that I moved back home), sold my lovely, immaculate white, 1962 Cortina with much sorrow and regret and was finally all set for the big move.
Although I hadn’t been with my employer that long, I seemed to have endeared myself to them and was pleasantly surprised by the huge turnout of staff who arrived at a company sponsored farewell drink, to wish me off.
I had no idea that I was that popular and even some of the head honchos from California were there to make presentations and tell me how much they would miss my contribution.
I was truly taken aback. Maybe if I had known that my presence had been so appreciated at high levels, I might have reconsidered my decision to emigrate. After all, in spite of my lovelorn state, I was a young ambitious accountant, ready and raring to embark on a successful career, should the right opportunity present itself.
However the die was cast, and once more I made my way to Heathrow airport in the early spring of 1969, the year that Nixon was inaugurated for his first term, (I was actually in new York on inauguration day and watched it on television), the Vietnam war was still in full swing, the Beatles performed their last live concert and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
It was to be the start of a new life, but yet again, I was in a terrible quandary, not knowing what kind of welcome I would receive from Mardie.
MARDIE HAD told me on the telephone that she might find it difficult to meet me at the airport as he had a prior engagement. I assured her that she shouldn’t worry about it, as by now I knew the way and in any case I wanted to show her that I was perfectly capable of getting there by myself.
(One of the many sources of conflict between us was the fact that I would argue about the correct way to go somewhere and invariably I would get lost).
I navigated my way to her apartment in Queens successfully, but was somewhat put out when her flat mate answered the door and advised me that Mardie was not home.
As I hadn’t seen Mardie for more than two months it didn’t bode well that she wasn’t home to greet me, even though she had suggested as much when she said she might not be able to come to the airport. Sally let me in and told me that Mardie would be back in an hour or so.
I asked her where she was, but received a monosyllabic reply which told me nothing; so I sat down, feeling very weary and disappointed to wait.
Sure enough, an hour later Mardie arrived home, escorted by a smart looking guy in a suit, who was introduced to me before making a quick exit.
Mardie apologised for not being there and explained that she was out with the ‘date’ and they were held up badly in traffic in upstate New York.
Things went from bad to worse when Mardie told me that I could spend the night at her place but tomorrow I would have to move as Sally had objected to me staying there, even only for a week or so.
Things were not going well at all and no amount of entreaties from me would change her mind, so I became resigned to finding somewhere to stay on the following morning.
Mardie told me that tomorrow, which was Saturday, she would take me downtown and help me find a cheap room, and with that both women disappeared to their bedrooms and left me to kip on the sofa for the night.
So it was with a heavy heart that we lugged all my belongings onto the subway, and travelled downtown where, after a quick look around some seedy hotels I finally settled for a cheap room in the YMCA.
As soon as I had checked in, Mardie gave me a quick peck on the cheek, told me she had a pre- arranged appointment and that I could come over and see her the next day, but I should call first to make sure she was home.
I sat in my room wondering what the hell I had got myself into, but I was young and full of optimism and decided to make the best of it. I resolved to do my utmost to see if I could recapture my beloved’s obvious lack of feelings for me.
So the next day I called ahead and once again Mardie was out, but Sally told me to come on over and that Mardie would be back later.
To my surprise, Mardie was there when I arrived, but she looked very glum and serious and I feared the worst.
She told me that she didn’t want to say anything when I arrived yesterday as I was very tired from my journey, but that she had been thinking about our relationship a lot lately and thought it better if we didn’t see each other for a while.
She said that I should go to Montreal, find somewhere to live, get a job and once I was settled than I could call her and then maybe I could come back for a visit.
She said that my life was too unsettled and in any case she was very busy at work and wouldn’t be able to spend much time with me.
I asked her about her other ‘dates’, but she insisted that she had no serious boyfriends. She said that she had a few men friends’’ who took her out on dates but they were all casual relationships and that she hadn’t slept with any of them.
I tried to argue with her and suggested I stayed for at least a week, but she told me that the whole worry of me uprooting my life and coming to the USA had been getting her down. She was getting a lot of migraines and that the stress of it all had caused her to break out in acne, which I could see, was a fact.
We argued back and forth for a while, but the discussion was becoming increasingly acrimonious, and the end I acceded to her suggestion and took off back to my room at the ‘Y’ to sort out my bus journey to Montreal.
