SOME MEMOIRS -- by John Ray
Some occasional personal notes from a quiet life...
8th February, 1996
It was Thursday 8th February, 1996 when I first took JH out. I arranged to meet her at a small Italian restaurant/coffee bar called "Cafe Tempo" at West End, where we had dinner. JH seemed to think that it was rather grotty. After dinner, however, I took her for coffee by the river at South Bank and she really liked that. While we were there I recited a slab of Chaucer's "Prologue" to her in the original Middle English, which made a very favourable impression. I was of course aware at that time that in her degree she had majored in English.
JH was a bit oldrer than me at the time I met her, is a definite "lovely lady" (gentle, good-hearted, refined) and was undoubtedly beautiful even at the age she was when I met her -- with fine and very white skin, a slim waist and (amazingly!) almost waist-length golden-blonde hair (which she invariably wore up). She is 5'6" tall, has striking blue eyes and a million-candlepower smile. And even in her late 50's she had a body any teenager would be proud of -- though her invariably modest dress does tend to conceal what is a very feminine figure (36", 22", 38"). She did make a very good mermaid for our late night swims in her pool!
When I met her she had not been to a hairdresser for seven years and the only skin treatment she uses is soap and water. So when I met her the ends of her hair were getting a bit thin (which mattered little for most purposes as she always wore her hair up in a chignon at that time). Not long after we met, therefore, she let me club-cut a few inches off the bottom to even it up.
JH did her University studies late in life (in the 80s) and got 7s (High Distinctions) for practically everything she did. She also got University of Queensland prizes. University Prizes are not exactly handed out like salted peanuts and winning one meant that JH was the University's best student in that particular category in the year concerned. (By way of context I might note that there would have been about 18,000 students at the University of Qld. at the time). So there is a brilliant brain behind that demure, perfectly groomed and ladylike exterior. So meeting such an intellectually accomplished woman was for me like a thirsty man encountering an oasis in the desert.
JH is a classical-music-only person and is also very literary. She knows more Old English than I do but I know more Middle English! I felt practically from the moment I met her that if she and I were together I would really be a happy little Vegemite. Her quite unusual degree of familiarity with high culture was enormously attractive to me -- and her good looks and great femininity did not hurt either! We do find it very easy to talk to one-another and our normal dinner-table conversations would leave most other people well out of it. Her main interests are Classical music, English literature and History -- which are also longtime interests of mine, of course.
That JH and I have a rather similar political background is probably also some contribution to amity between us. We are both former members of a conservative party and have hence both at times been seen by others as, "to the Right of Genghis Khan". That neither of us approve of anything about Mr. Khan did not seem to matter.
Why two people come to love one-another is not something that one can normally specify very well but I think that there are basically three things that drew JH and me together: What we share intellectually, the strong emotional communion we have through music and the fact that she is in the end a real woman with all the usual motivations one might expect of that -- and real men like real women, of course. So it took a while but we gradually became closer and closer to one-another -- with the fact that she was still in love with her late husband as only an initial retarding factor. Losing him was devastating to her
Another way in which I suited JH is (perhaps surprisingly, given my Bohemian inclinations) socially. Her friends and acquaintances include such exalted people as Archbishops, Vice-Chancellors, Professors, barristers etc. so the fact that I have a title, pronounced intellectual distinction and great social confidence and adaptability always helped a lot. With me as her escort, she felt that she had the right sort of man with her, someone she could be proud of. The fact that I cannot generally be much bothered with small-talk was always a bit of a cross for her, though.
From fairly early on in our relationship, JH and I normally saw one-another six nights a week. I would drive each night (except Tuesday) to her large modern four bedroom brick house in a "good" suburb -- where the accommodation could reasonably be described as like a large version of the best suite in a first class hotel. While I was there, we almost always had classical music playing. We both like the Baroque period in particular and have little time for 19th century opera. We are both Bach and Vivaldi lovers and listen to Beethoven seldom. Music was from the beginning a very important part of our relationship. JH was the only woman I had ever met who liked the great Bach chorales (Wachet auf, Ein feste Burg etc) as much as I do. I suppose it is only a romantic fancy but I think there is a sense in which Bach brought us together and to this day still keeps us together in important ways.
JH's aesthetic sensitivity does work very strongly in my favour in two ways. The first is obvious -- our shared love of early music. The second is less obvious -- she loves me to wear the kilt. Whenever I wore full Highland dress it really made her day. I need little encouragement to do so but she even suggested it when I might not have thought of it. So I ended up wearing it quite often.
JH and I always seemed to find quite a few things to do by way of outings. As well as dinners we went to the odd talk and quite a lot of classical concerts of various sorts. We generally had at least one outing per week. And on any remotely special occasion JH would always be keen for me to wear the kilt. It was almost pointless my owning a dinner jacket since on any occasion where a dinner jacket might be worn, JH would have me in Highland dress! Since she herself always dressed beautifully it was the least I could do to oblige, however.
But JH looked so pretty in her elaborate handmade white lace blouse and pleated ankle-length black woollen skirt that I had to do what I could to complement her. She very much likes everything in her environment to look first-class. As she looks very nice herself, however, I feel that JH has some right to like everything around her to look nice too. She told me once about a time when she was all of three years old. She was apparently taking part in some sort of church pageant in which she played Little Red Riding Hood. With her very white skin, pink cheeks, blue eyes and golden hair, onlookers at the time thought that she looked like a perfect little Dresden China doll. That China doll grew up to become mine!
