Because I had been a Benedictine monk for twenty five years I started on a sex life extremely late in the day. After twenty five years of masculine brotherhood and the humane discipline of St Benedict’s Rule I left the monastery. I was at last free. I could finally set out on the quest to discover that glorious woman – the beautiful but so far unattainable lady of the Roman de la Rose – who had always lived in my attic. But the quest, as is the way of quests, turned out to be far less straightforward than I had naively imagined. After I had left the monastery I went to live, for eight years as it turned out, in West Wales. But the woman of my dreams did not appear. It gradually began to dawn on me that, because there was so little work locally available, if you were an attractive young woman either you were already living with somebody else who was helping pay the bills, or, if you had to support yourself, you probably weren’t living in West Wales. So, although I was extremely impecunious, I began to advertise in national newspapers. That really is something I could write a book about. I met dozens of women. But none of them did the slipper quite fit.
The first girl I made contact with gave me a telephone number to ring. Extremely nervous, as it was the first time I had ever done anything like this, I eventually plucked up courage and telephoned. ‘Keep away from me you bastard’ she hissed in a rich Bristol accent ‘I’ve found The One’. I’m so sorry. I mean I’m so glad. Goodbye. Another, on the second telephone call this time, informed me that I was a patriarchal chauvinist brute who was only looking for a brood mare. Disgusting. Like all men. Daunted and dismayed, I apologized for the shortcomings both of myself and my sex. Another started off by saying ‘Frankly, I’m not interested in you, I just want your sperm. I’ll let you have sex in return for you giving me a baby. If I haven’t conceived after ten goes the deal’s off. I’m willing to share travel expenses.’ Yet another was a most charming lady with an enchanting Welsh accent. She turned out to be a witch who was crazy about cricket. ‘Well see bach when the test matches are on I just slip out of my things and cast a few spells to help the boys along.’ But this liaison too came to nothing. Another advertised herself as an irresistible Rubens Venus and wouldn’t tell me her real name. We met at Birmingham New Street station. ‘You look nice’ shouted Venus ‘we’ll have an affair. But I must warn you I expect my lovers to take me to the Hilton Hotel and it will cost you. I require the full Hilton breakfast which will set you back £150 a night each. Are you prepared for that? ’Er….’. I explained my background and poverty stricken circumstances. ‘Oh no, not another ex-clergyman’.
We retired to a pub where, appalled at my naivety, she put me on a crash course of how-to sex instruction. ‘Turn up with clean fingernails and smart underpants, nothing’s more unromantic than baggy underpants. Before anything else take off your socks. A naked man in socks is ridiculous. And don’t of course forget the condoms. Tell her how attractive she is. Pat her hair. Then begin to undress her. What do you take off first?’ boomed Venus. ‘Er..blouse?’ I faltered. ‘Shoes silly. What next?’ ‘Er….dress?’ ‘Good. Well done. Next?’ ‘Er………’ ‘Tights, man, tights. And now the lady is only wearing her briefs and bra. She’s feeling very vulnerable so don’t start fumbling. A clumsy man is a menace. I don’t suppose you’ve taken off many bras?’ ‘Well no’. ‘Buy one and practise by fastening it round a cake tin, she shouted. Gently remove her bra. Then slip down her drawers. She’s naked! It’s polite to gasp in admiration at this point even if you don’t feel it. Do you know how to put on a condom?’ By this time a rapt pub had been reduced to an intensely absorbed silence. In desperation, I somehow managed to steer her onto what she had already revealed as another keen interest, chocolate fudge cake, and to my relief we left. She was intensely erotically fascinating and going back in the train I was overwhelmed with lustful desires. But it was, as it turned out, just as well that I could not afford the price of two Hilton Hotel breakfasts.
By that time I had completely run out of the little money I possessed so I determined to give up advertising. But reluctant to abandon the quest, I scraped together sixty pounds somehow or other and put one final advert in The Guardian. It said ‘Writer, 55, seeks woman who would like to live in West Wales. Must like Morse, Matisse and Mozart’. The writer part was stretching it a bit, but still, I argued to myself, I ‘m going to be a great writer one day so it comes to the same thing. I got quite a crop of the usual replies – ‘What an amazing co-incidence! I too like Morse, Matisse and Mozart. I also like cuddles, log fires and candle-lit suppers and am bubbly, outgoing and very attractive, or so I’m told’ – but none of them came to anything (I could read the code by that time). So I finally really did give up. That, sadly, was that. Then some time later a letter came from somebody saying she didn’t want to live in West Wales, and hated Morse, preferred Wagner to Mozart and carried no torch for Matisse. But loved Test Match Special (Jonners a kind of saint, Blowers a dear old thing, the Bearded Wonder a most amazing resource) and Wagner’s Ring and would I like a pen friend? It turned out later that she rarely bought The Guardian but for some reason, she didn’t know why, on that morning had done so, and then for some reason, again she didn’t know why except that she would like to correspond with a writer, from all the hundreds picked out my advert. Was it fate, whatever that means?
Well, that served me right. But at least I might save a pen friendship if not a love out of the wreck and it seemed churlish not to reply, so I did. Anyway, as it happened I too loved Test Match Special and The Ring. The correspondence bloomed. Soon we were writing every day. Eventually we decided to meet. The date was at 11 am on October 31st 1992 at Paddington Station under the statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The lightning struck. The meeting was totally overwhelming and magical. The world stopped. My heart was pierced. I was overcome with joy. It was like meeting a goddess in a temple. Could this be the woman in the attic? At last? The One? Should I thank God or Isambard Kingdom Brunel or Darwin? Whoever. She was indeed the one and my heart is full of gratitude.