Robin Williams – The Man Who Changed My Life
This article was posted on an e-zine site a few months ago, and I thought the time was right to repost it here.
I work for a company in Newbury that summarises business information fro 13 languages into English. I’m jointly in charge of a department of over 30 people. I have a moustache, a fierce one, according to some people.
The analyst in charge of our Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish summaries resigns, and we have to find a replacement.
The applicants arrive. They do a languages test, and then come into the office that I share with my co-manager for an interview. This tall, skinny thing comes in. She’s Norwegian, and she’s just looking for a one-year placement not for a permanent job. She’s actually the best candidate. I sigh. Staff turnover at this place is bad enough as it is, and employing someone for one year is not what I think we should do. We thank the skinny thing, and she leaves. ‘She’s just your type,’ my co-manager says. ‘I’m attached,’ I say. He shuts up.
We sit down with our Managing Director. I counsel against employing the skinny thing for a whole variety of business reasons. ‘If she was the best, hire her,’ the MD says. So we hire her.
I’ve just come back from a 2-week holiday in Yugoslavia with my attachment. Bleached blonde hair and a sun worshipper. I think we’re going to move in together. She tells me that’s not going to happen anymore, and she’s in love with one of my mates. Ah.
My MD has a meeting with me, and, assuming (erroneously) that I’m sleeping with the entire marketing department, asks me to give him my word as a gentleman that I won’t fraternise with the troops. I give him my word, of course, and mean it.
Skinny thing, who’s called Marianne, starts on the same day as another guy we hired in May (his speciality is Spanish, and, although he’s very funny, he’s painfully shy). It’s my job to train them both. So that’s what I do, without much emotion to be honest, because it’s work before life. It always has been.
I somehow find out that Marianne has split up with her attachment. Not that it’s affecting her work. She and Danny are just about fully trained, and I’m their boss. Nothing much to write home about there.
Friday, 20th October 1989
I sit in the same cluster of cubicles as Marianne, because the team she’s working on needs some troubleshooting. That’s me, the trouble-shooter. It always has been. I turn to look over the partition to ask her a question. I notice for the first time what gorgeous eyes she has. I go home wondering if I should ask her to London for the day. No, that would be breaking my word.
Saturday, 21st October 1989
I wake up asking myself the same question about a day in London with Marianne. Tell myself no again. It wouldn’t be right. I distract myself by eating too much, reading too much and probably drinking too much.
Sunday, 22nd October 1989
The same question pops into my head again. I almost pick up the phone this time, but hold firm against my instincts. I drive up to Oxford to see a lady friend I met when I was working in Germany. She and her boyfriend have just moved back to England from Japan. I get there, and they’re not in.
Back in Newbury I get a phone call from a friend who lives in my road. She looks after my cats when I’m not around. She says her and a bunch of mates are going to the cinema that evening and asks if I want to come. Without much hesitation I say yes.
This is where my life changes.
The film we go to see is Dead Poets’ Society. The film is brilliant as it is, but Robin Williams is stellar. I fall in man-love with him. His Keating is clean-shaven, handsome, courageous, and articulate; the sort of teacher I’d want to have had, or the sort of teacher I wish I’d become.
When I get home, I shave off my moustache.
Monday, 23rd October 1989
Dead Poets’ Society is still going round my head when I go to work and suffer through the yawning chasm of boredom and lack of communication that is the weekly management meeting. Marketing always sell stuff we in the production department can’t produce unless we hire more people or raise our costs in some other mad way. It pisses me off.
Spend the rest of the day fighting fires, and don’t see Marianne. Maybe I’m deliberately avoiding her.
It strikes me, back in the sanctuary of my office, that it’s Danny’s birthday. We really should do something to integrate him more with the rest of the troops. I suggest to lots of people we take him out to the local pub in the evening. Marianne’s left by this stage.
Later, I call her from home, finally, tell her about the drink for Dan, but she says she doesn’t know where the pub is, then that she won’t be able to find anywhere to park. ‘So catch a cab,’ I say. She says maybe.
For some reason or another, I’m the first of us all to get to the pub. I’m wearing a Greek fisherman’s cap, and sit down with a pint to write some poetry. I’m oblivious to the world. And then she walks in, before any of the others. She’s even more gorgeous than I thought last Friday. We don’t say much to each other, as you’d expect. I am her boss, after all.
The others arrive. We all get drunk and have a laugh. Marianne and I are just about the last to leave. On the way home, she tells me she hates moustaches. We kiss.
Over 400 poems later (written on a second-hand IBM golf ball typewriter), I’ve taken Marianne’s passport under some pretext or another. Our affair is still a secret from everyone at the office, except for my best friend. I acquire a marriage licence from Newbury Registry Office and ask her to marry me. She turns me down. Says it’s too soon.
We fly to Germany for a week, still a secret.
We’ve had enough of the secrecy and decide to get married. We tell my MD’s secretary and wait nervously at my flat, expecting a shitstorm. It never happens, and congratulatory phone calls come instead. My boss tells me it’s my job to announce it to the rest of the company. We go and buy an engagement ring in London first. Marianne pays for it, because she’s getting married to a notorious profligate and reprobate.
25th May 1991
This is the day closest to Norwegian Independence Day that the Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe could marry us. At 14:25, the vicar pronounces us man and wife.
Four children later
And it’s all thanks to Robin Williams. May he forever rest in peace and his spirit continue to guide us.