Mardie had agreed that we could keep in touch by telephone, and that once I was settled then I would be welcome to come over for weekend for a visit.
This seemed to be the best I could hope for in the circumstances, but I was far from a ‘happy camper’ when I made my way to the Greyhound bus terminal two evenings later, for the overnight trip to Montreal Canada and the start of my new life – all alone.
All went well until we arrived at the Canadian border.
First the American customs and immigration officers entered the bus, gave us a quick perusal and then quickly disappeared.
The bus drove on a few yards to the Canadian side and the Canadian officials entered the bus.
Of course there was a daily free flow of people over the border with Canada. The Americans and Canadians were not required to carry passports. Everyone was asked to verify their identity by showing a social security card, a driving license, or indeed, any document with their name and address on it.
When they came to me I showed them my British passport. I was asked the purpose of my visit to Canada, and I told them that I was an immigrant. The officer looked at my passport again and asked me if I had an immigrant visa. When I told him that I planned to apply when I got to Montreal, he looked at me with suspicion, and asked me to accompany him off the bus.
I asked him about my luggage, and he told me that the bus would wait for me.
I was led into a room where I told to sit to await the arrival of another, more senior immigration officer.
He was a big bastard and very aggressive. He was holding my passport in his hand and suggested that it was a forgery! I was completely taken aback, and assured him that it was the genuine article.
He examined it again in great detail and the suggested that the photograph didn’t look much like me. I had had the passport a few years and my photograph showed me with a short haircut, whereas now, in keeping with the fashion of the late sixties, my hair was almost down to my shoulders – I was a veritable hippy.
He then accused me of being an American draft dodger from the Vietnam War. Apparently there had been thousands of draft dodgers who had fled across the border and were now living secretly in Canada.
I asked him if I sounded like an American, but when that didn’t impress him I searched in my hand baggage and found a few documents that I hoped would convince him I was English.
He examined them in silence, and then slowly handed them back to me.
“OK Mac, you’re not a Yank. But why are you going to Canada?”
I repeated my statement that I wanted to apply for an immigrant visa as I wanted to settle in Montreal and work there.
He looked at me and said: “Where are you going to live?”
“I don’t know”.
“Where are you going to work?”
“I don’t have a job yet.”
“What’s you line of work?”
“I’m an accountant.”
This response seemed to impress him and his unfriendly glare seemed to relax a little.
“An accountant, hmm…. Show me your qualifications.”
“I don’t have any, I’m only partly qualified”.
His manner turned sour again.
“You’re an accountant with no qualifications…. Ok buster, how much money have you got with you? Show me.”
I pulled out my wallet. I was carrying about fifty pounds. He wasn’t very impressed, so I tried to explain to him that due to UK foreign exchange regulations I wasn’t allowed to take much money out of the England but that as soon as I became settled and was able to open a Canadian Bank account, I would be able to transfer funds from my account in England to my new account in Canada.
He didn’t seem to understand what I was trying to tell him and I had to repeat it three times, but he still looked at me as though he didn’t believe a word I had said.
Finally, he asked: “So – you have some proof of this money plan?”
I told him that I had some documents in my suitcase that should prove what I was telling him was true.
With that, he stood up and called another officer over. He gave the officer my passport and bus ticket and asked him to go and remove my bags from the bus.
“What about the bus?” I asked. Will they still wait for me?”
“No buster the bus is leaving now, and you are staying here.
You have no visa, no job, you don’t know where you’re gonna live and you ain’t got no money.
I am not at all sure that we will allow you into Canada, and frankly, I doubt if you will be allowed back into the States, so you may be in for quite a stay at our little border jail!”
I WAS left alone for a few minutes and the reality of my situation was starting to sink in. Surely they wouldn’t put me in jail? This was civilised Canada! It was an ex British colony for God’s sake, and was still part of the British Commonwealth! What on earth was going on?
An officer I hadn’t seen before entered the detention room with my bags on a trolley.
He sat down behind the desk and asked me very politely to open the bags and show him some proof of my finances – that I would be able to support myself if they let me enter Canada.
I started to relax and found the file containing my bank statements and other banking documents. I showed him my latest UK statement, and also some details the bank had given me of banks in Montreal where I would be able to open an account.
