by Bethan Roberts
Corney & Barrow Claret Maison Sichel 2012
All love starts as a secret and our far from conventional Valentine’s pick whispers with them. Starting in 1950s Brighton, My Policeman by Bethan Roberts depicts an unusual love triangle in devastating detail. Helping me choose our #NovelPairings are Will Hargrove from Corney & Barrow and Simon Heafield from Foyles.
Marion loves Tom, Tom loves Marion, Tom also loves Patrick who very much loves him back but as for Patrick and Marion…. My Policeman by Bethan Roberts is not an obvious Valentine’s pick. Yes, there’s love and romance but there’s also shame and betrayal. By being so painfully honest, it makes you think again about what it means to open your heart to another.
Tom, a policeman, is the object of obsession for Marion and Patrick yet we never hear from him directly. We hear all about his perfect body from them both—that’s about all they agree on. Marion, who dreams of being a teacher, swoons over “the beautiful young man with the big arms and the dark blond curls.” Patrick, a privately educated curator, thinks “immediately of that wonderful Greek boy in the British Museum.”
Marion writes from the present day in a boring bungalow in Peacehaven where she’s trapped with retired, silent Tom. She’s caring for an ailing Patrick, broken and alone for reasons that become clear. She plans to read her memoir to Patrick so he can finally hear her story. We hear from Patrick through diaries. In 1957 the Wolfenden Report recommended decriminalising homosexuality but the law wasn’t changed until 1967. In 1957 men like Patrick were still being entrapped, blackmailed, jailed, bankrupted and driven to suicide (Patrick’s former partner killed himself). So, diaries are dangerous: “I know that to commit my desires to paper is madness.”
“You definitely get a sense of it being a perilous time and place to be gay,” says Simon from Foyles. “Even for a man as privileged as Patrick.”
Brighton, now Britain’s LGBT capital, is then only nascently liberal. Says Patrick: “There’s a sense here that we’re almost somewhere else entirely.” Marion senses this too but is more fearful, afraid to swim in the sea where Tom frolicks freely. Tere’s plenty of local lore to delight this adopted Brightonian.
This story really couldn’t happen in Bognor. Inspired by EM Forster’s long-term relationship with a married policeman, it could easily pit Marion and Patrick against one another. But, while they’re love rivals, they’re more naturally matched. Marion went to grammar school and understands the art that bewitches Tom – she wants the lifestyle Patrick takes for granted in his Regency seafront flat. Marion, like Patrick, is afraid of being judged for her sexuality. “I worried about my own unnatural practises, what would they say if they knew I wanted to take him in my mouth and taste as much of him as I could?” Feminism, like homosexuality, was a dirty word.
“In the end, Marion and Patrick find a kind of peace,” says Will from Corney & Barrow. “You wish they’d all managed to find a way to be happy back then. There’s so much happening below the surface, so much complexity, lots to inspire novel pairings.”
First up, Guru Wine & Soul 2015, a white Portuguese blend. “This is a chameleon,” says Will. “And so are the characters, at points they all pretend not to be who they are. At different temperatures, you’re almost drinking a different wine.”
It starts floral but warms into something toasty, almost apricot crumble. “It’s got lots of grip,” says Simon, somewhat surprised. “I expected something lighter, sweeter even.”
Next up is Château Barrail du Blanc Grand Cru St-Emilion 2014. “Good or bad, this is a love story,” says Will. “In-house we call this the Barry White. It’s an intense blend of 80% merlot and 20% cabernet sauvignon. Claret is mentioned throughout and was the go-to red then.”
“Patrick’s boss at the museum would order this at lunch,” says Simon. “To intimidate and impress.” You can’t not love this rich, faintly chocolatey St-Emilion, but it’s almost too classic for a story of rebellion.
More up-front and less stern is Corney & Barrow Claret Maison Sichel 2012. “Despite being an outsider, Patrick sees himself as very trad in many ways,” says Will. “This balances the two.”
“It wouldn’t intimidate Tom or Marion,” says Simon. “It’s light and drinkable but grown-up.” There’s a moment when Marion, Patrick and Tom go for a seaside picnic and you think things could work out for the three of them. Maybe if they’d drunk this wine on the beach they would and so, in the spirit of a happier ending, our #NovelPairing is the balanced but bold Corney & Barrow Claret Maison Sichel 2012.