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Jan Morris obituary | Books

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The greatest distance travelled by Jan Morris, who has died aged 94, was not across the Earth’s surface but between extraordinary identities: from being the golden-boy newspaper reporter James Morris to the female voyager and historian Jan Morris. James became Jan when what was then called a sex change was unexplored territory, from which she boldly sent back an early dispatch in 1974.

The 70s reaction to that transformation was at best incomprehension, at worst hostility, especially literary hostility, but Morris wrote on – publishing more than 40 books, many still in print, even though the places they describe have metamorphosed too. She became an institution after having experienced the world, and herself in it, change radically in a lifetime.

James Humphrey Morris came from a house not of words but of music, in Clevedon, Somerset, as the youngest of three sons of an English mother, Enid (nee Payne), a church organist, and a Welsh father, Walter Morris, an engineer by training who had never really recovered from being gassed in the first world war. James’s brothers, Gareth and Christopher, went on to have long careers in music – Gareth as a flautist and Christopher as an organist. James went at nine as a chorister to Christ Church Cathedral school in Oxford, then to Lancing college in Sussex.

Jan Morris on her travels in 1988.



Jan Morris on her travels in 1988. Photograph: Fairfax Media Archives/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

He slipped into journalism at 16 on the Western Daily Press in Bristol. Colour blindness prevented him from joining the navy during the second world war, so he signed for the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers and a commission as intelligence officer, celebrating his 21st birthday onboard a troop train from Egypt to Palestine. “I knew life was going to be OK. At last, in the army of all places, I felt I was free.” After demob, he worked in Cairo for a news agency, read English at Christ Church, Oxford, and edited Cherwell magazine.

On an Arabic course, Morris met Elizabeth Tuckniss, a former Wren and daughter of a tea planter. They married in 1949 and had five children, one born while his father was high on Mount Everest in 1953, as a correspondent for the Times covering the Himalayan expedition led by John Hunt. He packed a new typewriter ribbon for the ascent (“I was a sucker for the romance of newspapers”) and his coded communique to the paper announcing that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had reached the summit arrived just in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Morris’s first book, Coast to Coast (1956), came out of a cross-US journey funded by a Commonwealth fellowship. After the 1956 Suez invasion, which the Times supported and Morris did not, he left for the Manchester Guardian, as it was then, alternating six months of researching books with six on the paper (hence one book dedicated to “philanthropists in Cross Street” – the paper’s Manchester HQ).

Later Morris forfeited a promised job on the Observer after telling its anti-colonial editor, David Astor, that the British empire “is on the whole a force for good in the world, and … fighting a rearguard action is the right and honourable thing to do”. He was anyway an outrageously successful journalist, moving with his family to live in the French Alps, flush with flash magazine commissions (a single piece – not one for the Guardian – paid for a car) and contracts for more books, including Sultan in Oman (1957) and The Hashemite Kings (1959).

The port of embarkation for a postjournalistic life was Venice, and the first recognisably Morrisian work was a biography of the city (1960), “less a case of finding a voice and more the voice finding something that was right for it”. His approach to all conurbations was to “run about the city like a mad dog”, sniffing for vital trivia. “The first place I visit is the law court … Then the market. And the railway station.”

Jan Morris being interviewed about gender reassignment on The Dick Cavett Show in 1974; two years earlier she had undergone surgery in Casablanca, changing her name from James to Jan.



Jan Morris being interviewed about gender reassignment on The Dick Cavett Show in 1974; two years earlier she had undergone surgery in Casablanca, changing her name from James to Jan. Photograph: ABC Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Critics cavilled that his travelling was over-impressionistic, yet the intensity of the details still hooks readers: Istanbul’s mud, a gloop of civilisations; fingerholes poked in the paper screens of Kyoto. Morris could even create a collage of a location out of tiny facts retrieved only from archives, as in the exhilarating Manhattan ’45 (1987), a love letter to New York at its postwar apogee of neon and nylons; Morris did not arrive in the city until rather later.

