In Memoriam: Antonia Raissi, née Francis, 4 February 1976 – 14 September 2015

Antonia Programme I

I have come to hold the belief that one of the most powerful and definitively human compulsions is that of being remembered: that when the physical reality of self has perished, that echo of appearance, the memory of self in other minds, should be confirmed in defiance of death. Hence the funeral, the oration, the headstone, the monument, the memorial service, the obituary and this, the personal memoire. That, and an expiation.

So I am not writing claiming I knew Antonia better than others – her mother and stepfather, her husband and her sons, her other family and many of her other friends had that privilege – but we had our moments over twenty or so years. I want to write down those I remember, and those I can repeat, before my recollections of them change and mutate any more than they already have. To ‘re-member’ to, as the word suggests, is to piece back together the members, the parts, of a dismembered whole. At best this is a jerry-rigged fiction that just about passes muster and at worst an outright lie, fuelled by want, and perspective, and sorrow.

AFH

*                    *                    *

Oxford

It was in her room in the top floor of Matthews Building I first met her, second on the right. A single bed, a desk, armchair and a basin in cupboard, divided by no more space than you could lie down in, loo and shower down the corridor. St. Peter’s College, Oxford, wasn’t exactly as glamorous as Brideshead Revisited, but Antonia was. Tall, lithe, exquisite faced which she fought against – admiring the strong more than the pretty – speaking with clipped St. Mary’s (Calne) tones and Eton-cropped black hair, which I would later cut to make her look more like Irène Jacob in Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs : Rouge the film we all fell in love with that year. Just as we all fell in love with her.

RedIn that tiny room we were all packed, a group, almost exclusively male at its core, and regarded as deeply, almost hilariously pretentious even by the standards of Oxford undergraduates. However, looking back one can see it was just curiosity and fascination and youthful gaucheness.

There was Hugh Dancy, George Pendle and Paul Curran, all studying English under Dr Francis Warner, Dominic Elliot studying Archaeology and Anthropology, and Steven France studying Philosophy under Dr John Kenyon. Antonia would within her first year abandon Geography for English, and I would only make it to the end of my second before switching from Biology to Philosophy under Kenyon.

Me, matriculation day, October 1994

Me, matriculation day, October 1994

One of her first stories to me, a story which would have perhaps annoyed the more sophisticated and subtle person she became, was of her summer holiday, just prior to coming up to Oxford, in Kenya. I remember still the image she conjured so well of her sitting, dressed in white, smoking Cartier cigarettes, the only non-male, and indeed only non-Masai sitting around a camp fire in The Mara. She would have been eighteen years old.

I wonder if she viewed us like Masai too. She certainly preferred the company of us men, and although she was not a tomboy in the sense of climbing trees, her way of speaking was… well, like anti-aircraft fire – not always deadly accurate, but incessant and intimidating to fly amongst, the dark crumping bursts of her conversational shells peppering the night sky. And it was usually night sky – we sat up late into the night talking and talking, me smoking Marlboro, her Lights, me Coke, her Diet. She wasn’t much of a drinker, disliking the silliness, the loss of control, or so she claimed. When I did see her tipsy for the first time I was surprised at how girly she became. I think that was what she feared most.

Antonia's 19th Birthday Party, L-R, George Pendle, Dave ? & gf, Steven France, Hugh Dancy, Dr. Genevieve Connors, ?, John Mühlemann, ?, David Collard, David Budds, Biranda Ford, Lucy, Antonia, Caroline Early, Cat Bagshawe, Joshua Steckel (Photo by Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Antonia’s 19th Birthday Party, Gloucester Green pizza restaurant, clockwise from bottom left: George Pendle, Dave – & ?, Steven France, Hugh Dancy, Genevieve Connors, ?, John Mühlemann, ?, David Collard, David Budds, Biranda Ford, Lucy -, Antonia Francis, Caroline Early, Catherine Bagshaw, Joshua Steckel (Photo by Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Detail from above (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Detail from above (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

It was inevitable that I would fall head over heels for her – I mean I was only a few months out of an all boys boarding school, grew up without sisters and had never had a girlfriend. And here was this stunning and exotic creature, fitting no standard feminine norm that I knew of – never a skirt or dress, but black boots and jeans on those very long legs, and almost invariably a black polo neck, channelling Juliette Greco with a hint of Audrey Hepburn. Of course, now in retrospect I can see that Antonia wasn’t oblivious to the effect she had on us boys – and we were just boys – wrangling us to some extent with those quirks honed to charms, equalising the gender imbalance using that weapon among all the others at her disposal.

