There comes a breathtaking, all-defying moment at some point or the other in every schoolgirl’s life – the point where she’s passed a much-worn tome covered in sorry-looking newspaper, quietly and surreptitiously under the desk so that the teacher won’t notice. The Moment comprises the quick taking-in of breath and the slow opening of the book, the glossing over of unimportant first chapters and the arrival at the much-thumbed page. And then the giggling. Always the giggling.
Most schoolgirls are around thirteen when this happens, I think, and the book is usually a Mills and Boon. Or at least it was when I was thirteen (I have long since passed that age and am now an ancient fossil, yes. You can stop smirking. This is a girlie post and I intend to finish it). And this was before we discovered all the other more explicit books that left nothing to the imagination but were somehow more disappointing, and grew expert at finding the page we were looking for with one expert flick. I remember the day my first Mills and Boon was passed to me, and I remember what I was doing at that very moment.
I was reading Gerald Durrell, and swatted the hallowed Tome of Girlhood away.
I never caught onto Mills and Boon, and I still consider it a shame more than an achievement – it robbed me of many hours of comradely discussion about the Perfect Man and everything related. I remember one of my friends asking me about my perfect man, and I remember the blank look on her face when I said “Mr. Rochester”. She hadn’t read Jane Eyre, and it was all the better that she didn’t find out I wanted a man who was beetle-browed, boorish, bigamous, burnt, blind and one-armed. Quite the hero.
And then came my Mills and Boons. They were written by a woman who lived in the 1950s and were about the 1800s. The people in the books spoke elaborately and wore magnificent clothes but contrived to get themselves into the most ridiculous situations. And oh, they were funny. Georgette Heyer, after LM Montgomery, was my salvation as far as all things romantic went. I am not trying to explain why I became obsessed with them, I have always liked history and maybe the idea of funny regency romances with very unlikely heroines caught on like a fever, but Georgette Heyer gave me something else. The Georgette Heyer Man.
The Georgette Heyer Man (GHM for short) is a tall, loose-limbed, cynic with unruly hair and quite unremarkable features except for a smile that transforms his face. And yes, the eyes. Usually a queer light grey, very bored, but with a sparkle that comes out with the smile. He is well-travelled and well-read, and about ten years older than the heroine. He is, by turns, a rake, a social outcast, a diffident aristocrat, a jaded Corinthian, a reluctant saviour – it doesn’t matter. The problem with the GHM is that he’s poison for a girl who routinely falls in love with literary characters, and if he enters her life at the right moment he can very easily make sure that the girl’s teenage years are wasted in daydreams about older men with careless demeanours and sardonic voices.
No, I am not making excuses for finding older men hot. I am not denying the hours wasted discussing love with other friends with Heyeritis. I am not making excuses for the fact that I have never liked anyone my age, but always someone older (and, er, younger). I am not justifying joining Facebook groups called “The Association for Girls in Love With Ageing Celebrities” and “Boys in books are just BETTER”. What I am trying to do is write my last blog post till the 29th of March, and devise a way to get as many comments here as possible, obviously. That is what blogs are for, and that is how evil and unscrupulous I am. I’ve been letting off sinister muahahhahaha laughs in my head all morning for no reason, so this will suffice.
Right then, I'm starting a meme (muahahhaha). Anyone who has ever fallen in love with her version of the GHM, I tag you. Write a post, it doesn't have to be very big, about that person – literary character, comic book hero, some guy in a movie, a random person you'll never meet – we’ll start a list that will probably never end. I get to go first.
Number One - Roald Dahl. Okay, so he’s not a literary character, but I just finished re-reading Boy and Going Solo, and I’m still boggled at the life he led. Spent his childhood holidays in his native Norway (Fjords! Islands! Northern Lights!), breezed through school, got a job with Shell at eighteen, left England on a ship and went into Africa looking for adventure, had his adventures, took some prize-winning photographs on the way, became an RAF pilot, crashed his plane in the desert, was injured, forced to retire, and then – then – he gave us The BFG and The Twits and Willy Wonka and Matilda, and actually dreamed up the Chocolate Factory. And then he wrote some of the best short stories I have read, from Skin to Henry Sugar to Lamb to the Slaughter. Currently, Roald Dahl is on my GHM list. In fact, if hip-hop didn’t baffle me so much, I’d call him Da Man.