He studied all the documents, and then took them out of the room and left me alone once more.
I had been sitting there for half an hour when he eventually returned with a bundle of papers in his hand.
Firstly he handed my bank documents back, and then my passport. My heart leaped – they were letting me go.
Then he said:
“We cannot accept those bank documents as proof of assets. You may or may not intend to transfer money to Canada but we have no way of verifying these intentions so it cannot be taken into account when deciding whether to grant you an entry visa.”
Oh God! I thought, they are sending me back to the USA.
“You are carrying fifty pounds with you. That should pay for a room and board for a couple of weeks. So we have issued you with a tourist visa for two weeks. If you overstay your visa you will be arrested and jailed. If you can transfer money to Canada with two weeks, you may go to the immigration centre and apply for an extension.
But I warn you sir; under no circumstances will you be allowed to work. You may stay longer if you have money and can prove it to the immigration authorities, but you may not work. If you do you will be arrested and jailed!
You may now leave”
With that he got up and waved for me to leave the room with my bags.
“But the bus has gone, how am I supposed to get to Montreal?”
“You can take the next greyhound that passes through. We will speak to the driver and he will let you on. It happens all the time.
Another hour later I was back on the bus with a visa that allowed me to stay in Canada for two weeks, and a large stamp which read: “PROHIBITED FROM WORKING”.
I had been sitting on the bus for a few minutes when the man sitting next to me, looked at me and asked me if I was O.K.?
He was a well dressed, middle aged American, also on his way to Montreal and he seemed genuinely concerned for my welfare, having seen me being escorted onto the bus by two immigration officers.
We got chatting and I told him my story. His name was Jim Donnington and he told me he was in the oil business. He asked me where I was staying in Montreal, and when I said I had nowhere to stay, he offered to help me find a place when we arrived there.
When I told him about my visa problems and showed him my passport with the “forbidden to work” stamp in it, he told me not to worry about it. He advised me to find a job first and then go to immigration and ask them to change my visa status. He told me that they were crying out for accountants in Montreal and he was sure that they would grant me a work visa once I found a job.
By the time we reached Montreal, Jim had become a firm friend. I judged that he was genuinely concerned for my welfare – a young, shy, ‘limey’ trying to make a life for himself in a strange land.
I was far too innocent in those far off days to think that he may have had other motives for helping me, and we shall see as my story progresses whether or not I should have been concerned about this apparent “Good Samaritan” who had come to my rescue.
Upon my arrival, Jim helped me with my bags – he only had a small overnight bag – and we made our way from the downtown bus terminal and then took a cab to a decent looking residential area where we started checking out guest houses.
It didn’t take long to find a nice room within my price range, but to my surprise, Jim paid the deposit to the landlady and refused to let me reimburse him. When I protested, he told me to pay him back when I was settled and had a job.
Once I had my bags in the room, Jim made his farewells. He told me he had business to do that day and that he would be returning to New York that night.
He gave me a card with his phone number on it, and told me to call him any time if I needed anything, and that once I was settled, to get on a bus and go and visit him in New York. He said he had a large apartment in downtown Manhattan and would be glad to put me up there.
I really didn’t know what to make of him, but I could only conclude that he was genuine and that I was extremely fortunate to run into him.
After I sorted the things in my room I took a walk around the area I was staying, the first of many walks I was to take during my stay in the town.
It was early spring but still very cold. Montreal was only just emerging from winter and there was still plenty of snow on the hills and on open land. It was a beautiful city with a picturesque blend of modern and ancient and I grew very fond of it and its people during my time there.
I decided to take Jim’s advice and start looking for a job, and then go to immigration to see what I could do about my immigrant status.
The obvious place to start was in the classified ads of the daily newspapers, and I soon found that Jim’s advice about there being an abundance of accounting vacancies wasn’t misplaced. There were columns and columns of ads for accountants, and I picked out one ‘punchy’ looking accountancy employment agency that seemed to have hundreds of vacancies, and called them for an interview.
I found the place the next day and came sporting my ‘part qualification’ certificate as a Chartered accountant, (I had passed the intermediate exam and completed my five year training article- ship), and more importantly, a glowing reference from my boss at the firm of Chartered Accountants. But my ‘piece de resistance’ was the terrific reference written by one of the senior Vice presidents of my previous employer, the US oil company.
