I always have such need to merely talk to you *

I’ve always known who you are. Until you arrived in it, you were the woman I could never meet in my reality, because I wasn’t made or built to attract or draw that kind of attention. I lurk in the shadows, working unseen, by stealth you might say, like a wisteria growing steadily and silently through the day and the night, clothing and then binding your naked body with the soft and delicate touch of its leaves, buds and flowers; or perhaps it is that I’m like a private detective working a difficult case, narrowing down all the angles until there is only one admissible solution (or perhaps two, seeing as how we neither of us yet know the story’s end for sure). In certain lights I must seem as single-minded as a tennis champion or a worker bee, and as maddeningly obsessive as a crate digger or panner for gold. But I knew you from the first moments of reading and meeting you, knew that you would expand to fill the space of my life till there was only you, that good, bad and ugly (or rather, beautiful, maybe not so good, and maybe not so beautiful, and that’s an averaging out my rose-tinted view and your over-bleak self-assessment, by the way), I would welcome you in, make a home for you here, furnished by you and for you. Would give you anything you wanted. I have done so from day one, and I will go on doing so until you tell me, with a conviction that is not to be undermined by the passing of time, no more. But even then, of course, it would continue, because such permanent restraint would also be an act of love.

My darling, there really isn’t anything you could tell me that would make me think less of you. It only grows, this love, and it never crusts. When your thorns prick me, of course I bleed. But this body is still young enough to repair itself, this mind still sufficiently agile. The heart that sends that blood around it beats for you alone, and whether you’re there or not, you are the rhythm of my days, the temper of my pulse, the oxygen that fuels my brain. That is the nature of my love. Undying, unstinting, unyielding. It’s a madness, of course, and yet to wish to stay in that state seems to me to be the sanest response to a world filled with so many other, lesser kinds of madness, and some of those so terrible. The fruits of the fever of love are the sweetest, and besides, no magnificent endeavour was ever achieved, no legendary tale finally told, without a little insanity and some greater or lesser degree of difficulty along the way.

* ‘Wherever I am, wherever I go, I always have such need to merely talk to you. Even when I have nothing to talk about – with you I just seem to go right ahead and sort of invent it. I invent it for you. Because I never seem to run out of tenderness for you and because I need to feel you near. Excuse the bad writing and excuse the emotional overflow. What I mean to say, perhaps, is that, in a way, I am never empty of you; not for a moment, an instant, a single second.’ – Virginia Woolf, from a letter to Vita Sackville-West



Odysseus in the cave of Calypso

“With the passage of translated Homer that we had read the day before in mind, I thought how lovely it would be to stay on here, like Odysseus in the cave of Calypso.
‘Wouldn’t it be lovely,’ Nadejda said at that moment, breaking the long silence of her pose with a friendly smile that obliterated any traces of intensity, ‘if you could stay on here like Odysseus in the cave of Calypso?’
‘That’s exactly what I was thinking.’” – Patrick Leigh Fermor, The broken road

So sweet it has been, here in this cave with you, careless of the hours, days and years which have flown by. You always knew how to turn out a room as well as transfix one, and our living quarters have had every comfort, every item we could wish for. Bunches of toothsome grapes, tubs of salt-sharp olives, amphorae from the best vineyard on the island. A natural chimney and hearth, objets d’art set into shelf-like recesses in the internal rock face, the finest wall hangings from the best weavers in all of Persia, and luxurious divans upon which we have lain in a variety of breath-held poses that would have shocked the most hedonistic of the Gods had we let them see us. But unobserved in our cave, we have loved from dawn till dusk and dusk till dawn, filling the time between our flights of ecstasy with interlocution of the most recondite kind, at one remove from the events which may or may not have been taking place beyond the lip of the cave’s entrance, out there in the ungodly world.