The only one of us, I suspect, she ever really had a crush on herself was George – the youngest of the group but who looked the oldest, and the best “depending”, to quote Leonard Cohen, “on your politics” (cf. Hugh Dancy.) This was brought home to me, to my heartbreak and chagrin when I had the two of them to stay at my family home in Eaton Square that first vacation, drinking my father’s burgundy and watching Ralph Fiennes in Quiz Show at the Odeon Kensington and Daniel Day-Lewis in In The Name Of The Father on VHS in my bedroom. George was oblivious – plus ça change

However, I was the only one fool enough to write her a letter confessing my feelings to her. That caused a hiccough. That made it all rather too obvious, but we became friends again soon enough, and years later it became a running joke between us that she had in her possession a letter which she could one day use to publicly shame me. I never told her that when we all shared a house a year later I stole it back, and have it to this day.

Eton leavers

Detail from the Eton College Leavers’ photo of 1994, me, losing it to some joke, lower left, Paul Curran, proud, above me right, Andy Cooke, smirking, right of him.

I left that house for a room in college and my dear friend Andy Cooke took my place, joining our circle if not our college. Antonia and I drifted apart a little after that – she got her first boyfriend, I my first girlfriend – and perhaps that is why that Freshman year stands in memory as one of the best I’ve ever had.

Every Monday was spent in The Turf pub after the weekly tutorial of the English students finished and our discussions were as pompous as cerebral as one would expect – there was a lot of Yeats and Eliot, Milton and Wilde and I spent most of my time reading to catch up (which explains my later academic problems.)

Dominic Elliot, George Pendle and Joshua Steckel outside my rooms in St. Peters. (Photo by Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Dominic Elliot, George Pendle and Joshua Steckel outside my room in St. Peter’s. (Photo by Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Not that we were exclusively bookish: I remember one such discussion when Antonia, Paul and I were discussing whether or not a man could, under any circumstances, hit a woman. Paul and I were arguing case by case the definition of necessary force for self-defence when Antonia announced she herself had never hit a man, turned and punched me in the face. It was not particularly hard, and it landed mainly on the flat of the cheek as she was sitting to my side, but it knocked me clean off my stool. Shock and then anger turned to laughter. As I said, she wasn’t above using romantic infatuation to her advantage.

Hugh Dancy and Antonia Francis outside my room

Hugh Dancy and Antonia Francis the same day (Photo by Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

I also remember the end of that year. I failed my biology prelims on the first attempt – I’d spent too much time reading English and philosophy – and there was a risk I would have to leave. Antonia came with me to The Turl pub, and discussed my options. In a moment of unrare insight she looked at me and said, “you’ll forget about us all if you go, Xander, won’t you?” I probably protested, I don’t know, it was twenty years ago, but I knew it was true. I was of that type even then (I had already given up most of my friends from Eton – what did they know of Kierkegaard and Beowulf?) It harbingered something between her and I too, something I bitterly regret.

After that, though, Antonia and I were the last to remain at Oxford on into the beginning of the summer vacation, and we stayed up into the night talking in her room. I wish I could remember what about, but I know we fell asleep, her in the bed, me in the armchair a few feet away. Her mother collected her the next day and I stayed on for a few hours staring out of the window, knowing that something important had come to an end, that there was still great beauty to come, but that that moment should be marked. And it is.

