Every so often, I simply have an itch to write, and I am not particularly fussed about what to write. The trouble is, of course, that any old bollocks will probably bore the pants of most people, so I try to resist the temptation to rattle off at will. Then there is the fact that the euro crisis, the one ongoing story here in Europe which rather preoccupies us and on which I have been giving my two ha’porth ad nauseam for several months, is not necessarily of much interest to folk in Indonesia, Russia, Australia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea or any of the other places in which people who have dropped into this blog live and which are ‘not in Europe’. They, I am obliged to concede, have their own preoccupations. In fact, it is a universal fault that we believe everyone else is fascinated by our every fart: I farted, Lord, I’d better tell the world! And as, I hope, I am not only aware that that is the universal fault but that there is really no reason why I, too, do not suffer from it I try to resist simply blethering on about myself. Usually I succeed. But tonight - well, what the hell. So here goes.
I have two children, Elsie, now 15 years and four months old, and Wesley, 12 years and six months old. They are everything to me as and, it has to be said, that is something only a parent will completely understand. There are, obviously, exceptions, but as a rule having a child changes your life, and it most certainly changed mine. I was middle-aged when Elsie was born, and until I met her mother, now my wife, my life was going nowhere and I was not at all happy. The genesis of our union was not the most romantic, although I suspect it was less unusual than the purveyors of romantic fiction would like. I got her mother pregnant. I had not been going out with her. It was no great love match, although it turns out she had had a crush on me for many years, although I did not know that.
To cut a long story short, when she told me she was pregnant, I asked myself whether I would be happy if she had an abortion. I decided I wouldn’t, although had she wanted one, I would not have opposed her. But she didn’t want one. I then asked myself whether I would be happy being an absent father, the sort of chap who turned up every so often carrying expensive presents in the hope that their extravagant cost would somehow compensate for the fact that he had not relationship with the child at all. I decided didn’t. Then I asked myself whether I felt I would be happy asking the woman to marry me. I decided that although I didn’t love her, I liked her well enough and so I would ask her to marry me. I did. She accepted. A few months later, she miscarried the child she was carrying, and, to put it bluntly, I had a ‘get out’ clause. I was now under no obligation to ‘do the right thing’.
But I was 45, lonely, would loved to have had a family, and - to my shame - also realised that I would very much enjoy living in her 16th-century granite cottage situated in a pleasant spot on the edge of Bodmin Moor a quarter of a mile or so out of the village. So our plans carried on, she became pregnant again, our daughter Elsie was born on August 7, 1996, and our son Wesley was born a year and a half later on May 25, 1999, 110 years to the day on which my German grandmother was born. My - our? - marriage is not the most successful, but without wanting to sound too dramatic, I love my children more than life itself. They are no longer the cuddly babies, then toddlers they once were, but they are still the joy of my life.
. . .
Years ago, when I was 25 years old, I got a young woman pregnant, and when she told me she was pregnant, in one and the same breath she told me she would be having an abortion. She was 18 and due to go to university. She did not ask me whether I wanted her to have an abortion, she simply told me she was going to have one. And when Katie, the 18-year-old involved, told me, I remember two strong feelings: I was relieved that she was going to have an abortion and felt dumb relief that she had not considered asking me whether she should have one or not.
To this day, I firmly believe that whether or not to abort an embryo is essentially the choice of the woman. I don’t believe the father of the embryo has any rights at all. On the other hand, a woman who finds herself pregnant and realises she would prefer not to have the child needs as much support as she can get. Had Katie asked me whether she should abort the child or whether she should bear it, I have no idea what I would have said. For when she told me she intended to abort her foetus, I realised that in many ways I did not much like abortion. Hence, my relief that I was not asked to help make a decision. I’ll repeat: I firmly believe that it should solely be a woman’s choice whether or not she aborts the child she is carrying (and many would argue that the ‘embryo’ is not recognisably a ‘child’ for many months after conception). But I do feel a distaste for what might be described as the British abortion industry: having an abortion seems to have become a means of contraception. The difference is, of course, that there is a huge difference between ensuring that no life is created and terminating a life which is unwanted.