Over time, however, when I looked at you and saw that your attention was broken, unease began increasingly to steal over my soul, a sense that something was not quite right, that I was bewitched while you were not, that I should try to wrestle free of your spell and continue on my journey, or perish with the tasks and stories of a life unaccomplished. It wrenches my heart from its cavity to leave this cave, to part from the heady perfume of your presence, from every good, bad and beautiful thing about you. But – though I will inevitably continue to doubt and debate my actions – perhaps I ought to be as strong and unforgiving as steel, and journey on alone, and you ought to be and do so too.

My stories could all easily have begun and ended with you, in you, but the grain of sand in my soul has like the pearl in an oyster grown so large that it dictates that I must seek to lose it by travelling to other lands. I have nothing but gratitude for you, for the way you held me here in this torch-lit stronghold of love and desire and gave so freely of yourself. Though sorrow hangs heavy about my frame, there are no recriminations, for you have given me something I never expected and cannot ever now be without. You were the woman of my dreams and whatever happens, you will remain the lead actor in them. Perhaps after my travels are done, and the sun has moved around the earth who knows how many times, I will hear you call out, and find my way back to this cave, and we will pick up our loving and our endless dialogue as if it had been interrupted merely by a single day and night.

And in the meantime, these writings will stand as a record of the seven beautiful years we shared in this cave. They will stand.

Museums of Broken Relationships

A new Museum of Broken Relationships has opened on – of all places – Hollywood Boulevard (surely already more the Boulevard of Broken Dreams than anything else, at least for those who have not been so lucky as to be immortalised with their own star). It is a franchise version of the original travelling exhibit and museum, which opened its permanent doors in Zagreb in 2010, the year you and I first met.

The museums’ exhibits are exotic in their variety and unpredictability. Besides a pair of fake breasts, a frisbee and a toaster, there is belly button fluff:

‘D’s stomach had a particular arrangement of body hair that made his belly button prone to collecting lint. Occasionally, he’d extract a piece and stick it to my body, sweaty after sex. One day… I met his oddity with my own; I put the lint in a small bag and concealed it away in the drawer of my bedside table.’

The museums bring to mind the things that you wrote about discarding last year, in a determined act of survival – the bracelet, the stone I turned into a poem, notes and letters in my hand. I wondered then as I wonder now whether you kept the various books I gave you. I hope so, that they can in some way stand apart from me, and yet still bring me to mind when your eye lands on their spines. But equally, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have sold them, finding yourself curious to see which of your customers might offer those tokens of love a new lease of life.

Inevitably I find myself considering what I might contribute to such a museum, if one opened in this country and I felt moved to pack it up a parcel, including the requisite short text explaining the enclosed object’s significance. The most obvious thing would be the coin you gave me, for luck, for remembrance, for love. But it continues to form a ritual part of my days, and I cannot bear to part with it. I still feel it has fortune to support, and neither do I wish to forget.

What about the lingerie you deliberately left behind; mementos of what I took from you, of what you were happy to give to me? Again I feel the same reluctance. Besides, perhaps they would be too obvious, too stereotypical a contribution. After all, the LA museum is opening on the site of a lingerie shop that went bankrupt.

Then perhaps one of the notes in your lovely, loopy hand, relics which I keep in an envelope at work (though soon I will have to find a new hiding place for them). But which? Inscribed on the back of a faded black and white photograph of a swan, are the words ‘For my favourite story-teller and spinner of words…’, followed by a declaration of love, and a short PS: ‘Hope it works!’ – this having been the note accompanying the aforementioned coin.

Or another similarly faded black and white photo, of a skyful of birds. It’s hard to make out which species; perhaps they are murmurating starlings or skeining geese, or possibly they’re windblown rooks. On its back you wrote a six line poem, surrounding the words with tendrils from which hearts grew. Soon after sending it to me, you went on to write a beautifully quizzical piece castigating yourself for your choice of one particular word in its last line; and as with every new part of you that you gifted me, I only loved you all the more for it.