Of course, most of that summer was spent together in the end, her a frequent guest on the sofa in my little bedroom in Belgravia, and round the corner in Cadogan Square at Dom’s, driving between the two in her red Volvo called Rosie after Laurie Lee’s memoir. (She once drove quite a distance between them with me hanging on to a wing mirror, ‘skiing’ alongside, until my leather soles started to wear through.)

By the third year, our relationship reached safer ground – I started what would become an almost five year relationship with Camille Natta. From that year, my fondest and most tired memory was Antonia asking me as one of her few computer owning friends – it was 1997, I had a Apple Macintosh 5200 – if I could help her type up her ‘extended essay’ on T. S. Eliot which would make up one paper’s worth – 1/8th (?) – of her mark for Finals.

She was due to meet me in my room at around 6pm, she would dictate to me the five or so thousand words – she couldn’t type – over four or five hours, with breaks. She would then take it away to read over and sleep, so, if need be, I could make corrections and reprint it for her morning deadline when it had to be handed into the English Faculty. Dom, who lived on the floor above me in a hall of residence, volunteered to do half the typing. It sounded like a piece of cake – a pain, but friends are friends.

Antonia arrived at 9pm, pale and panicked, talking like a Maxim gun and with a sheef of notes composed of napkins, bus tickets, Basildon Bond notes, A4, US letter and the complete works of T. S. Eliot. We were in trouble. I went and bought a case of Diet Coke and a carton of Marlboro Lights, booted up the Mac. We started talking. It turned out that Antonia hadn’t got the faintest idea what she was going to write.

Somehow that night, between the two of us, we constructed something, and I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. Dom, may he be forever blessed, gave me a couple of hours of respite, during which I slept next to the two of them talking – she had planned that passage at least – but soon shook me awake. Was it four a.m. or five? He looked drawn and weary, there was nothing more he could do. I staggered back to the chair. I do remember snap shots, lines of Eliot – “I should have been a pair of ragged claws. Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”  “In the room the women come and go. Talking of Michelangelo.” – and her and I working out what they meant, and writing it down, every phrase of Eliot negotiated like the clauses of a peace treaty between warring nations, every sentence of ‘hers’ agreed like the creed of some new faith.

We got it done. And then some. It was the highest mark in her Finals, a strong ‘First.’ I remember walking down New Inn Hall Street after she’d handed it in, Dom with us once again – which was good because we were barely speaking such was my frustration and fatigue – and she turned to me and said “you will make an amazing father one day.” I took that compliment gracelessly, not thinking about the times she told me about how her own father had deserted her when she was young.

(I missed a fair few things Tony, sorry. It hurts to notice that now.)

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets.

‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’

After Oxford, Antonia moved to Paris, to the rue Jacob in St. Germain on the Left Bank, and I would see her, sometimes with Camille who lived there too, sometimes without – always amused at watching Frenchmen try to seduce the unseducable. If Antonia wanted someone, it was her choice – lures and blandishments were a waste of time: the smell of polish repelled her.

Paris as much as Oxford was the making of her. It was a cliché to go there, but it was her last cliché: she was living in the past and knew it. It was around then that a woman of her acquaintance, a journalist, started to work against this ‘intelligentsia nostalgia’ and suggested she started visiting war zones. This being Antonia, that is exactly what she did.

Antonia had always been an intrepid traveller – in her second year her and Dom went to live in the hill villages of Pakistan – but now she, using her occasional freelance connections to the magazine Newsweek, went all out and travelled to pre-9/11, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Or rather that section under the control of the Northern Alliance of General Massoud. Antonia interviewed him two weeks before his assassination by Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda agents disguised as journalists.

As I remember it, despite having a Pakistani army detail for her security – again, memory is a sketch thing – this killing destabilised the Northern Alliance to the point of making journalists fair game, and two days later the planes went into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Antonia went missing, and everyone from her mother on down the line was desperate for news of her. She reappeared, with her scoop, having escaped through Uzbekistan.

