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Alena

Today I was reminiscing about the Colony Holidays that I attended in the early seventies. Thinking about my old girlfriend Alena, I looked her up on Facebook and learned of her death less than two months ago on 12 January 2009. I have been trying to trace her for years but I had forgotten that her given name was Alenka and that Alena was a contraction of that.

We first met in August 1971 at a Colony Holiday run near Chichester for members of the Puffin Club and we became frequent penpals. A few years later I went to stay with her at her parents' home on the edge of the tiny village of Eastbury near Lambourn in Berkshire. Her father was the painter Anthony Dorrell and Daphne, her mother, was a translator who was later elected a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.

On my first visit I hitchhiked as far as Newbury but failed to get any more lifts and had to walk the last thirteen miles along country lanes through Boxford, Welford, and Great Shefford, where I stopped at the Swan Inn for the most refreshing shandy of my life having just walked ten miles in the summer sun.

The Lodge, a timber bungalow standing alone among fields, had been her parents' home for about ten years and was filled with books and mementoes of their travels throughout Europe and to China. I loved her father's study, which was entirely lined with books except for the window and the door. Every evening he would read to us for a while and I have never forgotten the words of Ben Travers' Rookery Nook, which was the play that he read on that first visit. Alena and I spent summer and winter days walking in the fields to the east of Eastbury, chatting among the books, and canoodling on her narrow bed. A few years later the family moved to Pinner on the outskirts of London and in 1978 they moved again to Cambridge.

Alena was often ill. She had been a sickly child and missed a lot of school but she read voraciously and had a vivid creative imagination. She had a fragile beauty; in a letter written some years after our romance had ended she described herself as "still having too many thoughts and too many red gold curls". Even now I cherish the memory of that golden hair and the soft freckles that covered her face and shoulders. She looked glorious and her clever funny world view was perpetually freshly entertaining to me. In the last letter that I received from her she was planning to go to drama school. I guess that that is what she did because now I learn that she became an inspirational drama teacher at the American International School of Budapest. Did she go to Dartington as she hoped?

In 1987 Alena's father succumbed to the emphysema that had troubled him for years as a consequence of his heavy smoking. I learned this a few years later but I had lost contact with Alena and could find no way to trace her at that time. In 2003 a website was created about her father but the webmaster replied to none of my emails and I let it slide. When I made enquiries about Daphne with the Institute of Linguists, I was told that she had died in 2004 [Since writing this, I learn that I was misled; Daphne is still alive]. And, as I type that, I remember that Alena's middle name was Daphne.

Alena's parents were enormously kind to me and they influenced me greatly. My plans for my basement library, which were thwarted last month by the shallowness of the house foundations, were based heavily on Tony's study. And to this day I yearn for a copy of the five-volume Mid Century edition of The Times Atlas of the World that Daphne described as 'an essential tool commended to any educated household'. They were lovely people and their daughter was a treasure. And so, here I sit deep in the night mourning the loss of something and someone already long lost to me; someone so nearly found; a prize missed by just seven weeks; and in a midnight voice, softer than a dove's, I hope I speak superbly of our lost loves.

Comments

When I was in college, I had a very dear friend whose wife ended up not liking me. I always thought that it was because I spoke English with her husband and she really couldn't - it was not rudeness on my part, I spoke no Chinese & none of them would teach me, because (as they said) no one really spoke their brand of Cantonese, so it would have been useless for me to learn it. I disagreed, but thought at the time it was because they were embarrassed at being unable to teach me because their English was limited. But it turns out later that she really disliked me because her mother-in-law actually preferred me as a bride for her son!! (Yes, I was stunned when I found this out). But, to keep peace in the family, I dropped the connection after I got married - I had invited them to my wedding, of course, but she declined to go.

I didn't find out until years later that he actually died of a heart-attack not too long after.
I read your post because I'm a member of the "rememberingandy" group - pretty much the same thing happened to me with Andy. It was difficult to explain why I should feel so deeply about the loss of someone I'd not seen in many years, but you've captured it much better than I managed to at the time. Already long lost, so nearly found and just missed. I feel for you.
Thank you so much for that. Losing Alena does evoke echoes of losing Andy for me although in my case my anger flowed from not making the most of the opportunities that I had had to spend time with such a lovely man of whom I was so fond. One of the reasons that I use LJ so extensively is that I realised that my frequent electronic contact with Steemol diminished my sense of such wasted opportunities. With Steve, like my father, my regrets were entirely about a lost future rather than a wasted past.

Alena's death is still too new for me to know how I will see it when the pain ebbs. Right now I keep revisiting all the things that could have been different. She was not on Facebook the first few times that I looked. When did that change? If only Lara had replied to my emails about anthonydorrell.com ... Why did I forget that Alenka was her formal name and Alena the diminuitive? So many roads not taken ...

Alena

Hello, I am Alenka's sister and I was very touched by your memory of her and my family. I have copied the piece to my mother (leaving out the bit about her having died...
grin

September 2015

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