The image of who you will be when only photographs are left to remind you of your un-lined self is writ large in all our imaginations.
Those of us with a clear view of the chequered flag spend our lives ducking and diving en route to that final destination. I have not only ducked and dived, I have limped and dallied, dawdled and sidetracked. Unwisely so, for my chosen final destination was to recreate myself as a female John Mortimer. Only true dedication, immensurable talent, wit beyond my wildest dreams, an inestimable intellect, and a considerable dollop of good fortune, could ever have achieved this aim. No matter, I aimed for the moon, I am content with the minor constellation I landed on. I would never have got this far if I had not been aiming further.
When I first met John Mortimer I was just 16, ‘almost 16′, to be truthful; working quite illegally at that age for a private detective agency that specialised in providing a (strictly non-sexual!) partner to accompany would be divorced husbands to a hotel where they would book in as husband and wife, only to be discovered ‘entering a hotel room together’ moments later by a private detective. This ‘devastating’ piece of information would then be cited by the wife as the evidence needed to obtain a divorce. There was no such thing as a divorce by mutual consent in those early years of the 60′s.
John Mortimer was a divorce Barrister, he had arrived at my employers offices that afternoon to discuss some, presumably, nefarious business. As we chatted inconsequentially whilst I made the tea, he enquired how old I was. I batted away the pertinent question by precociously enquiring how old he was.
‘To the matter that you mention, I have given some attention, and I think I am sufficiently decayed, my dear’, he replied.
‘And a Mikado fan too’, said I
The exchange had been sufficient to deflect attention from my age, and to set him off on a wide ranging diatribe that left the Mikado and journeyed via the Probate courts through his love of Italy, the arcane and Byzantine ways of the law, his love of free speech and his concomitant dislike of the censorship role of the Lord Chamberlain, the joys of writing; every centimetre of the conversation peppered with quick witted and erudite remarks that had me buried in an encyclopaedia for weeks afterwards.
I was riveted. I had never met anyone remotely like this, the only role models I had were a motley collection of social workers (albeit the term had not yet been invented) whose combined wisdom and wit could not add up to one toe nail of this man. I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted to be a writer, I would defend free speech, I wanted to be everything that he was.
I achieved the mechanical labels – to paraphrase that hackneyed Irish saying ‘you wouldn’t want to get here from there’, but I did. Now I too, am ‘sufficiently decayed’ – a phrase I often employ in homage to my mentor.
It was, in truth, a hopeless aspiration to be everything he was. A laudable aim though, and one which has served me well.
God bless you John Mortimer.
John Mortimer died aged 85 on the 16th January 2009