Belfast Telegraph

Frances Burscough: I’m in love with a 400-year-old man

By Frances Burscough

The man of my dreams celebrated a special birthday this week. He's a bit older than me — 400 years, to be precise — but that isn't even an issue. “Age cannot wither him, nor custom stale his infinite variety”.

Yes William Shakespeare, the most passionate man that ever lived, (not to mention the most romantic, insightful, articulate, inspiring, etc etc ...) would have been 450 years old on Wednesday. I celebrated by reading his glorious sonnets all over again and wondering — like I always do — what it must feel like to love and be loved in that way.

I've been romantically involved with the Bard ever since I saw Twelfth Night on my 12th birthday and was mesmerised by the beauty of the language. Then, at secondary school, I was quite overjoyed to discover it was compulsory on a grammar school curriculum to study his plays and poetry. In fact I yearned for every English Literature lesson, because it gave me an excuse to read them again and again, often memorising them verbatim. Even in the school holidays, when everyone else was immersed in Jackie Collins bonk-busters or Stephen King thrillers, I ‘did’ Anthony and Cleopatra or The Tempest and pretended it was revision homework.

So, through all my adolescent years, when I was developing my own character, tastes and interests, the works of Shakespeare were a constant soundtrack running in the background of my mind, influencing me and inspiring me to search for a muse of my own. So you could say I was always going to be disappointed.

Then, of course, reality sank in, I left school, joined the rest of the real world and discovered what men were really like. And let's just say they bore little resemblance to darling Will or any of the characters from his repertoire of Renaissance men.

Whoever said first that romance was dead must have come from Preston. On a typical night out there, instead of being told by amorous suitors that my eyes were like “two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, which, Having some business, do entreat your eyes, To twinkle in their spheres till they return”, they'd say “Ey up, blondie, show us your boobs”.

So eventually I gave up my quest for a poetic soulmate who would woo me with words and just got on with life. I got married, had kids, got divorced and became a single mum.

Once again, the quest to find a partner began in earnest. I wasn't sure what I wanted, except someone who looked a bit like Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love and who was romantic, passionate, poetic, well-read, articulate and intelligent.

So, basically, it was back to Shakespeare again.

I joined a dating website and before long my love life was like a cross between Comedy of Errors and Love's Labours Lost. I met and dated a lot of fools and was about to give up, when one guy's profile really caught my attention.

He was a wildlife photographer, who travelled the world taking pictures of rare birds (I love birds so that was a good start). He looked a tiny bit like Ralph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love (even better). He described himself as “a poetic soul roaming the world for his muse” (oh my God) and his favourite book was — wait for it — Shakespeare's Sonnets (That's it. I'm in love. I'll get my coat.)

Within hours we were emailing each other. Poems, he replied with poems!

“Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?”

“Doubt thou the stars are fire;

Doubt that the sun doth move;

Doubt truth to be a liar;

But never doubt I love!”

I sent him photos. He replied: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”

Within hours I'd given him my phone number and was awaiting his call. As I sat by the phone, looking out at the full moon's radiant orb, I felt like Juliet on the balcony.

The phone rang. My heart raced. At last I heard his voice.

“I'm on the Shetland Islands in a phone box,” he began. “I only have a couple of pound coins so I wanted just to get straight to the point ...” (Yes, yes? Win me with your words sweet prince! I am all ears ...) “Will you do me a favour, love, and describe your boobs?”

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