Prologue: I am fascinated by the minutiae of what I have collected over the years, and more importantly kept. I always maintained a diary and the entries form the backbone of these recollections. In 1978 it was Standard Chartered Bank red leather diary, a sign of importance to me though it would have been a corporate gift. It still smells good and has the gold metal corners and is a mine of information. Reading through I found the entry for June that just reads “Down to Nice” and a few days later “Met Anita Cario from Washington DC”. My task was clear, where is she now and why was this crossroad important to me.
I was not sure how my career would pan out, but on a whim decided to go and visit my cousins in Nice. This was to be a round the world trip. My mother duly wrote to them and it was agreed that I could stay in their flat whilst finding my feet. This was to be an adventure and a journey that had no planning and no direction.
But before going, I had an interview in London with the Scots Guards who considered offering me a place on their next officer intake. But with no firm commitment from them I felt that nothing was to be gained by staying in London in that dreary summer.
The overnight coach to Nice was the cheapest way to go and I left on Monday June 12th 1978. The trip was fine and each mile past saw me closer to the coast, rather like Mr. Bean’s Holiday. On arrival I found that my cousins had not really expected me, but was allowed to stay on a sofa in their offices. This was a bit of a problem but I found a cheap hotel the next day and luckily the weather was good.
What was I to do next; exploring was a first and finding a job second. I was enthralled to see the topless bathers on the beach and soon I had bought a bottle of wine and two glasses. The job search could come later.
I sat on the stones close to a girl who was on her own. She was lying on her front and had long black hair and an olive sun-kissed skin. She was reading but I guessed could be up for conversation. So I started and yes, she spoke English and was an American studying the language and was a couple of years older than me at 24.
The sun set and we were still talking and so we strolled hand in hand to my hotel. This was not the style that she was used to but it sufficed her for a few days. We spent that time talking, eating bread and cheese, drinking and having lazy afternoons in bed. Of course it had to end and anyway I had a job interview arranged in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, the next village. So we travelled there together but she stayed at the harbour while I talked it through.
My other cousin was a wine merchant and as explained at the interview over lunch, he had no sons. He supplied the surrounding areas and the famous including David Niven. We went through the concept. I was to learn more French and gradually take over the estate as well. He asked me if I had a girl-friend and I was able to say yes, of course.
I told him that I could not make an instant decision and had to make as we say a very important phone call. I was armed with 10 Franc coins and found a phone box. In between the pips and my drowsy thoughts I managed to reach a rather uninterested Brigade Major in Horse Guards Parade in London.
He told me to report for initial officer training at Pirbright by August. I now had a few months to enjoy France. But now what to do with Anita? I talked the options through with her and no doubt asked her to stay with me. However she had other plans and went to the station and off to Rome leaving me with a crossroad decision and her Rome address on a paper napkin.
My cousin was duly amazed that I chose the Army and we parted as cousins who don’t really know each other do, frosty friends. So now, out a real job and with the girl gone, and my money almost too, I just had to find her again.
I boarded the small local train to Rome from Beaulieu-sur-Mer and apart from not having a ticket and paying a small fine, slept and then was worried all the way to Rome. Had I made the right decision, should I stay, why was I after all going to Rome? I only knew her name and nothing else about her. She had a planned life and I was in turmoil.
At Rome station I stood on the concourse with no idea as to the flat and the address she had given me, or even the area, and it was getting late and dark. It was of course a warm evening, with birds roosting, commuters hurrying past me and there I was, blue rucksack and little money to boot. But I had so much confidence in my ability to keep going against the odds.
I slept on a bench that night and by breakfast time had managed to find by asking everyone the address, and it was a walk of about an hour. I pressed the doorbell and she came to the door, and we fell into each other’s arms. Her flatmate was out and anyway she shared a room with her, but that was no immediate obstacle. We passed the days together but I knew I had to go home, get fitter and go on the route that I had decided.
Before I left Rome I gave her a pendant of a lion, which symbolised many things including my crest and England and then started the journey home to an uncertain future. I left behind a lover, and a friend but the time was not right for either of us.
As it was I did my Army service though not in way I had imagined, and spent several months in the Sudan. As for Anita I had not thought about her till I wrote this and remembered this crossroad in my life, and yes I made the right choice.
Postscript: My crossroad was a career decision, and not necessarily Anita. In my diary she had scribbled her address. On line I found her and her number and I called her. She is still single and keeps my lion on her bedside. She wrote today and made the observation that “Our relationship was not really a relationship; we did not know each other very well. What we had was a cute little “frolic” and then we went our separate ways. I would not label it as a crossroads because it was not that important to be a crossroads. We were young and silly and naive (both of us) and it was just one of the many experiences that makes us into the people we are today”. I will agree to that sentiment.