The Greatest Surprise Of My Life

Quentin and I spent a lot of time driving all over the place to get together as interesting a collection of books as we could find. We took them straight to two rented garages in Cambridge for the time being. One day I heard that a bookseller in Scotland had an interesting collection of books he wanted to sell. Quentin and I drove up to Perthshire. I got more than I bargained for there! The books were more literary than saleable. Rare they certainly were, but not the sort of rare that was sought after. The man who had gradually bought them over a number of years was the most erudite being I had ever met in the area of English literature. He was extraordinary.

I only had to glance over the books to see immediately that they were not what I wanted. I thought we had wasted our time. We had booked in at a local hotel for two nights. If I had ever met anyone I could truly call eccentric it could only have been Alasdair, living on his own in a rented run-down country house surrounded by mountainous views in every direction. Very romantic! Oh Yes!

Before we went off to our hotel he never stopped talking and unlike most people who talk too much, everything was fascinating to me despite my own considerable knowledge because I learned far more about English literature than I could have imagined. He was a tall thin man whose whole body gesticulated as he spoke. There was wit in every sentence, the like of which I had never heard before.

Quentin wanted to to go off in the car to explore the mountains the next day, so I spent the day talking with Alasdair about all kinds of writers and I learned about his extraordinary life. Of all the people I met who shared my interests, and there were very few of them, he was the best. He never spoke in cliches, he never repeated himself and everything he said was new to me. I felt as though I had been struggling through a desert in most of my intellectual life and I had suddenly come across a bottomless oasis and drank every drop of water.

I hadn’t realised it but I had fallen deeply in love for the first time in my life. So had he.

I had forgotten all about the purpose of my trip. As Quentin and I drove away from his house I felt pangs of despair. Whatever had happened to me? This is the kind of snare that makes us feel as though we are walking on air and nothing else matters. When I was a therapist I came across many people who thought that if only they could find the perfect partner, all their problems of loneliness and loss would disappear for ever.

It was always a delusion. Everything we need is inside ourselves. Whatever happens when we fall in love teaches us more about ourselves. Something in us has been brought to the surface that has been recognised in someone else. Alasdair recognised in me my powers of a writer that I had never found out. In that short time with him I realised that my potential was considerable and not yet understood.

We spent only two or three short days together that I shall never forget. One day he took me to lunch in Scotland with his old friend, the poet Hugh MacDiarmid. It was a hysterically funny conversation in which I learned that famous people are also just like everyone else. After that I put no-one else on a pedestal. Alasdair was far away from his salad days and although for a very short time we considered that perhaps we might live together for the rest of our lives, we soon realised that was impossible. Why, I asked myself, should this happen so suddenly out of the blue; just as I was about to launch a new start in Cambridge? A good question to which I only have a partial answer. That time in my life was full of excitement and anticipation that made me open to exceptional feelings and events. We couldn’t live at such a high point without burning ourselves out. Getting back to being ordinary again is a great relief.