Quite how much my Canadian friends understood about the UK Chartered Accountants training system I have no idea, but all these papers seem to impress them mightily, and within ten minutes I had been ushered into the office of the man who bore the name of the agency and also whose name was on all their ‘punchy’ ads.
Mike was a brash, no nonsense, fast talking professional and was extremely ‘bullish’ about finding me a decent job and seemed totally unconcerned, if not a little upset when I related to him my problems at the border and my immigration status.
He said he would write me a letter to the effect that they were finding me a job and that I should go straight down to immigration and get the matter resolved. He said they were thousands of Brits working in Montreal and he had never heard of anyone having this kind of problem before. I was to call him from immigration if they gave me any problems.
The immigration officials were all French Canadians, and it became immediately clear that they were not going to be very cooperative in my attempts to have my status changed. Their hostility was palpable, and when I showed them the letter from the employment agency, they threw it back at me with disdain.
I asked for a telephone and called Mike and told him what had happened. Mike was outraged and became more determined than ever to get his way. My problem had become his mission.
Mike made some enquiries through his contacts and came up with a ‘human rights’ French Canadian lawyer who had a lot of experience in representing illegal immigrants and fighting the immigration department.
The lawyer agreed to take on my case, free of charge. He told me that what the immigration department was doing, was illegal, and that under Canadian law, once I had been legally admitted into the country, I had a right to apply to be a landed immigrant and that it was in contravention of other Canadian laws to forbid me to work while my application was being considered, as it was tantamount to forcing me to starve.
He explained to me that recently the French Canadians had become very aggressive in trying to impose these ‘no work’ restrictions and that their actions only affected immigrants who were not of French origin. It was blatantly racist and he planned to challenge their actions in the court.
Armed with this information he told me to go back to immigration, with a letter from him, and ask for the forms to apply for landed immigrant status.
This I did and this time I received much better and respectful treatment from the officers. They gave me a stack of forms to fill in and about two hours later I was called into an office where an officer was holding my passport. He told me to sit and told me that that my application for landed immigrant status had been accepted and it would take approximately six months to process. In the meantime he said I would be allowed to stay in Canada and he had stamped my passport accordingly.
I assumed my problems were at an end, thanks to Mike and the lawyer, but my joy was short lived when he placed a document in front of me and asked me to sign it.
In essence, he was asking me to sign a paper declaring that I would not take gainful employment in Canada until my immigrant status had been approved’
I asked him how I was supposed to live for the next six months, and he said it was not his problem.
I decided to call the lawyer. He then asked me to pass the phone to the immigration officer and they had a long, obviously confrontational conversation in French.
Finally the phone was handed back to me and my lawyer told me that I should refuse to sign the paper.
I asked him what would happen if I refused to sign, and he said he wasn’t sure, but just refuse to sign and see what they do. The lawyer said that they had already stamped my passport up for six months and as I was now being processed as a landed immigrant they would not put a ‘no work’ stamp in there. Hence the document I was being asked to sign.
I asked him if they would keep my passport or maybe even detain me, and the lawyer said that I shouldn’t worry – that whatever happens he would help me.
I was going to be a test case!!
I HUNG up the phone and looked at the immigration officer.
“My lawyer has told me not to sign the document,” I told him.
He looked at me for a long time in silence, and then picked up my passport and handed it back to me.
“If you try to work you will be prosecuted”, he said, and then told me to report back to his office in two weeks’ time.
Back at Mike’s employment agency, I recounted what had transpired and Mike called the lawyer who assured me that it was all bluff and that nothing would happen to me if I started working.
Between the two of them they pretty much convinced me that I had nothing more to worry about. So Mike started to set up interviews, and I decided it was time to move out of the guest house I had been staying in since my arrival and find more permanent accommodation.
I found a lovely studio apartment in downtown Montreal at a rent I reckoned I could afford, based on the kind of salaries that were on offer for accountants, and somewhat recklessly signed up for a one year lease.
Once settled into my new bachelor pad, complete with TV and telephone (a luxury for me in those far off days), I decided to call Mardie to let her know how things were going.
Although I had been preoccupied with immigration and other matters over the past week, I was now starting to miss her like mad and was quite desperate to hear the sound of her sweet voice.
To my dismay and disappointment, Mardie’s phone appeared to be out of order and however many times I tried, I was unable to get through.
