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A TALE THAT GREW

Years and years ago — 57 of them, to be exact — I was a 22-year old undergraduate at Oxford and in love. No, I’ll rephrase that. I believed myself to be so; an easy delusion for young men to fall into, and still easier at a university which in the 1950s taught barely — or even, as we ruefully put it, fully clothed — one young woman for every eight young men. (Forgive the awful pun; students of Britain’s elite universities could be as vulgar as any others.)

So the young male Oxonian was apt to overrate the strength of his feelings, if only for the subconscious fear that his object might find someone else with feelings stronger still. At the time, I was sure that what I felt was love, though even then I doubted that the girl in question felt any such thing.

She was a student too, a year or two younger than I. Let’s call her Jane, though plain she certainly was not. Nothing came of it: by mid-1959 both of us were married — to other people. But her surname was an uncommon one. And when recently I came upon a “Jane” of that surname in a newspaper, I was curious enough to google. Could this be she?

Missing years

Photographs show a “Jane”, still far from plain, who could well be the one I’d known. Now a professor, she’d evidently had a far-from-plain career too; and long associations first with an unusual artist and later with a most untypical multi-millionaire. All quite possible. There was just one problem: all the internet sources had her born in 1945. So I’d been in love with a girl aged 12, and already a university student? Not possible at all. Too bad.

But then I noticed something. The Jane I knew had had an oddity of her feet, a very rare one. And here was the googled Jane reported as displaying to an interviewer just that oddity. The two Janes must be one.

But what about her age in 1957? Eight or ten missing years? The web sources, as I’d already noticed, were silent about her education, or other doings before the 1970s. Ungallantly, I went back to Google. Just two girls of her name, I found, had been born in England in the 1930s and 40s, according to official registers: one in 1937 in a suburb of London, one in 1945 in Stratford-upon-Avon. And lo, in another interview web-Jane spoke of Stratford as her birthplace, and of her mother as a Shakespearean actress — as was indeed true, I found, of the 1945 babe.

Lopped off

I could see only one explanation. The professor, probably decades ago, had borrowed bits of another woman’s early identity, to lop eight years off her age.

So what? you may ask: many women fudge their age. True, but few with such ingenious thoroughness. I take off my hat. I started this piece, due in print just before St Valentine’s Day, intending to write about the language of love. But the tale grew. Shall I end it with a “remember-me?” valentine to my Jane of 1957? Surely not. That truly would be ungallant. And risk a surely truthful “No”.