Morris’s written voice always sounded certain, as if he strode about the world whistling. Yet what he was most sure about, and had been since toddlerhood, was that the male body of James was an error; that James’s identity was female. Elizabeth, who intuited this early, supported the choice to make belief reality through courses of female hormones in the 1960s and reassignment surgery in a Casablanca clinic in 1972, from where James returned as Jan.

Morris relished the adventure: “I was a member of two clubs in London, one as a man and one as a woman, and I would sometimes change my identity in a taxi between the two.” Morris had been denied surgery in the UK because the couple refused to divorce, and wrote in Conundrum (1974), which told most of the story, that the marriage had no right to work, “yet it worked like a dream, living testimony … of love in its purest sense over everything else”.

Even the kindest public response at the time was bafflement. Germaine Greer was not alone in denying the validity of Morris’s female persona. Interviewers were prurient or bemused, or both; literati were spiteful –“He was a better writer than she”, spat the novelist Rebecca West, although in perspective any softening in Morris’s prose is more attributable to the era’s change of tone from public assertion to private confession, from reportage to memoir.

Morris’s exploration of sexual identities enhanced her trilogy on the social history of the British empire, Pax Britannica (1968), Heaven’s Command (1973) and Farewell the Trumpets (1978). “I thought how wonderful it would be if some Roman centurion in the last days of the empire had written not only a description of it, but also something about his own feelings. Then I thought, ‘here I am, on the collapsing frontiers of the British empire, why don’t I do it?’”

Jan Morris at home in north Wales



Jan Morris naturalised as Welsh and wrote The Matter of Wales. Photograph: Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images

Pax opens at the imperial zenith of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee; Heaven’s Command, a prequel about the empire’s creation, understands the grand illusions in the projection of power, both of masculinity and imperialism. Morris’s knowledge of altered states, plus her memories of post-1948 nights when so many new presidents of former colonies, lately released from detention, danced with Princess Margaret after the union flag was hauled down, enriched Farewell the Trumpets.

Morris naturalised as Welsh through elective affinity with her father’s land. She did formally divorce Elizabeth, and after their children had grown and left the family home, Plas Trefan, in Llanystumdwy, they moved to live together for decades as “sisters-in-law” in its converted stables, Trefan Morys. At their home’s heart was a great kitchen where the postman left the mail on the table long after the habit was abandoned elsewhere. (After other customs and laws had also evolved, the couple registered a civil partnership at Pwllheli council office in 2008.)

Morris was “emotionally in thrall to Welshness” and wrote of it, notably in The Matter of Wales (1984); she had steadied from “a wandering swank”, she said, into a matron who came home to a sure core of warmth.

Sometimes she made whimsical choices of subject, and of genre, especially the fantasy-fiction travelogue Last Letters From Hav (1985), and other works dispraised, along with their author, as “fantastically self-indulgent”, as Andrew Roberts wrote of her biography Lincoln: A Foreigner’s Quest (1999). Morris acknowledged the indulgence, adding that “the whole oeuvre of travel is one enormous ego-biography”, but the criticisms hurt.

She vowed several times to type no more, but could not give up the daily practice of writing, which produced the inspired Fifty Years of Europe (1997) and Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (2001). Both fixed as their nexus Trieste, the Adriatic port whose allegiances and importance, even name, had always been in flux; both explored the landscape of the middle and far distances of lived time – white-haired Jan in age, looking, as John Walsh wrote in the Independent, like the “nation’s head brownie”, perched on a bollard on a Triestine jetty, connecting back to young James in the dislocated Europe of 1945.

Both books now read as unintended valedictions for a long interlude of optimism, for, as Trieste was at the printers, Morris circled the globe in search of the zeitgeist; “everywhere people were fed up with being bullied by other cultures, or of other cultures coming in”. She returned to Wales on 11 September 2001 just as that “zeitgeist manifested itself”. The daily writing continued, though, producing, among other volumes, In My Mind’s Eye (2018), serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week, and, earlier this year, Thinking Again.

Morris was elected to the Gorsedd of bards in 1992 and made a CBE in 1999.

