One of the hardest things about being away from home is when you find out news entirely by accident, especially sad news.
I was right in the middle of organising the promotional blurbs given to me by fellow authors for my upcoming book Oysters and Pearls: Collected Stories when I decided to check something on the Internet. Well, I received quite a shock when this Telegraph article about Sir Arnold Wesker came up at the top of my search:
I suppose we always think people will remain exactly the same as they were when we last saw them. If they were young and vibrant, they will forever remain young and vibrant (or older and vibrant) until the next time we’re with them and can see the changes wrought by time. Alas, on the last occasion I’d chatted with Arnold, he’d told me that his health had deteriorated significantly. And he hadn’t sounded encouraged about any potential for improvement. I can only hope he found some enjoyment in his remaining days.
It’s quite curious how we came to meet. I’d just released an anthology of short stories (Erotic Travel Tales 2). One of my contributors was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Somewhere in the promotional material it said that this was the first anthology of erotica to feature a FRSL. I’m not entirely sure how Arnold came to hear of the book, but I had an email from him not long afterward, telling me that he (also a FRSL) had written his own collection of erotic short stories. His book The King’s Daughters, which he’d signed for me, holds pride of place on my bookshelf and has done since he’d first given it to me during our visit to his charming thatched cottage in Wales. Perhaps it was our shared genre or perhaps it was our shared Hungarian blood or perhaps it was plain old serendipity—something had prompted him to reach out a hand in friendship.
When Arnold first invited me to visit him, I’d told a poet and academic friend of mine about the invite. She immediately issued a foreboding warning that Sir Arnold was considered “difficult” and one of the “angry young men”—and on my head be it! I had to wonder why someone so difficult and “angry” would bother to invite me (and Teddy Tedaloo) to come stay with him, let alone cook us dinner! Not knowing what to expect, I threw caution to the wind (as I so often do) and got the train to Abergavenny, where he was to pick us up. Well, Arnold was there as promised, and in true British style, the first thing we did was head down the pub!
During our stay, Teddy was on his best behaviour (as one might expect), though I’m afraid I can’t say the same thing about Arnold or myself. We started on the wine in the garden—it was a lovely sunny late afternoon, and the bees were having a fabulous time terrorising me. This was followed by lively conversation in the kitchen, where Arnold began preparing us a delicious meal. We scarfed it down in no time, because after desert we had a date with the Scrabble board. Now let me tell you, there’s nothing quite so amusing as two authors engaging in a game of Scrabble with a bottle of wine. We quickly became annoyed with our pathetic collection of letters—none of which seemed to add up to any word that followed the rules. By mutual agreement, we decided to relax the rules a bit and allow words that didn’t exactly conform to what the game’s inventors had in mind. We even threw in some proper nouns while we were at it. How we both laughed at the hilarity of the situation—two authors cheating at Scrabble. Can it get any better than that?
It was probably a good thing I was sleeping over, because at some point during the night we had a bit of a downpour and if I hadn’t been upstairs, the leak in the roof might not have been discovered until some serious damage had been done. We were running around like proverbial headless chickens, moving things out of harm’s way and trying to wedge cloths along the wall to soak up the water that was trickling down. After all that wine, the situation was the stuff of slapstick comedy. Though I suspect the bill Arnold eventually received from his roofer probably wasn’t a laughing matter. Those thatched roofs are an absolute bitch to maintain.
The next morning after breakfast, I sobered up by watching one of his “kitchen sink” dramas—a televised play that had been done for Welsh television. Then it was time for us to get the train. Arnold got us packed into his car to take us to the station, though not without first giving me an introduction to living in the Welsh countryside. I was assigned the task of opening and closing of gate, which provided me with my first encounter with stinging nettles. How he managed to deal with that gate every time he came and went I’ve no idea, but a gauntlet would have definitely come in handy.
I found this man to be warm, funny and truly delightful company—and he genuinely liked Teddy! I will always remember our visit with fondness.
RIP, Sir Arnold Wesker.