Andrew and Livy, married, 3 children
I’m 20. At college. I’m standing on a chair at the edge of a big, crowded room, and I’m wild with excitement, because I’m about to watch a student fashion show. It’s unthinkable what’s happened. Someone has surveyed all the most beautiful women in the city. That’s nothing. We’ve all done that. But then they’ve brazenly approached them, and they’ve persuaded the women to gather, on a raised platform, so we can get a better look. And there’s a ten piece jazz band. The dummer starts a rhythm on the skins, the base player kicks in with a saucy baseline, and the backing singers start singing “Oooo OOO Ooooo!” the theme from Star Trek. I can’t imagine music more calculated to delight the crowd of young bucks. We all cheer. Then… A spotlight shines on the back of the runway, the curtain opens, and the first model slinks into the room. It’s Izzie Hickstead. I’ve seen her running back from the river each morning, looking godlike in a tracksuit. Now she’s in a red bikini, made up like Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner. Three hundred students burst into applause. This is what we want. Gorgeous sophisticated women parading in front of us, unable to see us, as we lurk in the darkness and imagine them nude. Izzie Huckstead does a shy smirk which makes us love her even more. Then another girl arrives. It’s Freya Bristow. She’s the tall vamp you see at the back of the History Department. Now she is quite literally done up like Boadicaea – white tunic, thigh high battle boots, little sexy shield. We roar our most hearty approval. As Freya strides away, I perform my Final Examinations on her buttocks. I imagine them naked and flushed pink from the heat of the bath. I imagine myself playfully slapping them with a wet towel. Why am I thinking that? Freya disappears. The curtain opens. Another girl appears. She’s done up like a 20s cabaret singer. Short bobbed hair. Thick vamp eyeliner. Cigarette holder. She stares coolly over the audience’s heads. It’s like I’ve just had two layers of skin removed. It’s like listening to Nick Drake sing. I feel vulnerable and weak and filled with an indescribable yearning. “Who’s that?” I whisper. “Livy Lankester,” says someone. And I think Livy Lankester. You are without any doubt the most enchanting and upsetting woman I have ever seen in my life. You are a goddess come to lead me to a better life and to sit naked on my lap. I would walk to East Africa just to be in your shadow.
My first real meeting with Andrew took place on Keppel St in Bloomsbury, three years after leaving Oxford. I was studying for a masters degree and carrying books out of the Senate House library when we bumped into each other.
I had admired Andrew from afar at college. He had exactly the blend of good looks and quirky thespian airs that I tended to go for. We had caught eyes at various parties but he felt distant from the rest of us.
Then suddenly, he was there, flesh and bone, with his piercing blue eyes and cheek bones, asking me if I wanted to have lunch. As we stood on the pavement and went through the motions of ‘catching up’ (him an actor, me not sure), there was a delicious feeling of something bigger happening. He was wearing a bright orange jacket and looked eager and slightly frightened, despite his impressive CV as rising young actor.
I did not see Andrew again for another three years when he wrote me a letter, declaring his love in ten long pages. It fell on my door mat with a portentious thud. We had still not been on a date. I knew we had to go through the motions of flirting and getting to know each other but I also knew that this was the man I would marry. There is nothing more seductive than a declaration of love.