How we met: ‘He was looking for a kiss, but I wasn't. We did, however, shake hands’

It was August 1965 and I was 18, working as (to use the terminology of that time) a woman clerk at the Bank of England. On Saturday nights, I used to meet a colleague, Susan, at a dance hall in south London. One night, she copped off with a lad called Charles and the three of us continued to meet at the dance, me feeling very much the gooseberry. Charles then announced that he had a friend coming to stay. Ian was 23, lived in Yorkshire and worked as an engineering draughtsman. Would I like to make up a foursome at the dance the next week? Pleased that my gooseberry status was to be put on hold, I agreed.

I had never dated anyone before. I wasn’t bothered about this in the slightest, but was quite excited at the prospect of a new experience. My first impressions of Ian were that he was smart and not bad-looking. However, he was reluctant to even get on to the dancefloor and, when he did, he turned out to have two left feet. Consequently, we spent most of the time sitting at the side. He was very chatty, but had a broad Yorkshire accent, so what with that and the live band in full swing, I found it hard to understand what he was saying.

During the dance interval, the four of us went to a nearby pub. I had never been in one before, but remember asking for a port and lemon. Away from the band, we chatted amicably. Returning to the dance hall, we resumed our position at the side of the floor, sitting on a bench with no armrests. We were pushed quite closely together.

As the evening progressed, Ian got hold of my hand, another new experience for me. I suppose I found it flattering. At the end of the dance, he walked me to the bus stop. He was looking for a kiss, but I wasn’t. I had only kissed family members, and didn’t want to widen my horizons. We did, however, shake hands.

Ian came down to London a couple more times that autumn and, as I got to know him better, I found I liked him. Our first kiss is still very clear in my memory; it took place outside the Odeon cinema in Morden, south London, on a dark and damp evening.

Christine Gawthorpe at home

Christine at home. She and Ian married after four years of courting. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

We had exchanged addresses (no emails or mobile phones in those days) and started writing to one another. Ian set the ball rolling and, as time went on, I used to wait for the postman eagerly. By November, he had invited me to stay for a weekend at the family home in West Yorkshire. I had never been “up north” before and expected to see the stereotypical images of the region – belching mill chimneys on every street corner, cloth caps and whippets. I was surprised to find the locals quite civilised.

I was invited to Yorkshire again for Christmas 1965, and Ian proposed to me during that visit. By then I knew that I liked him a lot – but we had only met a few times and, at 18, I felt immature and didn’t even know if I was in love or not, so I turned him down. However, we kept on meeting every few weeks at our family homes (not to be recommended) and I suppose he just grew on me. We eventually got married in June 1969.

We were very happy indeed, until 1984, when Ian developed a brain tumour. He died the next year, aged 42. We had two children: Charlotte, then aged seven, and John, who was five.

During our four-year courtship, we had written to each other several times a week and had amassed more than 1,000 letters. We kept these in a large cardboard box in the loft. After Ian’s death I put them all into date order, and it was like reading our conversations. Then it struck me that these letters only recorded the times we were apart, not the times we were together, which seemed very weird.

Thirty-four years on, I have never met anyone else with whom I have wanted to have a relationship. It seems odd that my children are now at a similar age to Ian when he died. I still look on Ian and myself as equals, and yet, thinking about his age when he died, he could be my son. Life is strange.

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