I wonder if you remember now the shopkeeper’s tag that you attached to the smallest, sweetest slither of a crepe-wrapped present, that having been the fragile token depicting two love-birds which I used to keep in my pocket before the coin replaced it. Its string intact, the tag has the smallest, sweetest slither of a note written on both sides of it.

Finally, and most recently, there are a few words on a scrap of paper torn from a notebook, which you had folded into a small square and inserted into the pages of a late Christmas present, a book I later returned to you so that you yourself could read it. On the uppermost folded square, you had written this haiku:

we found each other
and whatever happens now
the world is brighter

Perhaps, if I could bear to part with it, this haiku note, together with the ones I sent back to you and the book within which they were all hidden, which set in motion our call-and-response writing of haiku and tanka, might most suitably form our joint contribution.

But the truth is, I do not want to think of our relationship as broken. It happened, and despite circumstances, went on happening, in the most beautiful ways imaginable. And then it stopped happening (over and over again, as it turned out). It may finally have ended once and for all, but the days and the memories of them linger, they will not be banished no matter how hard you or I try. Perhaps I am kidding myself, but there is a sense in which our love will live forever, or at least, for as long as each of us are able to remember it. My love is unbroken – will not be broken – and so I cannot see myself ever contributing any of those precious relics to either of the existing Museums of Broken Relationships, nor to one that might in future open here.


I don’t think I ever told you, did I, about the time my sister’s Irish boyfriend rang me up and asked me to intercede on his behalf, because she was refusing to talk to him, having decided in her head that it was over, that he’d let her down once too often. At least until her husband came along some years later, this Irish fella was the love of her life, but he couldn’t quite commit to her, he couldn’t leave Belfast for a life in England with her; he was a weekend dad with two daughters from a marriage that had come unstuck. Nor for some reason would he let her come to him. I can no longer remember many of the other particulars, but I listened to him, and because he importuned me to, I tried to hold in my head what his thoughts and feelings were so that I could pass them on to my sister.

For more than an hour, he talked about her and them and the it of their relationship, and I felt for him, I wished it could be that it would turn out alright, but I knew that my sister had already made the break in her head, if not her heart. He called upon me to put what I thought her view of all this was, and I did that too, as best I could, and then I listened some more as he in turn tried his best both to apologise and to counter. – Just one more chance, that’s all I’m asking for, he said, his voice breaking, and I told him I would do my best. He knew I had my sister’s ear, that she would already have discussed her decision with me, that I was the wise old owl in her life, relatively speaking. He knew too that I was fair, that I wouldn’t misrepresent him. He guessed that I would see both sides. He was right. I could see both sides.

And so there followed another hour-long phone call with my sister, in which she remained unmoved by persuasion at one remove, and then a second, much shorter phone call with her Irish ex. I told him the answer as gently as I could. His voice cracking, very nearly gone, he thanked me for trying and wished me well. Then he put the phone down, and began the job of facing the rest of his life without the woman he undoubtedly loved.

Much as ever, much as before

Sometimes I wonder if I deliberately injured myself that night, because I needed something to change. Like when you’re driving and you go faster and faster and you think you might soon go fast enough to flip the car off the road as you round a bend and a part of you doesn’t give a flying fuck and is in point of fact curious to see what it would feel like to sail through the air and be thrown about like a rag doll and break and bleed and die. And then you scare yourself with that vision, that not giving a flying fuck, and take your foot off the accelerator.

I was running recklessly fast that night, that minute, that moment, and it could have ended badly for either of us. Older, weaker, I was the one who came off worst. So I wonder. Maybe – subconsciously at most – I wanted an end to football, an end to work, a demarcation in my life. Maybe, just maybe, this was a kind of self-harm, the product of a mind maddened to breaking point. Maybe I wanted to suffer physically, the better to accord my body with my mind, my heart. Forgive me if it was so, though I can never be certain that it was. Because alongside that grain of speculative doubt, there is the heartfelt wish that I could rewind to that evening, and make sure that we play the game again with the slower indoor ball, so that I would not have needed to be running as fast after the skiddy outdoor one, so that no injury on this scale would ever have taken place, so that life would have gone much as ever, much as before. And not five minutes before the injury there had been that moment of clarity, when I had said to myself, blimey, I feel as fit as I’ve ever felt, I could run all night.

