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The end of my love life

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Living with Barry and Sally
Diana Athill Writer
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What had happened with Barry was that I had gone off sex with him before he did. After about eight years, I just sort of actually began to be fairly bored. It didn't affect our friendship, and it didn't really worry him all that much, because he could… you know? I'd never, never felt dog-in-the-manger. If he wanted to have another… an affair, he could. And knew he could because he, very strongly, was un-possessive. He hated possessiveness, quite sort of fiercely. And so, our relationship had stopped being sexual, although he had then come to live here. We were sharing a flat. I mean, it was just like two friends sharing a flat by then with, behind it, the fact that there had been eight years of very happy and successful affair, which gave it that much extra depth. And then he was putting on a play in Jamaica, and he had to audition for the main part. It was called White Witch of Rose Hall. It was a Jamaican, sort of, legend. And he could cast most of it in Jamaica, but the witch herself had to be English. And so he was auditioning to… someone to go out with him to put this production on. And I think Sal had been the first person he auditioned, and I remember she came to see him here, and he thought she would be the one. What did I think? And I said, 'Well, she's very attractive, but I'm not sure'. I didn't think she was quite the right kind of attractive, because I had a fairly clear picture in my mind of the White Witch who I thought ought to be rather eccentric kind of beauty. And Sal was a more ordinary. She was a pretty girl, but she wasn't, sort of, eccentrically pretty. But actually, she did play it pretty well. And anyhow, he'd thought, fine, she'll do. And so they went out together, and quite soon, from his letters, it was obvious that they were having an affair. But when they got back, I realised quite quickly that it was not at all a sort of passing one, like mostly he was… it was pretty serious. And when I met her and got to know her better, I could see why it was pretty serious, because I liked her so much. I mean, she was really a remarkably nice person, not just a charming, pretty girl, but an exceptionally nice woman. And she was… came back to London, went back to auditioning, which she hated. And had lodgings somewhere near here. And it struck me quite soon that this was daft. I mean, she was spending most of her time here, certainly most nights here. I said, 'Well, why, don't you move in'? And so she did. And I… I remembered it as being about four years. She said the other day, 'Don't be silly, it was four years, not two years'. And I said, 'Well, do you know? Isn't it funny? They were about the happiest times I had.' And she said, 'They were certainly the happiest times that I had'. We had a wonderfully good friendship, which to this day goes on.

And she, in fact, went out to see Barry the other day, and reported… because I think the journey was a little too much for me, and has reported about it and is keeping an eye on him as much as I am. More.

[Q] So it wasn't really a ménage à trois?

It wasn't a ménage à trois, not properly, because that would… it should be if it was three people all having sex together. We weren't. I… it could only have existed because the sex had gone out of Barry's and my relationship. I mean, I wouldn't have tolerated it for a moment if we'd soon been… still been sleeping together, but we hadn't been. And I had completely accepted that that was gone, it was out of the relationship. So there was nothing particularly odd about it, really. But it just looked odd from outside.

[Q] So it would be a mistake, then, to think of you as a person blessedly free of jealousy or possessiveness?

Yes. I mean, I wasn't. I was only just free of irrational possessiveness. I mean, if Barry had been… if Barry and I had still been lovers, I should… I mean, I wouldn't have accepted it. I'd have said, 'Well, this is the end of it, isn't it'? I would have been sad.

Born in 1917, Diana Athill is a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. She has worked with many notable writers, namely Philip Roth, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys and VS Naipaul. Following the publication of her memoirs, she is now hailed as an author in her own right.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: The White Witch of Rose Hall, Jamaica, Barry Reckord

Duration: 4 minutes, 43 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008