Do You Believe In Angels?
There I was sitting in the café at Waterstones bookshop on Piccadilly when an elderly man came and sat next to me. Little did I know that he was about to dispense me advice that would feel as though he had just had a look in my soul and knew exactly what to say.
It was Monday 20th December 1999 and the nation was in the grip of fin de millennium fever. At the time I was an archetypal single career girl who lived in Central London. I was 33, my biological clock was starting to tick loudly and there wasn’t a decent man in sight. One of my neuroses was that I wouldn’t have anyone to kiss on New Years Eve when the new millennium dawned.
The edge of the café was demarked by an L shaped counter where you sit on bar-stool height chairs. I had recently started to write and this was one of my favourite perches to scribble away with my cappuccino. It was 2.15pm and I was passing time there until I went off to the hairdressers for my 3pm appointment.
The gentleman asked if he could take the stool next to me. He was very well spoken. I never knew his name but if it had turned out to be Lord Such-and-such, I wouldn’t have been in the least bit surprised.
He had a coffee and a croissant. As he cut the croissant into smaller pieces, we got talking. He asked me if I had a husband and I lamented with him on the lack of a partner.
“I suppose you’re running around to cocktail parties and the like,” he said.
“Well, I do like to go out and about,” I replied.
This was the height of a period of my life I like to call my “mis-spent early 30s”. I certainly knew how to work hard and play hard.
“But you’ll never find a husband like that,” he said. “You need someone very solid. Someone for whom you will both be an anchor in each other’s lives.”
I must have looked at him with a puzzled look on my face.
“You can’t run around forever. You need someone who grounds you,” he said. “Someone whom you know so well that you can predict what they are going to say before they speak and they know you in the same way.”
He clasped his hands together and brought them down over his plate to illustrate his point. “And when you have this in each other, this is the anchor that I am talking about.”
I nodded, wanting to understand. My continuing single status was starting to make me depressed but I wasn’t making choices that would improve my situation. There was something about this man. I knew that I needed to listen to him.
“And when you have found someone who can be an anchor in your life,” he continued, “then you don’t need to run around and go to cocktail parties.”
With that, he popped the last piece of croissant into his mouth, bade me farewell and went off to his club in St James’s.
I sat there for a few more minutes, gob-smacked. How had he appeared, given me sage advice and then disappeared again?
It’s A Wonderful Life is one of my favourite Christmas movies. Clarence, the angel, is dispatched from heaven into Jimmy Stewart’s life when he is at his most desperate. Even though my life wasn’t at stake, I did need help. In that moment I was absolutely willing to believe that the man might not be real and could have been an angel, parachuted into my life by someone who knew exactly that I needed to hear.
I have never forgotten that encounter. In the years that followed the cracks in my fabulous girl-about-town exterior started to show and with the help of therapy I was gradually able to build a more grounded existence.
Six years later, also in the run up to Christmas, my now husband appeared in my life. We fell in love and realised that we could be that anchor in each other’s lives. Every year, we watch It’s A Wonderful Life and I am reminded of that man and his wise words.
When a bell rings, I wonder if he has his wings.