Many years ago, I was trying to flog feature ideas to magazines and I came up with the idea of whether or not a man should have any say in a woman’s intended abortion, the particularly ‘angle’ to the feature being whether or not a man had a right to demanding that a woman did not have an abortion. I interviewed various women in preparation - those ‘pro choice’ and those ‘pro life’ - and neither camp supported the idea that a guy had the right to such a demand. But what I particularly remember was an interview with a Scottish woman who ran a ‘pro life’ group.
First of all, she was no fanatic. We have a tendency to pigeonhole folk, and many ‘pro life’ activists are portrayed as right-wing religious nutters. Perhaps some are, but this woman most certainly wasn’t. She told me that when she was younger, she had had an abortion and subsequently felt a huge loss. She told me that gradually she had become active in counselling women who were considering having an abortion and that although she did not try to change the minds of those who were intent on aborting their child, she did warn them that, like her, they might subsequently regret it. I shall repeat: she did not strike me as a fanatic. Perhaps her ‘pro life’ views were shaped by her upbringing (whatever that was), but then that cannot be regarded as a drawback, for who is to say that it is ‘wrong’ that our upbringing should not influence what principles we espouse. Exactly why should the intellect hold the whip hand when it comes to deciding what we feel is ‘right’ and what ‘wrong’? And who can guarantee that those who espouse more ‘liberal’ and more ‘progressive’ principles aren’t ultimately equally influenced by their upbringing?
When Katie told me she was planning to abort the foetus, I was relieved. For I realised then and there that had she wanted to keep the child, I would have gone along with her wish. Furthermore, being (this is a very, very difficult admission but) inclined to doing the ‘right’ and ‘honourable’ thing (did I really claim that? Yes, I did. Please don’t think me a completely conceited toe-rag. It might well not be true), I would at the very least have acknowledged the child and supported it. But it never got that far. Katie told me that she was going to have an abortion and I was very, very relieved. (She had it on August 29, 1975, a date I remember especially well, as it was also the birthday of Annette, the girl I was going out with who lived near my parents in Oxfordshire. And it is also the day I did what I regard as the most shameful thing I have ever so far done. Katie went off to a clinic in Leamington Spa to have her abortion. I can’t remember whether she went on the Thursday (August 28) and was due to come back on the Friday, or whether it was a day trip. Either way, she asked me whether I would be there in at Lincoln station to meet her off the train. I said I wouldn’t be.
At the time I was working for as a reporter on the Lincolnshire Chronicle and was due to take the Friday off to travel down to Henley-on-Thames where my parents lived to celebrate Annette’s birthday with her. Whether or not I told Katie why I would not be meeting her I don’t know. But it really doesn’t matter. To this day I feel completely and utterly ashamed of my selfishness.
I have never told anyone that before but even writing it down here doesn’t in any way ease my shame. And nor should it. I hope to Christ that if I am ever faced with a similar situation I will have the strength of character to behave rather better. A little earlier, I wrote - and thought myself embarrassed for doing so - that I was the kind of chap who was inclined to the ‘right’ and ‘honourable’ thing. At the end of the day, I was, of course, nothing of the kind.
. . .
This might sound like the tackiest idea possible, but just as a year or two ago I listed and wrote about all the cars I have owned, I intend, here in this blog, doing the same with all the girls I have ‘slept with’. This list will be a little bit longer than a list of all the girls I ‘went out with’. The idea for such a blog entry occurred to me a many months ago, but at the time I rejected it as being far too tacky. So what has changed? Well, nothing really, except that having turned 62 five days ago, I feel in the mood for looking back. Then there is the fact that I have not had sex for more than ten years (not my choice) and, since, my heart attack have, unfortunately, not had a hard-on to speak of. I would dearly, dearly, dearly love to go to bed with a woman again (and I am one of those who insists there is a great deal more to ‘going to bed’ than simply having sex), but must sadly admit to myself that the chances of that happening are growing slimmer by the day. And those who ask: what about your wife? all I can say is to remind them of the most ancient of ancient philosophical conundrums: is there life after marriage?
Check back for a ‘that list’. It will feature not only those women who were all the love of my life, but the black girl who spoke impeccable German I briefly met on a train (I was getting off, she was getting on), the girl from the gym I went to who offered to beat me up (I said, thanks, but no thanks) and my fastest seduction ever (or was it hers? Seven minutes from our the exchange of a few words in the pub to bonking away in bed. It helped that my flat was right next to the pub).