A Series 244 Volvo with faded burgundy paintwork is parked close to a potting shed. I pull into the narrow weed-tufted driveway and almost immediately Clive the Poodle Faker appears. He stands in the doorway with the hyper-intense air of a potential violent suicide; I could picture him falling backwards from the parapet of a French-engineered suspension bridge, arms outstretched like a John Lewis Jesus. A tired grey Bovey Tracy bungalow shows blistering render and rusty drainpipes, the type of dwelling to draw the attention of unscrupulous doorstep merchants driving tired Transit vans, advertising on magnetic signs their Acme business pay-as-you-go number. The type of transient trader who when paid in cash smells the notes for clues of concealment. The bungalow suggests pelmets, small Wade figurines and the scratch marks of departed cats. It had indeed originally belonged to Clive’s Auntie Pamela, a compulsive knitter, spinster and volunteer.
I have never known an easy Clive; every Clive I’ve met was trammelled and had bony hands. Particular names appear to attract certain qualities. I cite Vivienne and Wendy as strong examples. Clive reminded me of a boy I went to school with called Paul Pendle. Paul had been born old. I saw him many years later, when he was in his forties, wearing council uniform overalls and tending a bowling green in Paignton. It looked like he had arrived. It was perfect. I remember he dithered as a youth and now he emanated the air of a gracefully moving bowling-green expert – placing pellets, stepping softly.
As we go through to the lounge I notice Clive is shod with highly polished brown brogues, wearing well-pressed tweed trousers and a duck-egg blue sleeveless cardigan. Clive is in context but he does not dither. He points to the rotary dial telephone, saying: ‘If my thoughts were hand cream I would ring more often.’ As I sit down in a green velvet 1950s Zanuso armchair I asked him what he means by the comment. ‘Oh, it’s just a saying I collected from one of my Barbaras.’
Clive always refers to his women friends as Barbaras. Apparently his latest Barbara possesses a remnant of Isadora Duncan’s fateful scarf and drives an original red Fiat 500. He tells me he had met her at the autumn fair held in the local community centre. She had been selling copies of her self-published romantic novella entitled: The Amorous Butcher’s Love Slate – a torrid tale of passion amongst sawdust, dead beasts and the cold metal of mincing machines.
Clive could be regarded as a man who spends too much time in the society of women, engaging in such activities as tea dances and séances – events that actually occur more often than one would think in this day and age.
Whilst it all sounds flippantly amusing, let us not lose sight of Clive the Poodle Faker poised on the parapet of the suspension bridge. Oh yes, there exists a very real feyness, a loneliness within this man and within this bungalow of someone else’s life. I notice that when Clive speaks he moves one of his hands, fingers pointing vertically, in an up and down fluttering motion, like an absolution. I have seen this mannerism before; the American filmmaker David Lynch has the very same habit.
I ask Clive why he is attracted to older women. He tells me that he felt he’d always left things too late and being in the company of ‘Barbaras’ gives him the sense of a head start. I can’t tell if he is serious or not. He flicks the tassels of a brilliantly coloured shade on a turned-wood stand, points to a Cadillac-fronted Bakelite radio and then elaborates:
“When I was a schoolboy I had a friend whose mother was the mistress of a successful bookmaker. I would often go round to their flat – it was above an antique shop. She had flame-red hair and smoked Embassy cigarettes that she theatrically lit with a heavy Dunhill lighter. I always thought she was like a lady in a glossy magazine. There was glamour about her, but I didn’t know what it was: the lipstick-stained cigarette ends in the Johnny Walker ashtray, the perfume and the high heels. What clinched it for me was she listened to Radio Four. I’d never heard it before. She wore small pearl earrings and poodle brooches with diamanté eyes. I can never remember eating anything when I visited. We listened to plays on the radio, where I heard things like: “Fix yourself a drink while I get ready.” There was always a promise of something – suitcases with travel tags, French windows, car doors slamming, tinkling glasses and RP endearments. This woman opened possibilities that I could not name at the time but they stayed with me. She was that older woman and for me she was never a mother.”