Astounding as that was, what was more astounding to me was being with her at a party a little while later with that same group from St. Peter’s at Andy’s house. She was in tears, upset by one of our number who had found her constant intellectual and artistic (as she would see it) needling of him too much and who had been curt with her. She and I went into the street to talk… of that, of her achievements which should have rendered her need for accolade from her band of brothers unnecessary: what had we done to compare with that? – and our relationship took its finest, and final turn. I put to rest the idea of her and I in any romantic context – not without some hesitation on my part, and, for one strange and flattering moment sitting in a curb, hers. She knew I had never had a sister, and had, when young, lost a brother. She had lost a father and never had a brother. We could at least be that for one another.

We saw quite a bit of one another after that, usually at the beautiful apartment of her godmother, whose husband had written The Horse Whisperer. However, that was also the period from which Antonia and my emails to one another are preserved, so I will end with a little edited selection of her words and a few of mine.

Date: 20/12/2003

To: Alexander Fiske-Harrison

From: Antonia Francis

Subject: happy Christmas
Dearest alexandoram,

Just a quickie to wish you Happy Christmas.

I wish you good times and let’s meet when I”m back.

Ironically it looks like I will be celebrating christams after all, with 10,000 xians who’ve been ethnically cleansed from bhutan.  Ive finished 2 months with the maoists with varying results – but have struck gold as far as human rights violations go with the so-called buddhist idyll of bhutan.  according to the 103,000 nepali speaking bhutanese who’ve been forcibly evicted from their country and have lived in squaler for 10 years here in Nepal – bhutan’s totalitarian state makes saddam’s look as soft as a powder puff… now spending time with the king’s ex-advisor who, having revealed corruption at too higher level, was sentenced to hang and made to clean the queen’s septic tank before AI stepped up international pressure.    funny to think the crown prince left st. peter’s to fight out the indian seperatists his father used to ethinically cleanse the south of refugees.

asian allegiancies are beyond me.

Hope you’re well.

much love
a

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Date: 09/07/2006

To: Alexander Fiske-Harrison

From: Antonia Francis

Subject: RE:

zander darling. just arrived in kinshasa. this is a proper african (ex?) war zone.  streets empty, filled with rubbish flying around in the wind.  everything squeaks and now and then somebody shouts – not calls or gesticulates- shouts.  people don-t seem desperate so much as strong, unpredictable and of that terrifying african beauty i have long wished to witness. it smells as sweet as the amazon.

sorry to miss your party.

have a wonderful time.

axxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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Date: 12/08/2004

To: Alexander Fiske-Harrison

From: Antonia Francis

Subject: RE: for the winter

hey maestro,
how are you and where are you? me back in paris, and feeling shit about myself as i just cancelled a trip to palestine with mum to go cover the elections in kabul. sounds great, but now butt of emotional blackmail and all this with a new job at the bbc starting tomorrow which i am dreading, as its the side i am most useless at.- radio interviews, producing for camera crews and -scary- being in charge of all news coverage for all channels radio and tv, should a plane crash.  or did that happen already? been in glos with parents who tell me marriage and a banker is all i should strive for.  Feel out of touch, in need of sibleabblle siblings with a little more world in their hearts.
much love- hope you’re well.
a

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Antonia fell ill with cancer – a melanoma of the iris. This is what would kill her almost a decade later. She had also by then met her heroic and brilliant boyfriend, Esfandiar.

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Date: 11/12/2007

To: Alexander Fiske-Harrison

From: Antonia Francis

Subject: Re: how are you?