For years a joint memorial stone for Jan and Elizabeth, destined for an islet in the river near Trefan Morys, lay submerged in a muddle of junk under the house stairs. It was inscribed in Welsh and English: “Here are two friends … At the end of one life.”

Elizabeth and four of their children, Twm, Henry, Mark and Suki, survive her.

Jan Morris, writer, born 2 October 1926; died 20 November 2020


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What working from home has taught me about my partner and, worse, myself | Relationships

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How has Covid affected our intimate lives? I’m not talking about sex – my family have suffered enough – but has the unrelenting closeness of this year opened or closed up faultlines in our relationships?

It’s complicated. I am, for instance, writing this on the sofa and not at my desk in the bedroom, because my husband is having a siesta with the dog. As an intolerant and prickly cohabitee, I have mixed feelings about this: it’s irritating (I want the desk), a relief (an hour of silence) and delightful (I love this newfound canine-human closeness).

The emotional barometer of intimate relationships fluctuates constantly, but my experience of corona cohabitation is a rapid, perpetual spin cycle of emotion: profound gratitude, irritation, guilt, euphoric love, then: “Why are you doing lunges next to my desk?”

This dovetails with Relate’s account of Covid “turbo-relationships”. Apparently, couples have ticked off milestones at warp speed this year, both as an expedient, given the constraints of quarantine and because global catastrophe has a clarifying effect on your emotions. Pandemic whirlwind romances were like the swift courtships and weddings of wartime, except that your new beloved did not disappear to the western front: they went no further than the sofa, where they cut their toenails over your unread New Yorker.

Even for established couples, 2020 is cohabitation on boost. A discussion on sex and the pandemic in Nature notes that “fewer opportunities for independent activities or time apart” can create a situation where “intimacy collapses into fusion”. My husband used to travel constantly. Now he sometimes rides his bike to Lidl. No wonder he got excited recently when he thought I was wearing a new woolly hat (I wasn’t: it was a trick of the light).

But even after 26 years, Covid life has thrown up surprises: we have been intrigued particularly to discover the disparities in our working styles. His weekdays are 95% speakerphone calls while pacing and 5% loudly teasing the dog. Mine are spent in sepulchral, ideally uninterrupted silence, wrapped in a blanket: like Whistler’s painting of his mother, but with a laptop. He has found out that I like from eight to 10 small meals daily, like a toddler, a fact I have concealed for years (he is French, and French people do not snack). I note with alarm his tendency to speak his mind bluntly in professional settings instead of nourishing bitter, never-expressed grievances and sending overly polite emails, as is the British way. We must never be colleagues.

Worse than anything I have discovered about him have been the revelations about myself. I am horrified to find out that I am someone who hides food they fancy and who turns recycling into an exquisitely pointed act of passive aggression. I had no idea how viscerally I loathe repetitive movement and most domestic noises: this year I’m Daniel Day-Lewis in that terrible sewing film The Phantom Thread, violently pained by the normal soundtrack of life.

It’s miraculous my partner puts up with me, but he does. We all do, mainly. Despite the provocations, most relationships have weathered, or even thrived in, the corona spin cycle. In a survey, the Open University found that 26% of respondents thought their relationship had improved since Covid; fewer than one in 10 thought it had worsened. With some awful exceptions (the domestic violence figures are absolutely chilling), 2020 has mainly been a time of domestic forbearance and forgiveness, of realising how lucky we are to love and be loved.

Let me, however, share one freshly gleaned piece of pandemic relationship advice: this is no time to do an exfoliating foot peel. I did one recently: you put your feet in plastic bags full of alarming chemicals and your gross dead skin peels off to reveal baby-fresh extremities. Unable to deal with this depravity alone as God intended, this week – and I apologise if you are of a sensitive disposition – my hapless attempts to deal with the skin situation meant my poor husband accidentally picked up a plate full of my foot sloughings. He has endured so much already; let’s pray he can get back to the office before I find something even worse to subject him to.


