AMANDA PLATELL: I found a treasure trove of long-lost love letters in my attic – and now wish the admirers I unthinkingly spurned in my youth would get back in touch!
- Amanda’s ‘Miscellaneous Men’ folder brings her youthful romances to the fore
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Rummaging through the dusty chaos of my attic, searching through boxes of old documents for the deeds to my cottage, I found an innocuous-looking clear plastic folder.
I record the contents of all my folders with a big fat black marker pen, and written in bold words across the front of this one was ‘Miscellaneous Men’.
Having absolutely no idea what it contained, nor any recollection of even making the file, I was intrigued. I took it downstairs and pulled out the first piece of paper.
It was a hand-written poem, complete with a little drawing, entitled: With Her Smile She Brings Balloons, signed ‘Philip xx’ (August 30).
My first thought was… Philip? Philip who? Philip when and where?
Older and wiser: Amanda today. Jumper, £79, and leather trousers, £179, marksandspencer.com; heels, £59.99, zara.com
With blushes, I reveal the poem read:
A sun shines boxes
Into my cold rooms
Carting colours in balloons
That shrink the onions that hang near eyes
And melt the knives that stab slowly
And a chest that bounds like young legs
Your dark and reassuring hair
Your lips of perfect red form
Your eyes of soft scented flowers
Your shoulders of white fresh milk
Your body of satin envelopes
When you and your gentle dream mystery are gone
I am like a drowning flower
Back in the drinking glass
That might be my heart
This darkness I can hardly endure
Until once again your smile will bring
The happy coloured balloons
That evaporate my drowning fears
With a most delicate intimacy.
A way with words: An extract from beautiful, brooding Philip’s lovelorn poem to a young Amanda
And then I remembered. Philip was the beautiful, brooding young man I spent time with in Perth after his best friend Mark cruelly dumped me, aged 20.
I was devastated, and Philip was my shoulder to cry on. He sang Every Breath You Take by The Police and Dexys Midnight Runners’ Come On Elieen to me, sitting cross-legged on the floor strumming his guitar.
He wrote me endless love poems, leaving them under the windscreen wipers of my car late at night with a bunch of handpicked flowers so I’d see them as I headed off at 5am for my reporter’s shift.
Wild curly black hair, soulful green eyes, he was a young Bob Dylan. As handsome as Mark and far more sensitive — yet he never stood a chance.
After six months apart, Mark and I got back together and on discovering my stash of Philip’s poems, he destroyed them. All except this one.
Looking back, I often wondered if I’d made the right decision. Philip was kinder than Mark, more passionate, loyal and he loved me unconditionally.
He even followed me to Sydney when I was sent there by the newspaper to try to win me back.
He was a stayer, Mark was not — he broke it off again — and this would not be the first careless decision I made in my young romantic life.
When Amanda discovered the long-lost love letters from her youth, she was taken back to some of the best days of her life
Rummaging through my Miscellaneous Men folder made me realise with some sadness, and yes, even regret, that here in my hands lay a record of some of the best days of my life, casually tossed aside and lumped together in an anonymous file.
Oh the naivety and casual cruelty of youth, thinking such adoration would always be a given, that men would write me love poetry for ever.
Of course they don’t; such wild, carefree longing is entwined with the innocence of youth.
It’s only looking back that we realise we were so nonchalant with other’s tender hearts, so careless about breaking them, as though we had some God-given right to be loved and adored.
Next out of the folder came a yellowing, crumpled letter, also hand-written on lined paper, addressed to ‘Mandy’ and signed ‘all my love, Ben’.
Again, I was searching my brain for Ben? Ben who? It began with musings on the sounds of fishing boats starting work at dawn off Sydney’s Rushcutters Bay, where we had (evidently) had our first kiss.
‘Patches of wind and their wakes breaking the still water and colours, crickets and trains mingle with the sound of bluegrass, I felt the need to write to you,’ he penned.
‘You have changed the way I feel and regardless of what may happen in relation to us, I feel myself for the first time in ages. I thank you for that Mandy. I have started writing again.’