Dearest Zander,
I am just writing to tell you how very touched i was by your heartfelt calls and all the concern you showed. I’m now out of the first 5 day hospital stint – esfand calls me his red-eyed girl. but i can see – straight – and only straight as they cut a muscle to be able to insert the plaque in my left eye – so now moving both eyes hurts. behave a bit like r2d2. close eye, adjust head, open eye and hope looking in the right place. very difficult to control where the eye wants to wander, yet alone all the gesticulation it does (mostly skywards) – fascinating practice for an actor i’m sure. try walking forward concentrating on the side of your glasses, and not looking where you’re walking. a difficult one. dustin hoffman did it well, cant think of anyone else… anyhow, my dear friend. I do miss you and hope the stage is going extremely well. of course, i’m sure it is, but you’ve been over there an awful long time. i hope you’re coming back very soon. let me know your news. and, if , on the offchance you are back, my fantastic science historian friend from italy is in london for a two/three day conference, and i’ve always longed to introduce you two – so please do let me know. it could make for one of the more informed evening discussions in a long time (considering esafnd also did physics at cambridge) …(tonight/tomorrow best).
here’s hoping there aren’t too many mistakes in this – as not rereading!
all my love,a
xxxxxxxxxx

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Date: 12/05/2008

To: Alexander Fiske-Harrison & Steven France

From: Antonia Francis (Yahoo)

Subject: Antonia and Esfandiar at the Oxford and Cambridge Club

Darling Zander, Thank you once more for vouching for me [for membership]. You fool.  I know you can’t come to this, nor to our marriage, but just to include you. As ever I have no idea how to email steve, I have a bouquet of emails, all of them wilting – if i am to judge by the replies. Please could you forward this to Steve if above is wrong, and Steve would you kindly confirm you’ve received it to me direct? thanks. Hoping you’re both extremely well.  Am coming back from Paris tomorrow and manning the Maggie’s stand at the Royal Festival Hall at which i’ve helped organize a concert tomorrow night. ax

——————————————————————————–
Antonia and Esfandiar

(yes, A&E for short)

invite you to a dash of something stiff or bubbly
on Friday 27th June,
at the
Oxford and Cambridge Club

71 Pall Mall
London SW1

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 I not only made it to the engagement drinks, but walked their straight from the stage of my play, up the road in the West End, and managed to give a “brother’s” speech. I wish I had a copy of my notes of that. Maybe I do. Sadly the wedding I could not make…

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Date: 11/08/2008

To: Alexander Fiske-Harrison

From: Antonia Francis

Subject: from rain drenched douala with love

First of all, I hope you got my thank you message – left with a little bit of a hangover while staying in Claridges. You, out of all people, were the first person I thought of calling from such a destitute location.

Anyhow – I enclose our wedding photos – as much to say that there should have been one of you and we sorely missed you.

I’m finishing my book – (any non-fiction agent or publisher info would be deeply, read profoundly, read desperately appreciated) and come back to Paris and London briefly at the beginning of September. First week in fact – to sign for our new home. Please please please will you come and see it – and perhaps we could go see a show, too?
I’ll be on my own and just so excited to be back in civilization.

Suffice to say – this is the first third world country I haven’t fallen in love with. Life  here is humid, hectic and contradictory. We have all the prestige of luxury without the luxury itself. We live in a big, very ugly house, replete with huge 4×4’s, security guards, a cook, a pool, even a helicopter when Esfand wants it. In short; the whole show… but its a luxurious prison; go out on the streets and a maelstrom of racial preconceptions prevents you from either asking questions, yet alone striking up any relationship other than a commercial one.

And there’s not much you can do. There’s no quoting islam here, history or customs to break the ice and show you’re interested and you care…

You’re white.That’s it. And that’s dangerous, too. As food and fuel prices rise, the average Cameroonian is becoming poorer and more desperate – and though its one of the most civilized and well educated countries on the continent (second highest literacy levels), there’s only so much they can take – particularly young groups of boys with nowhere to go. It’s much the same as working in DRC – except with a rather nasty twist. With education like the Cameroonians receive, their frustrations are all the more eloquent, their revolt; all the better staged

Needless to say, with all his own personnel, Esfand is doing wonders. He is just a brilliant boss. He’s calm but extremely firm, and shows his respect to everyone – and there are over 300 people who work for him – quite something for a mere 30 year old.. I think part of his success is he’s not an idealist like me, so he doesn’t get disappointed or angry ever – he respects people for what they are and encourages them to do even better. it’s a magic formula – so simple, yet so difficult and Esfand manages it superbly. I am very proud of him, which is terribly ‘wifey’, but still; I am.

