Magda

Married on 18 October 1976 in Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey

Divorced in 1981

Late one autumn, I went to a Polish wedding in Ealing. Ryszard, the would-be Olympic fencer, was marrying his English stewardess. I stood in the corner of the room watching the mainly Polish wedding guests getting stuck into the pierogi, bigos and vodka. Joe, Ryszard’s ‘uncle’ – though I don’t think they were related – approached. He was accompanied by a stunning, auburn-haired young woman whom he introduced as his niece.
“This is Magda, she is studying to be an architect,” he said. We chatted for a few minutes and they moved away into the crowd.

I received a phone call the next day from Joe asking if I would like to meet up with him and his niece for a drink. ‘Why not?’ I thought, ‘Blimey, I didn’t think she fancied me!’ We met at the Orange Tree in Richmond. Joe bought the drinks and we sat at a corner table away from the bar.

Magda smiled at me but said nothing.
“Magda needs some help,” said Joe.
I was crushed! This wasn’t a date.
“What sort of help?”
“Her student visa is running out and she will have to abandon her studies and return to Poland.”
“Oh, that’s a shame,” I replied, “but I don’t see how I can help…”
He cleared his throat, glanced at Magda who still hadn’t said a word and said, “If she had a British passport…”
His voice trailed off and he stared at me.
I looked from one to the other.
Like a good poker player he knew when to up the stakes. “She’s willing to contribute two hundred and fifty pounds towards your expenses.”

So, early one morning three weeks later we met up, Joe and his wife Basha, Magda and me, outside Richmond-upon-Thames Registrars Office.

Ten minutes later I was married for the second time.

We repaired to the Orange Tree again where I extracted one of the twenty-five ten pound notes that were in the envelope Joe handed me and bought Magda, my new bride, a gin and bitter lemon. She finished her drink, thanked me and left the pub arm in arm with Joe and Basha.

Abandon hope

About a month later, Joe phoned. ‘Could I meet Magda at Lunar House in Croydon? Bring your passport.’ I turned up at the entrance to an enormous 60’s office block housing the UK Visas and Immigration Services, clutching my British passport. There was Magda, looking as lovely as ever but very nervous. I explained to the uniformed commissionaire that I had come to register my wife as a British citizen by marriage, took a number and sat in the vast waiting room to await our turn. Magda said nothing.

Waiting for the right to remain

We were eventually called forward and ushered into a small glass-fronted office holding two chairs and a desk behind which sat an inoffensive-looking young man. After a few perfunctory questions, he examined my passport, stamped the forms that Magda gave him and wished us well in our future life together.

Outside in the bleak November morning, Magda turned, said “Goodbye and thank you,” and walked hurriedly away. Not even a farewell peck on the cheek.

I never saw her again.

Five years later I received a letter from a firm of solicitors in South Kensington informing me I was to be divorced on the grounds of two years separation with consent.

Same old, same old.

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