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The Christmas gift guide: 100 great ideas for all budgets | Life and style

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Under £10

Candy Kittens vegan wild strawberry sweet jar

Candy Kittens vegan wild strawberry sweet jar


£7.00, waitrose.com

Space projector torch

Space projector torch


£5.99, shop.mariecurie.org.uk

Rainbow Stripe Hat (0 months – 2 years)

Rainbow Stripe Hat


£6.00, next.co.uk

Vinyl record pizza cutter

Vinyl record pizza cutter


£7.95, rexlondon.com

Editor’s pick: Striped socks
‘A traditional gift that will help create jobs in deprived areas’

Striped socks


£4.00, communityclothing.co.uk

Clothes peg reading light

Clothes peg reading light


£8.99, iwantoneofthose.com

Nick Cave notebook

Nick Cave notebook


£10.00, cavethings.com

Lulu Guinness x Charlotte Mei green rabbit socks

Lulu Guiness x Charlotte Mei green rabbit socks


£8.00, luluguinness.com

Recycled toiletries bag

Recycled toiletries bag


£8.00, hema.com

The Night Bus Hero by Onjali Q Raúf

The Night Bus Hero by Onjali Q. Rauf


£6.99, childrensbookshoplondon.com

Crayon rocks (8)

Crayon rocks


£7.00, kidly.co.uk

Q&A beauty cracker

Q&A beauty cracker


£5.50, qandaskin.com

Drag Queens playing cards

Drag Queens playing cards


£9.99, laurenceking.com

Seed bombs (native wildflowers and grasses)

Seed bombs


£8.50, blackbeehoney.com

Michael Clark poster

Michael Clark poster


£5.00, shop.barbican.org.uk

£25 and under

Gwen multicoloured gem hair clip

Gwen multicoloured gem hair clip


£12.50, oliverbonas.com

Poo Bingo

Poo Bingo


£16.99, laurenceking.com

Casa Cubista terracotta handmade jug

Casa Cubista terracotta handmade jug


£20.00, lusophile.co.uk

Rubies in the Rubble Christmas relish gift set (vegan)

Relish gift set


£12.00, rubiesintherubble.com

Traditional seaweed bath (vegan and cruelty-free)

Traditional seaweed bath (vegan and cruelty-free)


£18.00, haeckels.co.uk

Lavender, frankincense and chamomile room and pillow mist (vegan)

Lavender, frankincense and chamomile room and pillow mist (vegan)


£17.00, pigletinbed.com

Glossier hand cream

Glossier hand cream


£16.00, glossier.com

Foxed (Tipsy) tea towel

Foxed (Tipsy) Tea Towel


£15.00, themerchantstable.co.uk

Japanese cleansing cloud (suitable for vegetarians)

Japanese cleansing cloud (suitable for vegetarians)


£12.00, victoriahealth.com

Rocket girl refillable lip balm compact

Rocket girl refillable lip balm compact


£15.00, andreagarland.co.uk

L’Oxygéné vegan nail polish in Dial M for Maroon

L’Oxygéné vegan nail polish in Dial M for Maroon


£15.00, nailberry.co.uk

Princess socks by Bonne Maison

Princess socks by Bonne Maison


£17.00, anthropologie.com

Bookman Block bike light (front and rear)

Bookman Block bike light


£17.80, bookman.se

Selfridges Morphe 35B colour burst artistry palette

Selfridges Morphe 35B colour burst artistry palette


£24.00, selfridges.com

Starface hydro stars spot stickers

Starface hydro stars spot stickers


£12.00, starface.world

Lion night light

Lion night light


£24.50, kidly.co.uk

House of Glass, by Hadley Freeman

House Of Glass, by Hadley Freeman


£14.78, guardianbookshop.com

The Bedside Guardian 2020

The Bedside Guardian 2020


£11.99, guardianbookshop.com

Cook, Eat, Repeat, by Nigella Lawson

Cook, Eat, Repeat, by Nigella Lawson


£22.10, guardianbookshop.com

Flavour, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage

Flavour, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage


£22.95, guardianbookshop.com

Short Walks In Beautiful Places

Short Walks In Beautiful Places


£12.99, shop.nationaltrust.org.uk

From Beder’s Kitchen (a charity cookbook of celebrity recipes to raise awareness of mental health)