We have been talking a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of having a (wait for it….) dog (I adore dogs – think them on average far nicer than humans, far easier to please and much more loyal and useful..). And we have finally found a compromise between babies and dogs; chickens. We are getting 4 chickens and they are not for eating. Although Esfand has already thought of naming each one after his favorite restaurants in Paris . The first being ‘Le Cherche Midi’.

I have told him he’ll have to ‘cherche’ me if he tries to lay his hands on my chickens.

Of course, they will also be beautifully fed and run around the garden clucking – much like me – when it’s not raining.

Cameroon is extremely – well – tropical and it’s the rainy season right now which means about a metre falls every two days and lightening forks have about 10 prongs right across the low, grey horizon. This is not the South Africa , Tanzania , Zimbabwe or Kenya ‘savannah’ Africa that i knew before. This is the tropics – its dramatic, festering, overflowing, dense and dark.

It’s also brimming with anti-oxidants. We live on passion fruit, fresh ginger juice, pinapples, crevettes, capitaine and – dare i say it – chateau margaux. Yes, odd as it seems, there are cases of the stuff here, due to the fact that the owner of ESfand’s company also happens to make one of france ‘s finest margaux wines.

Storage facilities fluctuate according to somewhat tempestuous air-conditioners (they’ve taken to crying) so we are forced, begrudgingly, to constantly open bottles and drink them; it’s pure torture.

Much love from rain-drenched douala to you wherever you may be. And do look at the photos and maybe send me some reviews of your play, too!I’d  love to read’em.

Axxx

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Date: 12/08/2008

To: Antonia Francis

From: Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Subject: RE: from rain drenched douala with love

What beautiful, beautiful photos – I am so annoyed I wasn’t there. You are – and this isn’t just a compliment – the most beautiful woman there. I’m impressed (what a dress). Also, Esfan is certainly the most handsome. Sorry to hear the enclave is getting on your nerves, sounds annoying, particularly given your previous experiences. How dare the natives not be, following Lonely Planet guidelines, ‘surprisingly hospitable, appearances notwithstanding’! I await your return with baited breath. I am still working out what the hell I’m doing, so I have little news to give just now. So, have some reviews and still from my play instead.

Your loving brother,

Xander

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Then there was a delay, although there was communication, but it can be seen falling away. I was also training to be bullfighter in Spain to research for a book. Things get in the way. But sometimes you remember…

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Date: 21/05/2009

To: Antonia Francis (Yahoo)

From: Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Subject: FW: My brother

A timely tribute to my brother Jules by one of his best friends Giles Coren in The Times today. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/giles_coren/article5946966.ece

I’m in London if you are…
Xander

_______________________________________________________________________________

Date: 21/05/2009

To: Alexander Fiske-Harrison

From: Antonia Francis

Subject: Re: My brother

I thought about him straight away when I heard on the news …  As you’re my only brother, I can’t imagine the loss, but can guess the scars never leave.  He must have been quite a character to have prompted this article and I’m sure you’re proud.
I’m coming to London the week after next. We’re leaving cameroon early. esfand’s been offered another job in london at the end of the year and we’ve decided enough is enough. the only thing is the dog and the absolute nightmare of trying to get him back at such short notice.  he’s hystrionic without me for a day.  And with no little ones of my one, he’s become rather a feature in my life.
climbed mount cameroon today.
yours burnt and fat after too much time with too much tropical fruit.
xx

_______________________________________________________________________________

Date: 14/01/2010

To: Antonia Francis

From: Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Subject: A bad brother am I.

Lil sis,

I keep meaning to send you long emails of congratulations and news and never seem to actually do it. So here I am, terribly hungover, but finally writing to say CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!

I have seen a photo of young George (a noble name, and one which follows well my dictum that you should never name a child something they couldn’t be Prime Minister with) and he looks a handsome fellow. Which is not unexpected given his parentage (you look stunning in the hospital photo by the way – most unusual in that situation).