Maybe it was just life deciding to take me down a peg or two.

I miss the running, I miss the instinctive geometry of foot connecting with ball, I miss that beautiful journey home via the back lanes. I miss the weekly friends, the weekly banter. I miss telling you about it, miss dedicating my goals to you (schmaltzy softy that I am), miss turning each one into a carefully placed kiss, miss hearing you say how much you wish you could be a watching fly on the wall, miss imagining your actual presence there in the window above the hall, the heads you would turn, the eyebrows you would raise.

It’s all gone now and life is going on much as before, much as ever and I still have a job about which the best that can be said is that I tolerate it and it tolerates me. And much as ever, much as before, there is you and your absence and it still breaks my heart that my life is not your life, that things between us are not not going on much as before, much as ever. Because with you there was no much as ever, much as before. There never was and there never would be. That I know. Because neither of us would ever let it be so, you least of all. It was just one of the reasons why I loved you. And now, though I have looked to see, I can find no reason not to go on loving you, and so I do, much as before, much as ever.

Down the rabbit-hole

While we should never be tempted to see the developing lives of our children as a means through which we get another crack at living, one of the inevitably bittersweet pleasures of being a parent is reliving your own childhood as seen through the prism of theirs.

Recently I’ve been wondering what our first intimations of romantic attraction towards another human being say about us, and whether those intimations may hold true as set attitudes all the way into much later life. I don’t mean the giddy, messy time as first love unfolds, the learning of the ropes, but the moment or period which precedes it, much earlier in life, when the realisation dawns that love of another human being beyond our family is a possibility, and attraction a certainty.

In the pub the other night I listened as two friends of mine talked about their respective son and daughter, who have over the course of the summer – at the tender age of nine – become ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’, seeking out each other’s company and FaceTiming with one another in preference to being with friends of the same sex, as is more typical at that age. Each father had independently asked their child, ‘What is it you like about her / him?’ And the answer from each came back, ‘(S)he’s funny, and fun to be with.’

I recall talking to my own father late one night in the bar of a social club and raising an eyebrow at his avowal that he had started chatting up girls seriously at the age of five – so beginning a lifelong career of flirtatiousness, which in time became rather more than that, in a way that could be said to be his defining characteristic. By way of contrast, I remember when I was about ten going with my mother to visit a friend of hers in another part of the country, and falling immediately in what I could not have yet dared or known to call love with the friend’s daughter. She was my age, with a face as beautiful as her forename and hair the colour of her surname. Was it simply that she was beautiful (at least to me), or did she also have a softness, an at-oneness with the country garden in which I found her that made me fall? Memory confers that she seemed as struck by me as I was smitten with her, and that we played wordlessly and shyly together through the course of a summer’s afternoon, but how much of this is retrospective glow, I can no longer be sure.

It was of course my first dose of infatuation, and it would certainly not be the last. I never saw her but that one time, and yet she stays with me still, along with the knowledge that if and when I fall, I always fall hard, plummeting helplessly down the rabbit-hole, like Alice. And so sometimes it seems to me that we are set in stone so early that our whole lives feel like a fight against the person we became before we ever had a say in the matter.

Back in the pub, the remaining friend at the table, who has a son the same age as my daughter, says that to date, his youngster is not interested in anything which isn’t a tennis racket. My daughter is the same; boys (or indeed girls, in that sense) do not yet register at all on her dial of interest, as far as I can tell. But forgetting for a while their respective sporting pursuits, perhaps each child has already had their own gradual realisation or epiphanic moment which may go on to inform how and who they love in future. If my own experience is anything to go by, the revelation can lie dormant for years – and then, pow! back down the rabbit-hole you go, never once considering how in the world you are to get out again.

