IT’S the busiest time of year – and while the rest of the world prepares for a breathless whirlwind of parties, dancing and socialising on Christmas Eve, I will be packing.
Bob and I will be heading out to a different place to a sun kissed private beach on holiday to celebrate the fact that 50 years ago – on Christmas Eve, 1963 – when I was a fresh-faced young reporter, we married.
My greatest gift this Christmas is that we still have each other.
When we exchanged our vows 50 years ago, I didn’t honestly know if my marriage would last. No one ever knows that, of course. But I did know how much we loved each other, how compatible we were, and that we wanted and needed to be together.
Over the years, I’ve learned many lessons from Bob, and even more with him. Are they the secrets to a totally happy marriage? Well, they are the things which have kept our love and our passion alive.
Here, through the decades, are those priceless nuggets of experience I’ve learned.
THE FIRST TEN YEARS
When it comes to love, there’s no ‘Sisterhood’.
It really does feel like yesterday when this handsome young man with brown eyes, a dash of blonde in his hair and wearing a sports jacket and tie first walked into the drawing room of my London neighbours, Jack and Dorothy Davies.
And on that very first day I learned the most important lesson of all when it comes to love – that there IS no sisterhood.
I was a young journalist who had been invited to meet Bob over lunch. This had been set up from New York by a mutual friend, Jeanne Gilbert, who also knew Bob, and Jack and Dorothy. Jeanne was playing matchmaker, wanting to put Bob and I together.
I arrived with very little make up , wearing Sixties-style turquoise tight ski pants and a white sweater. I was very independent, probably a little bolshy and slightly overweight – a bit like Bridget Jones. When Bob walked into the room, I looked down and saw the knees on my ski pants were baggy, and I also desperately tried to sweep back my hair.
As soon as Bob started to talk to me, I felt instantly at ease. It was an extraordinary feeling, and one I’d never felt before – as if I had actually known him all my life.
I knew nothing about this dashing American who was talking to me. I didn’t know if he was divorced, married, rich or poor, and I didn’t care.
Before we left for the restaurant, I sneaked into Dorothy’s bedroom, with her permission and borrowed her make-up, wanting to make myself look more glamorous.
Bob had brought a couple with him, a well-known screenwriter and his wife, and after drinks, we went to the restaurant.
At one moment, during lunch the screenwriter’s wife followed me to the ladies room. Here’s how she taught me my first lesson in love.
She asked me how long I’d known Bob. I answered, “Just today.” She looked me up and down, surprise crossing her face, and said: ‘We’ve introduced Bob to all the most beautiful stars in Hollywood and he wasn’t a bit interested in them. I can’t believe the way he is behaving with you.’
I was a bit stunned by the rudeness of this woman. And since then, I’ve come to realise through the decades, that hell hath no fury like a woman who is jealous of another. Being happy and in love often incites resentment from other women, and one of the main lessons in life is that there is no such thing as a ‘Sisterhood.’
There’s jealousy and resentment on all levels, especially if a woman is successful.
On that Sunday afternoon long ago, I shrugged off that woman’s words and rejoined Bob.
We discovered over that first lunch that we had so much in common. We were in an Indian restaurant chosen by our hosts, yet neither of us liked spicy food. We soon found out we were both only children, but while I had my doting parents, Winston and Freda Taylor, Bob had nobody. He was a Gemini, as were both my parents. I always say I was brought up by four people, and married to two men.
We had many shared interests, and as we talked I realized that we both loved the movies, the theatre, music and books. The marvellous thing about him is that he had such a wonderful sense of humour, very witty, and he made me laugh a lot over lunch that day. And he still does.
TWENTY YEARS/THE SECOND DECADE
Stick together when plans go wrong
You can make all the heady, exciting plans in the world and have your future mapped out in front of you – and then Mother Nature and Fate step in with a resounding cruelty.
It’s how you handle the unexpected that impacts on your marriage. When things go wrong, does it draw you together – or does the once-happy union implode?
We were put to the test fairly early on in our marriage. Bob and I assumed we’d have children. We thought they would naturally follow and we were so excited when I fell pregnant two years after our wedding. Everything was perfect, and I remember us planning a nursery, and looking at other couples who were happily pushing prams down the street.