Philip, who tried to comfort Amanda when his friend Mark dumped her, would leave love poems under the windscreen wipers of Amanda’s car with a bunch of handpicked flowers
He too had enclosed a poem:
So careful not to go too far
Be reserved, natural, warm, interesting
Your beauty made me smile involuntarily
Broken glass at your feet
Feeling protective, fascinated by your shameless honesty
Then holding you hesitatingly
Hair so warm, fences in the night
Your kiss so unexpectedly
Seeing your confusion give way to trust
Tricking you so we would not have time to cry
You are with me still Amanda.
Blimey, this from some bloke I kissed in Sydney, aged 21. A love affair I can’t even remember!
A quick call to my dear friend, also called Amanda, who I stayed with in Sydney during that time and she reminded me:
Not all the love-letters in the ‘Miscellaneous Men’ folder were adoring. One rather jealous poem was titled ‘Where are you Amanda?’
‘Ben, how could you forget him? 6ft 2in, wild blond hair, perfect pecs. He was the poster boy for the Australian SAS, his pictures were everywhere, he served with the Special Forces in Vietnam.’
Oh yes, Ben! The memories did come flooding back. Beautiful Ben, perfect Ben — now I do recall kissing him under a pale purple sunset over Rushcutters Bay.
A holiday romance as seemingly sweet, innocent and free of complications as they can only be when we are young.
Until our third date, that is, when he took me to the movies to see Francis Ford Coppola’s disturbing Vietnam movie Apocalypse Now.
I remember those first 20 or so minutes, which include the famous Robert Duvall quote: ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning… It smells like victory,’ as the troops torch Vietnamese villages.
That’s all we saw before leaving the cinema for a fish and chip dinner, and I’m guessing his sudden need to exit the cinema is also why our holiday romance didn’t last the summer.
Why he’d been so grateful to me for cheering him up and helping with his depression. He had what we’d now call PTSD, and needed to feel whole again.
All I recall is that Ben was very beautiful and very lost and just 24 years old. Try as I did, I had no idea how to heal him.
Another letter from a different admirer, five pages long, beginning ‘Hi loved one’, contains such unbridled affection, I am nearly in tears.
‘God, can you imagine two lives further apart yet (from my side) so interwoven?’ it ends. ‘Live long, my love and live it well, however you choose…’ It is signed ‘Jim xxx’.
After racking my brains, I realised this was from the wise sub-editor Jim, ten years older than me, which I then considered positively ancient, who took me under his wing when I was facing a fair bit of Aussie Sheila-bashing on my first job as a journalist on the Perth Daily News.
Blazer £80, next.co.uk; top, £29.99, and trousers, £79.99, mango.com; heels, £41, oasisfashion.com
Jim always told me to believe in myself as he did – never crack under pressure and I’d see the bastards off in the end.
Jim was a gent; it would only ever be a platonic relationship from my side, but I knew from the flowers and cards he brought me each time we met it was something more for him.
My Miscellaneous Men file was not all full of adoration, however. One poem written on now starched white paper in capital letters and not signed is entitled: Where Are You Amanda?
That girl is sweet, that girl is pure.
Or so she says but we’re not sure.
Those innocent dresses deceive our eyes.
Are Amanda’s words, Amanda’s lies?
She may flutter around and seem innocent,
But who knows whether she’s heaven sent.
Does she con up the men with her wicked eyes?
Or sleep all content with her teddy bear Kaye?
Where is the Amanda, the beauty I find?
Is she hidden behind a facade of lust,
Or is it the other way around?
Amanda the harlot, Amanda the pure,
Where will I find you now?
Cos if you’re good in bed, like Mario said,
I know that it’s me you will wow next.
So come on baby, don’t give me maybe.
Let’s get it together now.
Clearly Aussie men’s poems back in the 1980s weren’t always tender, still less worthy to be kept for decades as literary masterpieces.
I know exactly who the author is, but to spare his blushes I’ll call him Bruce.
And for the record, I never slept with Mario and would never have dreamt of sleeping with you, Bruce. I never owned a teddy bear in my life either.
