My first true love was significant in the amount of time I spent with her. For twenty years more or less, I loved Julie Andrews. But it's definitely over. The love I had for her has gone, though the longing for that love hasn't quite. I'm ashamed to admit I ran out when times got rough. But what makes love stop? Does someone just turn out the lights and you have to go home? My love for Julie was illusory and passionate, intimate and lonely. It was for the actress and the roles she played, not for the woman who remains.
Let's start at the very beginning. Penge, 1977. A woman is in the kitchen cooking the roast, sweating and nattering with her mother about Flo down the road. The nets are wet, sticking to the window. Outside and around the corner their two husbands are in the Labour Club playing on the fruit machine and smoking roll-ups.
The front room in the house has a beige leatherette sofa with a brown sleeping dog on it. A five-year-old girl with a thumb in her mouth sits wedged in a too-small pushchair. It's Easter, or possibly Christmas, one of those times when long biblical films are all over the telly. The Sound of Music comes on. The five-year-old watches the camera play God, swooping over the Salzburg hills. It zooms in on a small dot of a nun running with her arms outstretched to the heavens, getting closer and closer as the music mounts up like some fantastical orgasm. And then Julie Andrews, with her strange, endearing side parting and short, impish hair belts out: "The hills are alive...!" The girl's heart is stirred, all she knows is this woman's existence is vital and supreme to anything she's encountered before.
I watch The Sound of Music avidly every Easter and Christmas. Eventually (after they're invented), I'm given a VHS copy. I study the film and learn:
The whole script.
With Julie as my strict governess, I imitate her voice and become the only pupil at my South London school with proper pronunciation (at least the BBC kind).
To run free in open spaces.
In my head I sing at the top of my voice to express my full heart. With the mound in the local park standing in for a low Alp, I am liberated every time I walk the dog.
"I have confidence in me!" cries Maria, with her exquisite ankles, as she braces herself for the great adventure of becoming governess to seven children. I buy a guitar and swing it along the road to the park.
To be helpful.
I identify with the idea of obliging selflessness, though privately I question what is constructive about encouraging a roomful of children to sing at bedtime. I ask for a high-collared nightie.
Never trust a Nazi postman.
Or the Apollo Theatre. When granddad takes me to the stage version starring Petula Clark, I hate her for the fact she isn't Julie Andrews and steal a pair of binoculars as revenge.