From Beder’s Kitchen


£22.00, beder.org.uk

Wild Child: Coming Home To Nature, by Patrick Barkham

Wild Child: Coming Home To Nature, by Patrick Barkham


£14.44, guardianbookshop.com

Black And British: A Forgotten History, by David Olusoga

Black And British: A Forgotten History, by David Olusoga


£12.99, shop.bristolmuseums.org.uk

News And How To Use It, by Alan Rusbridger

News And How To Use It, by Alan Rusbridger


£16.52, guardianbookshop.com

Large Orange Abstract Sketchbook 80 Sheets

Large Orange Abstract Sketchbook 80 Sheets


£11.00, hobbycraft.co.uk

The Lying Life Of Adults, by Elena Ferrante

The Lying Life Of Adults, by Elena Ferrante


£18.60, uk.bookshop.org

£50 and under

White Mausu Little Mix condiments gift box

White Mausu Little Mix condiments gift box


£36.00, whitemausu.com

Ealing gin, made in London by a husband-and-wife team, with 20% of profits going to charities supporting the socially isolated

Ealing gin


£44.50, ealingdistillery.co.uk

Men’s fashion editor Helen Seamons’ pick: Reversible scarf, made in Manchester
‘If you’re looking for a gift that gives back, Wawwa donates one scarf for every one purchased’

Reversible scarf, made in Manchester


£30.00, wawwaclothing.com

The original den kit

The Original Den Kit


£40.00, joules.com

Sustainable beanie

Sustainable beanie


£35.00, asket.com

I Can Make You Feel Good, fashion photography book by Tyler Mitchell, who shot Beyoncé’s US Vogue cover

I Can Make You Feel Good, fashion photography book by Tyler Mitchell


£45.00, waterstones.com

Sheepskin love bird slippers

Sheepskin love bird slippers


£48.00, thesmallhome.co.uk

Port in a Storm organic sleep shorts

Organic sleep shorts


£29, loveyawn.com

Fashion stylist Melanie Wilkinson’s pick: Belt bag
‘Perfect for outdoor roaming, a recycled belt bag will liven up your winter woollens’

Belt bag


£39.00, cosstores.com

Beauty columnist Sali Hughes’s pick: Boy Smells gender neutral candle
‘My favourite new candle brand’

Boy Smells gender neutral candle


£36.00, spacenk.com

Biossance 100% Squalane Oil

Biossance 100% Squalane Oil


£27.00, cultbeauty.co.uk

Sali Hughes’s pick: Mattetrance lipstick in Elson 2
‘Not too orange, not too pink – this is a perfect festive red’

Mattetrance lipstick in Elson 2


£36.00, patmcgrath.com

Set of 10 personalised note cards

Set of 10 personalised note cards


£40.00, memopress.co.uk

Susanne Kaufmann Winter bath oil

Susanne Kaufmann Winter bath oil


£47.00, mrporter.com

Lightweight yoga mat

Lightweight yoga mat


£42.95, yogi-bare.co.uk

Maison Matine Warni Warni Eau De Parfum 50ml

Maison Matine Warni Warni Eau De Parfum


£50.00, harveynichols.com

Cotton zig-zag socks

Cotton zig-zag socks


£20.00, genevievesweeney.com

Food writer Meera Sodha’s pick: Noble Rot: Wine From Another Galaxy, by Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew
‘This should help you unravel the secrets of the good stuff’

Noble Rot: Wine From Another Galaxy, by Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew


£30.00, shop.noblerot.co.uk

Djeco Teepee Play Tent

Djeco Teepee Play Tent


£48.95, tickety-boo.co.uk

Piglet x Woolovers sheepskin mule slippers

Piglet x Woolovers sheepskin mule slippers


£42.00, pigletinbed.com

Cartoonist Stephen Collins’s pick: Tile Bluetooth tracker
‘I have one taped to every remote control: they have improved my life greatly’