So, how the hell are you? I have been living in Oxford this past month doing some writing before I return to Spain to fight my first, and last, full size bull in the Spring. Which is both terrifying and invigorating.

Anyway, I want to hear more from you sister mine. Much, much more…

All my love,

Xander xx

_______________________________________________________________________________

However, I never saw Antonia again after this.

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Date: 24/12/2010

From:  Alexander Fiske-Harrison

To: Antonia Francis

Subject: RE: Re : FW: Xander’s bullfight photos by Nicolas Haro

Sorry for the delay. In and out of things. Currently in rural Essex for Christmas, but have taken up residence back in Oxford. I have a 50% probability of a London trip next week. Shall you be near? If not, week after for sure. We MUST. Funnily enough, I was talking to a Dr Barry Webb in the King’s Arms (supercilious old toper, but entertaining for a glass or two) and he told me you were terribly glamorous in tutorials. I thought you would like to know, as I certainly should. I told him I quite agreed and was intermittently and unrequitedly in love with you throughout that same period. Then the conversation moved onto to Shakespeare and bullfighting and you were thought of no more…

Intermittent and unrequited love to thee and thine, and a very Merry Christmas too!

Xander

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Date: 24/12/2010

From:  Antonia Francis

To: Alexander Fiske Harrison

Subject: RE: Re : FW: Xander’s bullfight photos by Nicolas Haro

God if I could express how lovely it is to receive such a charming note right now. Stuck in office printing reams of crap about track II diplomacy. A child so diminishes ones capacity to shine yet alone relax after shining. Perhaps I should loose concentration on polish altogether. Somehow that hurts. Off to mountains for a week but begging husband to let me back to uk earlier than 4th. How lovely to be in oxford. Poor webby though- I never did a moments work and quite wasted his time! Xxx

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Date: 24/12/2010

From:  Alexander Fiske-Harrison

To: Antonia Francis

Subject: RE: Re : FW: Xander’s bullfight photos by Nicolas Haro
As Aristotle so laboured the point on the metaphysics of time, what we have been, we will always have been. You will always have been terrifyingly glamorous, and terribly beautiful, and terroristically conversational. I will always have been a gauche biologist with dreams of glory. Our virtues, like our sins, remain with us so that we may be judged upon them. Something to remember as one stews, falters, deviates, flourishes, triumphs or conquers … Xxxx

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And here I realise that what I am actually constructing is not a memoire, but  an act of expiation for someone I let go, let drift from my life, whom I should not have. When I was told the cancer had returned, I got back in touch, and was politely rebuffed. It was too late. Antonia of all people did not want pity. She wanted to be remembered as that. A few hours before her death I heard she had gone to hospital and finally realised what I had done. That email will forever rest in the void. Instead here is a photo, taken by Dom in Cadogan Square many years before when we were very young, leaping into the unknown. Oh my sister. God I miss you.

SPC IIIIIII

You’ve left me now, in that room you had in Matthews, looking out the window after you’d just gone. I’m still there, waiting, knowing it will never happen again, that Aristotle was a liar. You’d smile to know I’ll end this on a butchered quote, but there is no other way to describe such things – “the awful, reverberating thunder of her absence.”

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Alexander Fiske-Harrison (Photo: Andrea Savini/¡Hola! magazine ©2015)

Alexander Fiske-Harrison, Otley Hall, Suffolk (Photo by Andrea Savini for ¡Hola! magazine ©2015)

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  1. P.s. She loved you

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  1. […] month later on October 14th. Noel Chandler, though, was a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday, where Antonia Francis died just before her 40th. There is quite a […]

  2. […] month later on October 14th. Noel Chandler, though, was a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday, where Antonia Francis died just before her 40th. There is quite a […]

  3. […] month later on October 14th. Noel Chandler, though, was a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday, where Antonia Francis died just before her 40th. There is quite a […]

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