When I miscarried, it was absolutely devastating, but the doctor told us there was no reason why it would happen again. I fell pregnant again eighteen months later, and this time, the pregnancy seemed to advance fine.
I was worried and cautious, but I just didn’t expect to lose this baby too. This time, the miscarriage was later and was far more traumatic. I remember blaming myself, and feeling it must because of something I had done.
Then, some weeks later, I thought: ‘If I regret this, it will destroy me and it will hurt Bob too. I can only look forward – I can’t look back, and I can’t let this define me.’
After that, I never fell pregnant again. I remember saying to Bob ‘Shall we adopt?’ and he seemed keen. We were both busy working, and we knew we could offer a child a loving family. But in fact, my deadlines as a bestselling novelist and Bob’s jetset job meant the adoption plan just never happened.
So it remained just the two of us to fuss over each other. We agree it would be lovely now to have grandchildren to enjoy, particularly at Christmas time. But I don’t know how easy it is for women to have it all – a job, a family, a lovely home and a content husband.
THIRTY YEARS/THE THIRD DECADE
Understand the past – but never pry
It took Bob many years to actually confide in me about the tragedy of his childhood.
His father had died of illness when he was a young boy. But he could not bring himself to say too much about those days in Berlin. They had been buried too deep. His parents were Jewish and his mother realised the danger of the Nazis. She put Bob on a train to Paris when he was eight, and sent him to the French side of her family. Once the Germans invaded France, Bob and a cousin walked all the way to the South of France to escape. A year later, Bob was helped over the French border into Switzerland by a Roman Catholic priest. As Bob turned to wave, he saw the priest shot by German soldiers, who had been pursuing them. I often think how traumatic this experience this must have been for Bob when he was still a child.
As the war progressed, Bob was informed at one moment that his mother had managed to get out of Berlin, and had gone to New York via Lisbon. She was apparently living in Manhattan with another side of her family. At the end of the war, Bob set sail for America to join his mother. But when they docked, she wasn’t there. I have always imagined how he must have scanned the crowds looking for her beloved face. Waiting for him instead was an American cousin and it was she who told him that his mother, Doris, had died three weeks earlier. It breaks my heart to think that he was never reunited with the mother he loved so much.
Many years later, on our 35th wedding anniversary, Bob and I gave a party at a famous New York club, Doubles. I stood up to toast Bob in front of our friends. I raised my glass, and looked at him lovingly and said: ‘This party really is for you, to make up for all the birthday parties you missed when you were a child.’
Knowing that Bob went through so much hurt has obviously helped to steer me through an occasional marital row. I could easily have erupted when we disagreed about something but I restrained myself because I knew I realised it was all trivial stuff to what he had suffered.
FORTY YEARS/THE FOURTH DECADE
Walk away from the row – or risk driving him away instead
Just before I married, my mother offered me some advice which I’ve never forgotten. ‘Never offer a man a divorce. He may take you up on it!’ Her other words of wisdom were: ‘Keep your mouth shut and do your own thing.’
Like any man, Bob can be absolutely infuriating. I buy glossy magazines but often before I have the chance to read them, Bob will throw them away. Years ago, I would get so angry and say: ‘There’s two people in this marriage, you know!’ and Bob would look back with an expression of innocence and surprise, and say: ‘But I assumed you’d read them!’
Now, I simply fish them out of the bin and take them into my office – regular rescue missions which never cease.
Bob has another habit of waiting until we are out at dinner, and then announcing: ‘I really don’t like that dress.’ I say: ‘Why didn’t you tell me before we actually left the apartment?’ and he says: ‘I wasn’t paying attention earlier on.’
That, without fail, always kills the whole evening. When we do row, Bob says ‘Don’t get excited,’ which of course, winds me up even further. I say: ‘I’m just making a point!’
I used to think ‘What is wrong with Bob?’ but then I realised ‘He’s a man – they think differently.’ I realise that they don’t operate the same way as us. They can’t multitask and they simply don’t agonise over the smallest of detail the way women do.