Golden hair (lean out your window)

I am on my way to you.

Hard to believe that I am making the journey again, after all this time.

As before, as always, I look for signs, in addition to the now the familiar waymarks – the new industrial unit whose exterior is painted in a spectrum of blue, grey and white, so that whatever the colour of the sky, one of the bands will more or less match; the wind turbines and the chimneys; and the hilltop castle still managing to vie with the motorway for dominance of the surrounding landscape. The sticky-sapped and insect-strewn windscreen clears in the occasional rain. I overtake two tube carriages, each on the back of a large flat-bed lorry, presumably heading north for display in a museum, or perhaps to be put to some more imaginative use, a quirky residence or hotel set in deep greenery, into which setting I have the time while I am driving to imagine us.

Another flat-bed lorry is transporting a huge chunk of rock. I’m not sure that it’s a sign with which I can work, until I consider that perhaps the rock is for an artist to carve, to tell a tale in stone, a Rodin-esque allegory or love story, even. The magpie I see at one point is immediately cancelled out by another airborne bird, eyeballed within the statutory ten seconds which saves the viewer of a lone magpie from sorrow, according to what I remember are your idiosyncratic rules.

And then at journey’s end there you are before me, looking just as you always have, if not more so. Beautiful, vivid, alive with nervous energy. Your eyes of love, your eyes of innocence and experience. You come into my arms and despite my recently grown beard, the kisses are just as soft and telling and subsequently as greedy as they used to be, and we fall into one another, fall into the way we make love to each other. Over the course of the afternoon, I see your face, your body from all angles, and I am enraptured by you, I am full of you, and I can see in your eyes and in your mouth and in every movement of your body that it’s the same for you, that you are enraptured by me, that you are full of me. I kiss the swallows at your ears and bury my face in your golden hair, which was surely spun into its current burnished softness using enchanted straw from the plentiful, sun-baked fields of some country far to the south of our own.

It’s been so long, and yet we are unchanged; if anything, more relaxed in the relative novelty of each other’s actual company than ever before. You I love from the heart, you I want from the heart of my mind, where wanting seems to be processed with depth charges of firing synapses. And when we re-entangle our bodies in each aftermath, it happens so naturally, with an easy familiarity which belies the number of times those bodies have actually had the chance to entangle. When we talk, your voice sings and your words dance. You are a delight to me. You make me laugh from the belly, and that feels as wonderful as the kisses, as deeply necessary somehow as the liquid which pours from us both, and so I understand completely when later you say to me, I wish we could spend a day just doing something together, doesn’t matter what…

I am taking home a present from you, a gift from the heart of the love we have made, full of the kind of detail which is beautiful to me. I give you the bracelet I found in the street, downplaying it. You ask me to remind you of the symbolism I invented for it, knowing it, I think, but wanting to hear it again from my lips. You say how much you like the colour, and that you will keep it, though we both know you cannot wear it. I fetch out my lucky coin, and you renew the kisses you had planted on both sides before you gave it to me originally. These are the most heartfelt moments in a heartfelt afternoon.

We hold each other fast before parting, and we happen to do so before the long mirror on the wall. After lingering over one last kiss, we both look to the side at the same moment, and in the mirror see ourselves together for the first time, as we might in the photos which do not exist of us, the photos which we have never risked taking of ourselves. And we look good together. We look right. We look made for each other. And though I have no photo to prove it, I have the proof in my mind still, and whatever happens next, I will never forget that in each other’s arms, we looked right. Made for each other, whether one day that turns out really to be so, or whether it remains a notion contained only in the parallel life that I have no doubt we will go on imagining for ourselves.

