One afternoon sometime in the early 1950s, the lad who by a country mile was my father’s ablest pupil in his sixth-form French and Spanish class rang our doorbell, and announced that the schoolgirl on his arm had just consented to become his wife. Not immediately, of course, but as soon as both had made it through the higher education which would force them to live far from each other for the next three or four years. That lad was Ted Walker, his bride-to-be Lorna Benfell. The two had met when he was 14, she one year older. They’d fallen urgently in love. Ted wanted my parents to be among the first to hear. He held them both in high regard, and they him – a mutual affection that lasted to the end.
Ted and Lorna ticked off the years, months, days, until in 1956 they were married. All this is recorded in Ted’s first memoir, The High Path, which was reissued as a Slightly Foxed Edition in 2010.
There is, however, a sequel to The High Path. For better, for worse, the marriage stayed its course through thick and sometimes wafer thin, down to the years of Lorna’s illness and her shocking death in 1987. The Last of England, Ted’s second memoir – a copy of which he inscribed to my parents, as he had the first, and which, pristine in its dust-jacket enriched by Ford Madox Brown’s celebrated painting, has been handed down to me – is the account of those final years, of pain and of love lost and won. Love between Ted and Lorna, reignited in her decline; love of an England gone for good; the healing love of another country; and love reborn in a new marriage.
A few weeks after burying Lorna in their local churchyard, a distracted Ted took himself off to Spain. He couldn’t bear to linger in his haunted house; in fact he didn’t want to be anywhere at all in England. He packed necessities into his little Fiat, locked up and fled. He drove all the way through France, over th
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