At the time of his writing, I was blissfully happy in a glorious love affair with the aforementioned Mark, former best friend of Philip of the balloons.
To counter Bruce’s cynicism, I found a contemporaneous hand-written letter from someone who had sent me a huge bunch of peonies and mysteriously signed themselves in perfect Old English loopy handwriting ‘The Phantom of the Flowers’.
It begins: ‘My dear Amanda, perhaps the flowers will drive the blues away and make your green eyes shine. Let them remind you that there is someone who cannot endure the slightest anxiety darkening a minute of your day.’
Shirt, £45, marksandspencer.com; coat, £129, trousers, £32.99, and shoes, £59.99, zara.com
Wow, if I’d known his name I might have married him!
Finally, at the bottom of the pile of Miscellaneous Men, I found a slew of tightly hand-written letters on what was then considered, in provincial Applecreek, Perth, quite posh pale blue paper.
These were addressed to ‘Dearest Mandy’ and signed ‘Dave xxx’. Again, I had not a clue who Dave was, but maybe a summary of the words in his six letters would reveal all.
‘It can only be three-quarters of an hour since I left you, but I find I still want to talk with you and sleep couldn’t be further from my mind.
‘I was grateful for our chat on the beach, although I think “chat” is the wrong word as I can think of no-one else I would rather talk to, which brings me to another subject: my feelings for you. I love you. I know I’ve told you again and again.
‘Three simple words to explain a feeling of such complexity seems absurd, perhaps I could write you a poem.’
Oh no. Who is Dave, was my first thought. And my second: Not another bleeding poem!
Dave concludes his letter: ‘I am in love and all I ask of you is that you be honest with me. I know you will and this is probably one of the many reasons for my love.
‘I’ve now used that word ten times, yet am no surer of its meaning. Whatever it does mean, I really do love you.’
And suddenly I recalled in the dark distant past, a posh Englishman called Dave who came to Perth on an extraordinary journey. After those letters, which I never replied to, I suspect I never heard from him again.
He was the adopted son of an extremely wealthy family, feted and adored, yet he agonised over whether people loved him for who he really was or as the son of a multi-millionaire.
Having initially concealed his true identity, he decided after a month in Perth that I was the only person who had ever loved him for who he really was, just Dave, and wanted me to join him in England.
I remember it all now, that gentle, confused young man with a big heart and easy smile. Another one I let get away. I could have been an English lady living in the lap of absolute luxury.
So what have I learnt from my collection of Miscellaneous Men discarded and gathering 40 years’ worth of dust in the attic? George Bernard Shaw famously said ‘youth is wasted on the young’.
I disagree. It’s love that is wasted on the young. We are so careless with each other’s tender hearts, we think our soft milk shoulders and perfect red lips will survive the ravages of time. But as we soon find out, they don’t.
Amanda knew Jim had strong feelings for her from the flowers and cards he bought her, but she didn’t feel the same
Despite these lovers’ letters and kisses and the passion they reveal, I never slept with any of these young men. I vaguely recall a fumbled grope through my bikini top, but that was it.
Times were different then. We were more chaste. As my mother constantly reminded me, young women had their ‘reputation’ to protect, as no decent man would want to marry a girl who ‘put it about’.
And yet it was all so blissfully romantic and harmless. A summer holiday, warm beaches, tanned legs, firm midriffs, endlessly clear blue skies and snogging (lots of snogging).
Oh the innocence of youth believing that our entire lives would be one long summer holiday. That men would so easily fall in love with us for ever. That being adored and desired was an entitlement, not a gift.
Having discovered this treasure trove of love, perhaps the soundtrack to my youth should have been Simple Minds’ hit Don’t You Forget About Me, which I clearly did until all these decades later.
But if by any chance Philip, Ben, Dave or the Phantom of the Flowers read this and are on the mid-life singles dating market, hopefully with ex-wives and grown-up children, and have fond memories of a young Amanda, you can reach me via this newspaper.
She no longer has perfect lips nor skin of white milk, but promises to more tenderly appreciate your love poems than she did back then.
Bruce and Mario need not apply.
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