When I get home, I find a single strand of golden hair stuck by electrical charge to the material of my trousers. Talking late that night, I joke with you that I’ll put it in a locket and hang it round my neck. And if I could, I would. Instead it now resides pressed between the leaves of a book large enough to house it, a page before the picture you gave me when I stayed with you for onewholedayonewholenight.

At the edge of memory is a story of a man who fell obsessively in love with a woman on account of a single strand of hair, or possibly with the hair itself. But I cannot pin it down either in my mind, or using the web. In any case, I am not that man. I love every strand of gold flowing free from your head, every downy hair on your limbs, and every soft red curl on your mound of Venus. I love every particle and thing about you, without question.

Syd Barrett – Golden hair


Today, the colours of the north are sunlit primaries. The watered hills are verdant, and boxes full of red brick dreams follow their folds. Beneath the tops, rape forms a yellow patchwork with the still-green wheat, while above, skies are blue except where cumulus mountains mass and stretch into the far distance.

My postbox-coloured heart is slit, and beating hard, because once again you’re close, so very close that if I were to reach out, I would surely be able to touch you. Wind pushes along the cloud-ships and sways the youthful corn, till like the sea – and like my boyish, age-old mind – it is a-whirl with white horse motion.

So very close, and yet so very far away.

Her love turns to liquid

She was turning from solid and becoming liquid.

On the driest, most temperate of days, when the sun was high and the air fresh, she would touch her book or her hairbrush or her phone, and find that liquid traces were left behind, as if the flesh of her fingertips were melting. The pages of the book would absorb her, the handle of the hairbrush would shed drops of water as it snagged in her hair, and beads of her liquid essence would form like amalgamating mercury on the screen of the phone as she sent him a text. When she climbed the stairs, she would experience the discomforting and yet strangely liberating sensation that she might fall apart at any moment. The bannister where she had clutched at it would be wet. In the shower she felt herself merging with the water, succumbing to the mind-numbing euphoria of joining with something greater than herself, till in panic she drew herself back into solid form for fear of being swirled away down the plughole.

The day came when she could no longer hold back her liquidity.  It happened as she ran through the woods and down the tunnel of the holloway. She felt herself turning magically into a stream of canon-shot water, gushing at speed along the tunnel’s length, and in those moments, she would have willingly lost her shape and form forever, for the joy of being channelled and tidal and supported and unstoppable. At the run’s end, she found her usual form again, and with it was born the realisation that she could shape-shift all she liked and yet remain solid.

Experimenting, unthinking, she let herself be taken by the drink, taken into the heart of the moment, and there she flowed like crystalline spirits of blue and gold and green onto rocks of ice so cold they were hot. That time it had been a little harder to reconvene her faculties. She knew there was one thing for which her liquidity was made most of all. So she took his hand and let herself be led her up the stairs. In the heat of the top room, he licked her wetness from his own fingers, and then from hers. It was under his dry, soft, tangible fingertips that she turned completely to liquid, and all she wanted in those moments was to flow ceaselessly over the man loving her, and then better yet, to be drunk down whole by his thirsty, lapping tongue.

Afterwards, in his arms, she felt as contained without him as she would have within him; for he was the vessel she had long been looking for, the glass or gourd or wineskin to hold all of her, whenever she needed to be so cupped, drunk, and shaped anew.

Bridge of sighs

Meet me in the middle, you said, even though it was a road bridge connecting two foreign countries and the logistics would prove tricky, to say the least. Name the day, the time, I said, thinking that we could recreate the scene from the series, only with kissing taking the place of wounding. And then, because I’ve loved bridges from all the way back to a childhood book filled with beam and arch, truss and cantilever, suspension and cable-stayed, I set to imagining all the other spans upon which we might more easily meet, and walk, and kiss. The ones I’ve crossed myself, or gazed upon from left bank or right. The ones I’d still love to see, while making a span with you, a bridge of hands and arms and sighs and heads lent together. And then I hear you say, in the voice which still melts me even after all these years of creating bridges out of nothing – you show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.

