It was in April, the beginning of the ‘Easter vac’. I was revising for my finals. The last day of term I was in my study. (Because I was 9th in the room ballot, I’d got a 14th-century ‘set’ of rooms right by the chapel.) Sara walked in. She was excited.
Sara was the girlfriend of Tim, a school friend of Matthew, my co-conspirator in Room For Doubt. Crucially – in terms of taking me seriously – she was in the 2nd year, whereas I was in the 3rd… and – having made a film on Super 8 – ‘cool’.
Sara told me, very quickly, that she was in love with me, she’d spilt up with her boyfriend, she was spending the holiday in London being a secretary for The Lady magazine in Covent Garden – and she wanted to go out with me!
I was amazed and gratified. I’d not gone out with anyone for over 6 months, still reeling over Clara. I was concentrating on my finals. And suddenly – just like that, in the afternoon – I’d got myself a girlfriend! What was wrong with that?
I went to Highgate (the 60s home my parents had moved to from Brussels in 1966) and Sara started work at The Lady. She stayed with me some of the time. (Her family home was in Letchworth Garden City. She used to get the train to Finsbury Park and I would meet here there in the car.) We went to see the new film Betrayal with Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley and – strangely, now – Patricia Hodge… Our entire relationship was in inverted commas. Sara was ‘an actress’, in many senses of the word. She had played the leading role in a production of Saint Joan…
In my bedroom at Highgate – grey-painted, in honour of Joy Division – we had sex. Sara was VERY vocal. She came at the drop of a hat, apparently. I was fazed – but again, gratified.
This went on for a month. I went down in the car to Bedford St to pick her up after work. What we did then, I have no recollection of now. It’s all a blur. And not surprisingly, as it turned out.
When I got back to Oxford for the last term, I thought it might be a little awkward with Tim, her ex. He lived in a student house with Matthew, my best friend. But blow me down if Sara didn’t go straight back to Tim! She was lying when she said she’d broken up with him, she revealed. She was just getting free accommodation while she temped at The Lady! I could go f*** myself.
I was confused. Not entirely crushed – as I said, the whole relationship had been in inverted commas. I got on with revision.
My history finals were early, a week of 3 hours exam/lunch/3 hours exam… (You had to wear ‘sub-fusc’ to ‘sit’ them: a gown, a ‘mortar board’ and a suit – in my case, being 1984, it was green. Queueing for lunch up the stairs beside Merton dining hall, I got shat on by a pigeon…) So I had 2 weeks to kill while other people did their finals. In that time, I discovered champagne!
Those 2 weeks were the only time I actually enjoyed at Oxford. I went to a party in New College Cloisters. I didn’t know whose party it was – I was drunk. At this party, Tim came up and hit me! He broke my nose. I was amazed (and a bit gratified! I was drunk, you see…). If any hitting were going to be done, I’d have thought it was Sara who should be on the receiving end. But Tim – apparently, poor guy – was still in love with her…
A few years later, I spoke to my future brother-in-law about it – the man who married my sister. He had also had the Sara treatment, before me – and in fact been thrown over by her for Tim, who was also HIS schoolmate… (Sara liked to cause maximum confusion.) He knew, somehow, that she had faked her orgasms. She thought it was just what people did!
There is a postscript to this story (apart from just: don’t go to f***ing Oxford! Mad people go there: Margaret, David, George, Boris, Theresa, Sara – the list goes on…). Sara didn’t become an actress and instead went to work at Top Of The Pops, where I saw her name in the credits every week. Then she became an agent for film-and-tv-industry professionals.
In 2015, a ‘good bloke’ I knew who I used to work with intermittently happened to hear about my stroke and sent me a long email saying how sorry he was etc… (When he was a tv executive, I once wrote a treatment for him – for a Dougray Scott tv series! – a deliberately over-the-top thriller about a retired Navy man who kits out a submarine to sail up the Rhine to Strasbourg and destroy – by Polaris – the European Parliament. It came back from the tv company. They wanted something bigger.)
Three years later, I went for a drink with him. I had – by this stage – somehow worked out that Sara was HIS AGENT as a tv executive! I didn’t have any ulterior motive in this drink – really, I went for all sorts of drinks in 2018, just to say: Rumours of my death have been exaggerated… But, all the same, I thought I might get some dirt.
The ‘good bloke’, however, turned out to be entirely fixated on openings in the tv industry…