In desperation I decided to call my American ‘benefactor’, Jim, who I had met on the bus and who had been so kind to me.
This time my luck held and Jim answered the phone. I explained to him how things were going and all the trouble I had had with immigration and he immediately suggested that I take an overnight bus to New York that weekend to visit with him. He was sure he could find me a good job in New York if I wanted one.
I explained that I had pretty much burnt my bridges now and was committed to staying in Canada, but he still insisted that I come for a visit and assess the situation.
He even told me that he could arrange for me to obtain a green card, which would allow me to live and work legally in the USA.
It was very tempting, for all I had wanted to do in the first place was to move to New York and be near my Mardie.
I told him I would think seriously about his offer, and in the meantime would he kindly do me a big favour. I explained that I had been unable to contact my girlfriend, Mardie and was concerned that something may have happened to her.
Ever the gentleman, he said it would be no problem at all and asked me for her phone number and address and he would see what he could find out.
The following evening he called to tell me that he hadn’t been able to contact Mardie by telephone so he had gone up to Queens to see her in person. He reported that both Mardie and Sally were at home and were fine, and that their phone was simply out of order.
He then repeated his request for me to come and see him in New York, and after all he had done I didn’t feel I could refuse, so I agreed to come the following Sunday and stay for a few days.
I reasoned that if I was going to New York, I had better go there before I started work in Montreal.
But by far and away the greatest incentive to go there was that I would be able to go and see Mardie, now that I knew she was at home and well. I was missing her so much.
True to his word, Jim met me at the New York bus terminal and escorted me to a huge black limousine of a certain vintage and drove me to his massive apartment in downtown Manhattan.
I was shown my huge, ornate bedroom with a massive double-bed and was then introduced to Jim’s daughter, who lived with him.
She was Marie, a lady probably in her mid thirties who was very large and obviously handicapped, both mentally and physically. They lived together in this enormous place and it became immediately clear that Jim doted on his only daughter.
I believe there must have been people to help take care of Marie when Jim was away, but during the brief period I was there, I never saw any sign of them.
The following morning, Monday, Jim took me to meet some people in a large Manhattan office and copied all my ‘employment documents’ while I filled out a host of application forms.
He explained to me that the company was engaged in classified work for the government and that I would require security clearance, but he felt sure he would be able to arrange that for me.
I was interviewed and the company was very keen to employ me. There is no doubt that the letter of reference from the senior executive of my ex-employer, (the American oil company) seemed to carry a lot of weight.
On our way back to his apartment that afternoon, I asked Jim about the green card. He explained that through his contacts he would find a US citizen to marry me. He would pay the fee involved, and as soon as I was issued with my green card he would arrange for a divorce.
This plan came as quite a shock, but as Jim seemed so in control of the situation and was clearly able to pull so many strings, I came to terms with the idea pretty quickly.
Except that in my own mind I began to dream that the obvious alternative solution to avoiding any ‘underhand dealings’ was to persuade Mardie to marry me.
Back at Jim’s apartment, I tried Mardie’s phone number. To my surprise it was back working and Sally answered the phone.
I asked to speak to Mardie, but was told she was out. I enquired when she would be home and asked if it would be OK if I popped round later that evening to see them.
There was a long pause before she finally said that they would be pleased to see me and suggested I see them there at around eight p.m.
With much eager anticipation I rushed up to Queens that evening, looking forward to seeing my love at long last.
Sally answered the door, and when she showed me in, there was no sign of Mardie. My heart sunk.
It sunk even further when she informed me that at that very moment Mardie was winging her way to Puerto Rico for a vacation.
“Puerto Rico?..… Vacation?…. why?…. with who?….”
“She’s gone with friends – it was a last minute decision.”
“But why? You told me she would be here, to see me…”
“Mobi, she asked me to tell you to come. She wants me to speak to you.”
I sat in silence, staring at her, not believing what I was hearing.
“Mobi, Mardie has been very distraught and stressed out lately. It has been affecting her health. She has been quite ill and has had to take many days off work. Migraines, fevers and very bad acne. She’s not as strong as you think she is.”
“I don’t understand, why is she so stressed?”
“You really don’t know?”
“No,” I replied, but was starting to get an inkling.