Tile Bluetooth tracker


£47.99, thetileapp.com

£100 and under

Roller skates in sky blue (vegan)

Roller skates in sky blue (vegan)


£99.95, impalarollerskates.eu

Level Up gaming headphones in silver

Level Up gaming headphones in silver


£99.99, metersmusic.com

Japanese secateurs

Japanese secateurs


£80.00, genus.gs

Morphée meditation sleep sound box

Morphée meditation sleep sound box


£79.95, morphee.co

Dashel ReCycle bike helmet, made with recyclable foam

Dashel ReCycle bike helmet, made with recyclable foam


£79.00, brompton.com

Gaucho tech roll

Gaucho tech roll


from £59, mantidy.co.uk

Styling editor Melanie Wilkinson’s pick: Linen pyjama set
‘Naturally breathable flax pyjamas are the ideal nighttime companion’

Linen pyjama set


£100.00, pigletinbed.com

100% recycled backpack

100% recycled backpack


£76.00, everlane.com

Handmade silver and pearl earrings

Handmade silver and pearl earrings


£95.00, lovenesslee.com

Embroidered cotton collar

Embroidered cotton collar


£75.00, rixo.co.uk

Smart Garden 3 by Click & Grow

Smart Garden 3 by Click & Grow


£95.00, conranshop.co.uk

Ultimate Ears BOOM 3 Bluetooth Waterproof Portable Speaker, Unicorn

Ultimate Ears BOOM 3 Bluetooth Waterproof Portable Speaker


£99.00, johnlewis.com

Parra broken bike sweater

Parra broken bike sweater


£90.00, theunionproject.com

Oval and circle print by David Hardy (unframed)

