It must have been around 1972 when I first met Her Indoors. I was round at a mutual friend's house sitting in a big old arm chair, and giving (as she told me later) a passable impersonation of Lytton Strachey sprawled out with a book in the famous painting from the Bloomsbury Group. The photo above is her sitting in front of a self-portrait, from around that time.
She and her husband were fascinating from the start, and also slightly scary. They seemed to epitomise cool and it was easy to feel extremely uncool when in their company. Much of this turned out to be self defence, I quickly discovered.
I soon became good friends with them both, and - like most other people who ever met her - extremely infatuated with her. For many years, I was a frequent visitor to their home (where I now live) and watched their 3 year old daughter grow into a stroppy teenager. She is now a very non-stroppy 42 year old. She began by calling me the elder brother she never had (H.I. is about 8 years older than me) and now introduces me as her 'step-father'. Her children now - quite rightly - refer to me as their grandfather.
Through the 70s and 80s, we watched the punk movement come and go whilst listening to Lou Reed and heavy Jamaican dub, and every summer I would employ her husband on various masonry jobs, teaching him things like how to put 112 lb sacks of stuff on his shoulder without falling over. He once said to her that he was never so simply happy as when working with me on hard, physical jobs, and we got on well, having the same sick sense of humour.
I predicted to a friend once that I would - one day - end up living with her permanently, and he told me not to be so stupid as to think such a thing. H.I. and her husband seemed to be inseparable.
One day, it became obvious that I was spending too much time with them, so I stopped calling round, and we drifted apart. I find it astounding that - in a town so small as Bath - we never saw each other again for about 8 years. We were not avoiding each other, but quite simply and inexplicably, our paths never crossed. My future step-daughter had moved to London and was working in top-end fashion shops and H.I. and her husband had - I later found out - split up. I was living in a cottage in the middle of a wood, when I called her up one night for a long chat, and she told me that he had moved out months before. We promised to meet up soon and I put the phone down.
When we did meet up a week or two later, I was horrified at her appearance - she had obviously been through a lot, and for the first time in her life, was living alone. This condition did not suit her. She had lost loads of weight and was living on a diet of porridge and salad - pretty much no protein at all as far as I could see.
So I engineered to go round to her house one night because something needed to be done which would normally have been done by her husband (I forget what), and never left. I began fattening her up as I slimmed myself down (I went from 16 stone to 13 stone in 3 months) and we met somewhere in the middle, though I am still almost twice as heavy as her. That was 20 years ago.
I knew from almost the start that we would be life-long friends and companions, and now I cannot imagine a meaningful life without her. It is sad to me that my 'real' family are almost strangers (my daughter was born from a one-night stand and has been living in the North for all but 3 of her 39 years), but I have the most wonderful substitutes in H.I.'s daughter and children. 'Substitutes' is the wrong word, because they are the real thing - I have been closer to them throughout all their lives than their biological grandparents, and dealt with all the ups and downs associated with growing up. I give the 18 year old boy a bollocking about his life, and he seems to take notice. The last time I did that, I was terrified that he would slam the phone down on me, but he didn't. He even thanked me for it.
I am so lucky.