“It’s because of you Mobi. She is so upset about you. She knows how you feel about her and she feels so guilty about it because she cannot return your feelings.
She is so grateful for everything you did for her in England and she is very fond of you and worries about you.
“But she doesn’t love me?” I asked, forlornly.
“No, Mobi, she doesn’t love you and she doesn’t want to hurt you. She doesn’t know what to do, so her friends told her to take a vacation and get away from it all.”
“How long will she be away?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” I was beginning to sound desperate.
“I don’t know because she didn’t say. She will come back when she is feeling better.”
There was a very long silence as I absorbed this information. The reality of the situation began to take hold in my love-struck mind.
“So what you are telling me is that Mardie doesn’t want to see me again – ever,” I mumbled in a low, croaked voice.
“Yes, Mobi. I am sorry, but that is what I am telling you.”
“Can I ask you one more thing?”
“Does Mardie have a new boy friend?”
Then finally: “Mobi, don’t ask that question. I think it’s time for you to go.”
I looked at her for a long time before slowly and wearily getting to my feet and somehow finding my way out of the apartment, onto the subway which took me back to Manhattan and Jim’s apartment.
I was in a daze and I didn’t know what had hit me. I knew that things were not so good between us, but I put it all down to my uncertain situation and had always convinced myself that once I had settled into my new life, then our relationship would return to how it had been in London.
I was so young, so naive and so devastated. And to make it worse, I was all alone on the other side of the world -‘a stranger in a strange land’.
It was enough to turn a good man to drink.
The next day I told Jim that my affair with Mardie was over and that while I was very grateful for all the trouble he had gone to in helping me find work and stay in America, I had decided that the best thing was for me to return to Montreal and start a new life there and try and forget about Mardie.
As ever he was very gracious and wished me good luck in Montreal and implored me to stay in touch and come to visit again, whenever I had some free time.
He took me to the bus station, bought my bus ticket, refused all my entreaties to pay him back for it and helped me on the bus.
Although that wasn’t the last contact I had with Jim, it was the last time that saw him, and I often wonder what may have happened if I had decided to accept his offer of help and stayed in New York.
I would probably have become an American citizen and spent the rest of my life there.
I never knew who Jim really was. He was an enigma.
What was a person, with his apparent wealth, doing on an overnight bus to Montreal?
He seemed to have incredible connections, and sometime later when I wrote to him that I was in Nigeria, he replied, asking me to check out any available oil concessions as he was keen to do business there! I don’t believe he was a ‘bullshitter’ – because as far as I was concerned, he delivered.
He was a kind, generous man who helped a fellow human being when he needed help, without asking for anything in return.
A true Samaritan – something of a rarity in this day and age.
I returned to Montreal, prepared myself for job interviews and resolved to put everything behind me and start again.
One evening, a few days after I was back, I received a call from London.
On the bus back to Montreal I had written to one of my ex colleagues in London, telling him the sad saga of what had transpired in North America, including the break up with Mardie.
All in London had known her well and knew that it was because of Mardie that I had decided to leave my job in the first place.
And now, my former boss in London was on the other end of the phone. They had an immediate vacancy in Nigeria if I was interested.
At that time Nigeria was in the throes of a civil war, but what the hell?
It didn’t take long for me to decide. I asked him about the cost of a ticket back to London, and he said that if I could pay for it up front they would reimburse me when I got back.
A quick check of my finances revealed that I had just enough cash to cover the fare, but it would clean me out entirely.
There were problems – the lease on my apartment, my commitments to Mike at the recruitment office, and even the lawyer, but in spite of all this I decided to take the plunge and return home.
I had come to North America in pursuit of love – and that dream was now dashed. There was nothing really keeping me there.
A few days later, after writing letters of abject apology and grateful thanks to Mike and the lawyer, I am ashamed to admit I did a “moonlight flit” from my apartment with all my belongings and made my way to the airport where I boarded an Air Canada flight back to Heathrow.
I never heard from or saw Mardie again.
When I was in Nigeria, I did write a couple of letters both to her New York address and to her parents’ address in New Mexico, but never received a reply.
I often wonder what became of her. Maybe she married ‘six foot four Chuck Jr’, and had loads of Chuck junior- juniors.
I will never know now, but I still remember her with much affection.
Mardie was my only true relationship that wasn’t based on whore’s gold.