Something thing JH and I both liked to do is go to the odd free public lecture. The University of Qld. puts on some good ones at times. We went to one by an Oxford Don where it was explained to us that the Star of Bethlehem was really a comet that appeared in 5 B.C. and another on ancient Egypt by one of the archaeologists (Kanawati) currently digging there. Another archaeological lecture threw doubt on whether there ever was a single group that could rightly be described as Celts.
We also went quite often to the free Sunday morning concerts put on at the Customs House by the Department of Music of the University of Queensland. It is such a beautiful classical building that classical music seems to sound better there.
At one stage JH wanted me to get myself a reefer jacket (a supposedly nautical type of semi-casual jacket in a mid-blue colour with patch pockets and metal buttons). I was already by that time a devoted customer of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul so I though I might find something suitable there. Since she is very fussy about what she calls good tailoring, it did on the face of it seem unlikely that Vinnies would be able to provide that. I had however figured out what she means by good tailoring: She likes a man's jacket to show a waist. So I went around the big charity outlets and on my third try found a classic reefer jacket that did just what JH wanted -- and for a jacket to show a waist on me was no mean feat at the time! The metal buttons had a Scottish Highlands monogram on them, which suited me very well and the jacket was even perfectly pressed -- saving me a dry-cleaning bill. The total cost? $6. The new cost would have been over $200. The look of delight on JH's face when she first saw me in it would however easily have justified an expenditure much greater even than that.
July 20, 1996
My 53rd birthday celebrations were from my point of view certainly my best birthday celebrations ever up until that time. For a start, JH gave a dinner party in honour of the day. The day fell on a Monday that year so we had the dinner party on the prior Sunday. We invited just John Henningham and his wife Helen. Henningham and I always have lots of laughs and lots to talk about so it would have been superfluous to invite others as well. Another factor was that JH also knew Henningham independently of his being a friend of mine.
So the dinner was a very pleasant and relaxed affair. JH of course set an immaculate table with lots of silver, crystal and white napery -- very traditional but also very stylish. She also served up food that was not only perfectly cooked but also perfectly presented.
Given Henningham's recent conversion to the Church of Rome and my theological interests the main topics of conversation were ecclesiastical and theological.
On the Monday itself I took JH to The Clansmen restaurant. It has various Scottish features, a vaguely Scottish cuisine and is situated in a beautiful old colonial building at Annerley. It is a bit dear so I go there only on special occasions but when I do go I usually wear the kilt in honour of my shreds of Scottish ancestry (I have one ancestor with an Irish name [Joseph Kelly] who was born in Scotland and another ancestor with a Scottish name [Jane Burnside] who came from Ireland!).
On this occasion I wore full Highland formal dress: My red MacRae tartan kilt, white pleated dress shirt, black bow tie, black silk waistcoat, Prince Charlie jacket etc. JH really loved it! I think "splendid" was her word for my attire on that occasion. JH, of course dressed beautifully for the occasion too. She wore a shapely black classic suit she had bought from Harrods in London many years before and teamed it with a rather elaborate cream blouse that was also from Harrods. She has kept the same figure for many years and always buys classic styles so she can do that sort of thing. And since it was midwinter she put on her MINK jacket over it all to step outside the door. With her golden hair up in her usual chignon, with her fine white skin and her usual perfect grooming and poise she really looked as elegant a lady as any man has ever taken out.
I was equally aware that there was a brilliant brain behind the steady gaze of her pretty pale blue eyes I felt a very fortunate man indeed at that dinner.
As a final touch to the festivities, Jenny also gave me a birthday dinner on the Wednesday. She had most of the kids over (Paul was away) for the occasion so that was lovely too. Ken also came along and was good company as usual. Jenny interested us both by revealing that she had at long last worked out what she liked most in men: arrogance. That certainly accounted for me and Ken felt that he had been pretty arrogant in his youth too.
Anyway, it was certainly the first time that my birthday celebrations had stretched over so many days! I thought that being an old guy did have its compensations!
Our first Xmas celebrations together (in 1996) consisted of a dinner given by JH on Xmas eve for her family and myself. As a present I gave JH a bottle of Arpege perfume. JH had said that it was her favourite so it seemed the obvious thing to do but it is unusually expensive so the cost could have put some people off.
JH of course appreciated it greatly and always mentioned it when she wore it subsequently but the most amusing part of it to me was the effect on her daughter -- who was present when the gifts were opened on Xmas eve. She was aged about 35 at the time and I had previously seemed fairly invisible to her. After she saw what I gave her mother, however, I suddenly seemed to become much more visible. As a giver of Arpege I was treated with respect!
We had a few near-breakups during our time together but because we basically had a great appreciation of one-another, we made a big effort to overcome the problems concerned. Finally, however, we both saw that the effort needed from both sides for two dominant people to be life partners was just too much so we ended our relationship on 6 September 1997.
We were soon however seeing one-another just as friends once or twice a week. Because of our very great appreciation for one-another, neither of us wanted a final or total break. We really loved one-another but we also constantly irritated one-another in a lot of small ways so that could not go on.
The continuing closeness between us did, however, help to minimize any emotional harm that the split could cause to either of us. In fact it gave us both much improved emotional strength for dealing with other relationships. For both of us the knowledge that we each had a loving "other" who was never far away was a little secret that made us both stronger generally. Neither of us needed others as much as we might have otherwise.
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