Let’s go to France first, and picnic as I once did alone beneath the giant span of the Pont de Brotonne, the bridge suspended so high above that the wind rustling the reeds is louder than the airborne traffic. We might even meet my younger self there, ghosting along on my bike, coming to a halt at a shy distance from these mid-life lovers so simultaneously rapt in themselves and yet alive to the world, to the flow of the river’s muddy waters, to the birds it draws and sustains, drinking in the sight of the village on the far side of the Seine.

Then fly as the heron does, upriver, and make it our task to walk all the bridges within the twenty arrondissements, paying particular attention to the passerelle de Solférino and the Pont Marie. And of course we might do what we have each imagined doing separately as we crossed it in recent visits, and padlock our love to the Pont des Arts, even though it and Paris and Parisians can no longer bear the weight of all that symbolism.

We could do the same for London, the Millennium and all the other bridges through the eyes of which the sweet Thames softly flows and threads itself – Tower, London, Southwark, Blackfriars, Waterloo, Hungerford, Westminster, Lambeth, Vauxhall, Chelsea, Albert, Battersea, alternating our crossings from north bank to south, and pausing at the last to think of a chance missed, chances regained, chances which – both in dreams and reality – might still be taken.

Let’s suspend time on the Clifton Suspension Bridge, watch the sun set over the gorge and then the bridge light itself up to become a setting worthy of any first kiss, or for that matter the five thousandth. While we’re there, let’s drop down into the city and make our way between the horns of the Floating Harbour’s bridge.

I’d have a story for each, like sharing whisky on the Hungerford with a friend in the small hours of a November morning, fog murking the view of the river and the buildings fronting it, and time suspended in fiery plumes of eau de vie breath. Or how each of the seventeen arches of Bordeaux’s Pont de pierre stand for a letter of Napoléon Bonaparte’s name. Let’s range far and wide now, and gaze upon the swanlike reflections in the water of the Hatea, a bascule bridge in Whangarei, New Zealand. The old stones and corbels of the Arkadiko Bridge in the Peloponnese, over which we would ride in our ancient Greek chariot. From the old to the new weathered steel of the High Trestle Trail Bridge in Boone County, Iowa; oh, the framed pictures of each other we’d take there, before making for the Golden Gate, in mist and in sun and us soon to be high on the ups and downs of San Francisco life. In Venice, meet me on the Rialto, and then we’ll go see the original Bridge of Sighs, from which it is an easy leap either to all the other bridges of the world which share its name, or (in my head at least) to the Go Between Bridge in Brisbane, by way of A little romance.

I transformed our first meeting and kiss into one which took place on a bridge by a lake under the moon. In my mind it was a simple balustrade but when they make the film of the book, it might easily become a moon bridge, Beijing’s Jade Belt, say, its railings carved with cranes. The camera would linger on that first kiss, and beneath us the moon-shape created by arch and reflection.

Again in imagination, I have fed parts of your dead body to the fishes from the bridges of the Thames, as a more fitting way of saying goodbye to a mermaid than burying or cremating her. Bridges are built to withstand tension, compression, bending, torsion and shear, and I like to think our imaginary ones are just as strong; it’s when we step off those bridges that we each feel less secure.

But remember, we have those real moments in our past, of crossing and recrossing a bridge side by side, the one and only bridge we have stood upon together, when you were brave and bold enough late one summer afternoon to let me walk through your world to a smallholding held by an old man who is dear to you. The weightlessness of that walk, our bodies close but never touching, stays with me still.  It was the bridge I later lifted you from, flying in in the form of a fictional heron.

This is what we do, at distance. We build bridges in the air between us, and walk-run-dance over them, meeting in the middle. And there we hold each other close, and talk and kiss and more, and more again.

So, I’ve shown you my bridges. Now you show me yours.