Oval and circle print by David Hardy


£90.00, partnershipeditions.com

Carafe and glass in amber

Carafe and glass in amber


£65.00, pentreath-hall.com

Chiara Perano Negroni print

Chiara Perano Negroni print


£55.00, shop.ciao-chiara.com

ROOP Furoshiki satin bag

ROOP Furoshiki satin bag


£75.00, selfridges.com

Vacuum coffee jug

Vacuum coffee jug


£80.00, skandium.com

Espresso coffee machine with milk frother

Espresso coffee machine with milk frother


£100.00, johnlewis.com

Slip pure silk pillowcase in pink agate

Slip pure silk pillowcase in pink agate


£85.00, lookfantastic.com

Infinity and beyond

Multicoloured patchwork quilt, exclusive to the V&A

Multicoloured patchwork quilt, exclusive to the V&A


£325.00, vam.ac.uk

Roberts Radio Bluetooth speaker

Roberts Radio Bluetooth speaker


£149.99, robertsradio.com

Type 80 Anglepoise lamp in pistachio green

Type 80 Anglepoise lamp in pistachio green


£199.00, heals.com

Swiss stability ball in Desert Edition

Swiss stability ball in Desert Edition


£129.00, baola.co

Jamieson’s of Shetland men’s stripe crew knit jumper

Jamieson’s of Shetland men’s stripe crew knit jumper


£129.00, endclothing.com

Poconos triangle scarf

Poconos triangle scarf


€145, electronicsheep.com

Minnie Mae Stott column of strength lamp base

Minnie Mae Stott column of strength lamp base


£164.00, minniemae.co.uk

Recycled cord trainers

Recycled cord trainers


£120.00, goodnews.london

Salt candle in handblown glass

Salt candle in handblown glass


£125.00, perfumerh.com

Amoeba medallion cushion

Amoeba medallion cushion


£128.00, uk.jonathanadler.com

Mini Doric Earring in purified and recycled sterling silver

Mini Doric Earring in purified and recycled sterling silver


£113.89, kinraden.com

Mister Marvelous eau de parfum

Mister Marvelous eau de parfum


£170.00, byredo.com

AKG Y500 wireless headphones

AKG Y500 wireless headphones


£129.00, selfridges.com

Green Grove Weavers mohair prismatic throw

Green Grove Weavers mohair prismatic throw


£175.00, shop.royalacademy.org.uk

La Double J, Goddess Demeter square porcelain plate

La Double J, Goddess Demeter square porcelain plate


£115.00, matchesfashion.com

Pampa Lite + recycled WP boots in firecracker

Pampa Lite + recycled WP boots in firecracker


£105.00, palladiumboots.co.uk

Skin Design London Vitamin C Serum

Skin Design London Vitamin C Serum


£115.00, cultbeauty.co.uk


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How we met: ‘I stood there awkwardly, then told her I’d been bitten by a duck’ | Relationships

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When Emma Naks graduated in 2013, her love of reading led her to take an internship at the book department of a London auction house. “I was living with my parents in Buckinghamshire and took the Metropolitan line into work every day,” she says.

In September that year, she was spotted by Richard Showan, who lived in Chorleywood and worked as a lawyer in the West End. Although Emma had her nose in a book, he couldn’t miss her red lipstick. “She had all these feathers in her hair and looked very distinctive. I really wanted to talk to her, but I was too shy.” After a few days of seeing her every day on the tube, they caught each other’s eye and smiled. Emma was keeping a diary at the time and nicknamed him “awkward train guy”. “One day my sister caught the train with me and asked if ‘train guy’ was around. He was wearing a bad jumper, so I lied and said no, because I didn’t want her to judge,” she remembers.

By the end of October, Richard was finally ready to approach her. “I went over to the spare seat next to her. I think my first words were: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ and I just stood there awkwardly.” Emma asked if he wanted to sit down and they chatted throughout the journey. “I think I managed to tell her I’d been bitten by a duck once,” he laughs. Although he told Emma he was a lawyer, she didn’t believe him. “He was always dressed in jeans and baggy jumpers. I thought he was a van driver,” she says.

They chatted again over the next few days, before eventually exchanging numbers and agreeing to meet for a coffee. “Neither of us were looking for anything at the time,” says Emma. “I thought it was a friendship at first. But I did think he was handsome and easy to talk to.” They met at a Costa near Emma’s home and ended up chatting for hours. “We met in the morning and were still there by dinner time,” she says.

By November, the pair were officially a couple. “The day before Christmas Eve, I told him I loved him and he said it back on Boxing Day,” says Emma. The following autumn, they bought a house together in Amersham and Emma gained her qualifications to start a career as a town planner. On New Year’s Eve 2014, Richard asked her to marry him. “It wasn’t quite the proposal you’d expect,” says Richard. “I was working during the day and Emma came to meet me for lunch with a picnic. I’d had a ring made already, so I just got down on one knee outside my office and then went back to work. My boss sent me home to celebrate.”

On holiday in Corfu, September 2016.
On holiday in Corfu, September 2016. Photograph: Image provided by Emma Showan

They married at Mayfair library in February 2017 and had a reception at the Landmark hotel, where they had shared afternoon tea on one of their early dates. That year, they moved to Aylesbury, where they still live. The couple share a passion for travel; they love going to off-the-beaten-track destinations. “We’ve visited Ghana, Uzbekistan, Bosnia, Russia, Mongolia and we went on the Trans-Siberian railway for our honeymoon. We also go to Cornwall every year. I introduced Emma to surfing on the south coast,” says Richard.

Emma loves her partner’s thoughtfulness and the fact that he is confident about who he is. “He’s never afraid to say no and go his own way. He’s taught me to be more confident and introduced me to new music, food and experiences.” Although most people think Richard is “quiet and nice”, she says there is much more to him than meets the eye. “He’s spontaneous and funny. There’s so many layers to him.”

Meanwhile, Richard says his wife’s spark can light up a room. “She’s so generous with her time and always fun to be around.” He has also enjoyed getting to know her family, who are originally from Poland. “It’s meant I have been able to explore another culture and try new foods. I’ve eaten lots of beetroot soup,” he laughs.


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