As a young man of twenty-three I was, like many people, an actor of sorts, who could fill any role, or in my case undemanding job, until the sterility and boredom of it all became suffocating and I engineered a way to terminate the post by means of getting sacked.
I was a junior in a sales office, marketing products of no interest to me to people I did not care to meet, but with a smile and urgency of manner which told everyone, “This boy has found his destiny,” but that was not the case. Truth was, I had not found my destiny, and that is why I took that or any job. To eat and shelter myself and then walk out in the streets of London at the weekend was all I had or wanted. I was adrift within myself yet had no knowledge of the fact.
Anne-Marie, don’t you love the name, was one of those girls you would not reach. I saw her at some gathering my older sister, a “hippie-chick” of sorts, had organised on a whim, because just to have a party seemed reason enough have one at that age. I stood around awkwardly at the edge of the room watching events, and marvelling at the sense of “Having arrived” and “Being significant” that so many people in the room enjoyed. Not me.
Of all the girls there, and girls were an abiding if unrequited interest at the time, Anne-Marie stood out as someone beautiful, yet careless of her looks. By her side, or was it the other way round, was a man, slightly older, I’m guessing, about thirty, whose confidence and presumed right to be with her were evident in his posture and the manner of his speech. He was not a junior salesman I suspect, and gawkoids like me did not engage his interest.
Sometime in the evening, as I stood near the kitchen door, Anne-Marie passed by me on her way to fetch a drink, and asked me, “What brings you here?” I said, “We are still trying to find out” and she laughed lightly and looked at me is if I had surprised her before passing on her way. Her manner was uncomplicated, friendly but impersonal, like some well-trained air- hostess on a trans-Atlantic life.
Move on twenty years and I was the new Health and Safety Advisory Officer for the Feltham and District Fire Brigade, a posting I had acquired through a couple of fake references and a “connection” on the council: fresh enough in the job to still be urgent of manner, real and committed to the task. I was sent by chance to go to the local art gallery, where an Anne-Marie Birchland was exhibiting her paintings. I was married at the time, to a woman who misunderstood and loved me to destruction. I protected myself from her fussing by daydreaming and stabbing at the piano.
When I arrived at the gallery, dressed smartly in my new uniform, there was the artist, and I knew it was her again. She walked over to me, smiling in her turn, and asked, “What brings you here?” and I replied “We are still trying to find out” and then she said, “I thought you were a salesman” and I replied, “ I’ve been many things but seldom me.” The phrase sounds slightly adolescent now but she smiled and touched my arm, and then moved on. Reticence ended the conversation.
Move on twenty years and I was now a song-writer of sorts, poor it must be said, but with a growing reputation and now uncaring of my circumstances as long as I could write. Walking along the street in my new local town, somewhere in the midlands, I saw a sign saying. “Exhibition of Paintings by local artist Anne-Marie Southgate” and I wondered if it was her, despite the change of surname. Of course I went in and she was there, still with that beauty and courage which had impressed me in my youth, and sure enough she smiled and came up to me and said, “ What brings you here?” and I said “You ” and we began talking as two people can who have just met, yet known each other indefinitely. Her presence was in my destiny.