No matter how cross I am, I leave the room, and boil the kettle in the kitchen. As the steam rises, I take deep breaths. Then I go back to Bob’s den, poke my head around the door and – even if it takes an effort to smile, because I want to throttle him – I ask cheerfully ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’
By the time we sit back down together to share the tea, our row is over and the cause forgotten.
So I’ve learned to step back and keep my mouth shut, as my Mother once advised me.
I’ve enjoyed thousands of gossipy and girlie lunches with my friends over the years, but I have never once criticised my husband. When a wife castigates her husband, or airs their private problems in public, a marriage can hit serious trouble.
A friend once asked: ‘Don’t you worry about him? He has a glamorous job. He’s a movie producer, and he flies around the world and meets beautiful women.” I replied: ‘If a man wants to cheat, he’ll do it wherever he is. He doesn’t have to travel to be unfaithful.”
THE PAST YEAR
Remember what is really important in life – and love
In September last year, I embarked on the biggest closet clean out of my life. It started because I developed tendinitis in my foot. The doctor said I had to stick to shoes with two inch heels.
I had rows of lovely shoes with three-inch heels, so I put them in a shopping bag and gave them to some of my friends. They were so thrilled, that I started to sort through my dresses – the vintage Balmain and Pauline Trigere gowns.
Every time I came across a dress I hadn’t worn for ages, I put it on a rail. I emptied half my closet of clothes, and gave some away to friends, and the other outfits to The Lighthouse for the Blind charity, who hold a “Posh Sale” twice a year to raise money for Braille books.
Then, I moved onto my jewellery. Each year, for 50 years, Bob has bought me something special to celebrate my birthday, wedding anniversary, Christmas, a new book finished, or a film of a book that he has made.
I remembered my father, Winston Taylor, telling me ‘Don’t leave jewellery locked up in a box, it needs to be worn,’ and I asked Bob what he would think if I sold some of the jewels lying in our safe. He said: ‘They are yours – it’s up to you.’
I actually looked at Bob and thought ‘There’s only one thing I actually want or need, and that’s you.’ This year, 40 items of my jewellery were sold through auction at Bonhams, raising money for our female heirs.
There really was only one thing left to go in my ultimate clean out – and that was the apartment.
For the past 18 years, we’ve lived in the same 14-room Manhattan mansion apartment on the sixth floor of a famous building – an apartment of almost 6,000 square feet. It’s so big that Bob and I have really only been using four rooms at most in the last few years. It’s an apartment which is crying out for a young family.
I remember looking up the wide corridor and thinking ‘Children should be running up and down here.’ So we decided to downsize. We sold the apartment to the actress, Uma Thurman, and when I took a final look around, I felt no regret or stab of loss, and neither did Bob.
At the moment, Bob and I are renting a furnished apartment and are buying a beautiful 8-room apartment on Park Avenue in the Eighties. It’s sunny, airy and a much better size for two people. At this moment I am in the process of decorating it, and we are going to be moving in later in March.
Our idea of a perfect night out these days is actually a night in together. Recently, we’ve both been unwell with chest infections, and it brings into sharp focus the reality that we’re getting older.
I say to Bob: ‘I don’t know what I’d do if you die,’ and he becomes all gruff and says ‘You’ll manage.’ But he still makes my heart leap after all these years. He kisses me, calls me beautiful and we still fancy each other. It’s not the same mad passion of those early, heady days of love, but the physical attraction is there and that will never fade. We are never bored with each other and always have a lot to say.
So I am blessed. In the last year, I’ve given away shoes, dresses and sold jewellery, furniture and our home. Our beloved dog Chammi passed away after 17 wonderful years.
So much has changed, and yet each night, I sit beside Bob and feel the warmth of his body next to mine and feel blessed.
The simply truth is, with Bob beside me, I have all that I need. So this Christmas Eve, after fifty years of a truly wonderful marriage, I will be raising a toast to my husband standing at the edge of an ocean… just the two of us.
LATEST BLOG POSTS
27 April 2016
On The Meaning & History Of Black Irish
3 June 2015
Our Girls Immortalized On Canvas
14 April 2015
Women Of Substance In Houston, Texas - April 8, 2015