ETCETERA / How We Met: Jill Tweedie and Ken Lukowiak

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The Independent Culture
Ken Lukowiak, 34, joined the Parachute Regiment in 1979 and served in Northern Ireland, the Falkland Islands and Belize. He left the regiment in 1984 and has since had various jobs interspersed with periods of unemployment. His account of the Falklands war, A Soldier's Song, was published in April. Jill Tweedie, 56, is a journalist, author and scriptwriter. Her autobiography, Eating Children, was published last month. She is married to the writer Alan Brien, her third husband; they have eight children between them. Jill Tweedie and Ken Lukowiak both live in London.

JILL TWEEDIE: I was sitting at my desk and I saw this long thin man with flappy hair standing at the door. He'd come to paint the windows and the conservatory. I thought how good-looking he was. The next thing I knew was that he'd been talking to Alan and he said to Alan that he'd done a bit of writing himself. Alan told me and we both groaned and moaned and said 'Oh my God'.

But Alan read it and he threw it over and said: 'See what you think.' I read it and thought: 'My God' - it was a joy to read something so vivid and so strong and out of a world that you have no idea of. I immediately got in touch with the Guardian, and they instantly said yes.

The next time we saw him, we were in Wales, he was passing through, came to visit us, and that was where we got to know him better. He immediately went to all the pubs, got to know everybody in two or three seconds. He's very gregarious, and cut a swathe through the hearts of the village girls. He got out all these awful videos I'd never seen before - Steve Martin, whom I hate. Ken thinks he's wonderful, he'd be roaring with laughter and throwing himself around.

A publisher got in touch, Ken got an advance, and he was able to give up the decorating and sit down and finish the book. He got an Amstrad and we have the same one, so he can always sit down here and work. He'd come and go quite a lot, and he'd stay here, because at the time he was living with his father in Cornwall. We'd have parties and we started asking him and he'd always come with a pretty girl and hold forth: he can never sit still, he's moving around all the time.

I suppose it's only been a couple of years, but it feels as if I've known him for so long that I almost can't remember what it was like when he wasn't around. It's very strange - you know how you occasionally meet someone who has an extremely familiar feel? That's what he had. It may have something to do with the fact that I have two sons and they aren't here any more. But it seems to me extremely right that there should be another tall, thin, nice-looking young man around.

We hang out, we watch telly together, we go to the pictures. He chooses the film, he suggests something I would never watch, and sometimes it works. For instance, all the Vietnam films I had not seen. I hate violence, but he started me seeing them and I wouldn't have missed them for anything, Born on the Fourth of July and so on - magnificent. So I've got kind of hardened now and I can sit through quite a deal of violence in a way I never could before.

Mostly he talks, expressing his fears and his hopes and his plans, talking gradually about his life - every now and then I'll start to tell him about a book I've read, and he'll launch into something, and I'll say 'Shut up and listen, I'm talking to you]', so he listens then.

He isn't somebody who sits down and tells you the whole of his life, it comes out slowly. He's not one for having long conversations. He will say something, then go off and eat one of his disgusting meals, Pot Noodles. I'll cook something marvellous, liver or fish, and he hates it all. He says 'What is this?' I thought, I'll introduce him to more tasty things, but he's pretty resistant.

He reminds me of how I was at his age, the passions, the ups and downs. I'm so much calmer now, watching all the hoops he goes through. It's a different thing from ordinary friendship, it is exactly like having children. I cannot see any way that we won't be friends for life. I can't imagine anything that would happen, however bizarre, that would stop me loving him.

KEN LUKOWIAK: I was in Cornwall, on the dole, getting nowhere, and this friend of mine said come up to Tring for the weekend. So I got up there and we went and got a Chinese one night and there was a local paper, they were advertising for painters. I went out to the site to see the foreman and the jobs had gone, but I started talking to this guy and he was an ex-Para. So we were talking away, and he said: 'Come back on Friday, you can start then, there's bound to be someone who's rubbish that we won't want.' Then later they said: 'Oh, we've got a job in London.' So it was pure luck.

When I first got on the London site the foreman said: 'You've got to start painting that house first,' because Jill and Alan were going away to Wales, and Maya Angelou was going to come to stay, and I wasn't allowed to disturb her. So I got on with it.

Then someone on the site said 'Oh that's Jill Tweedie' one day as she walked along, and I didn't have a clue who Jill Tweedie was. Forgive me Lord. I've changed now.

I first of all started talking to Alan, because I would be working away and Alan would bring me teas and coffees and things. And on one of these occasions I said to Alan: 'What do you do?' And he said: 'We're writers.' And I said: 'Oh, I've done some writing.' I just happened to have it with me in the car, so I went and got it and brought it in. He didn't read it right away. He put it in a file and wrote my name on it, and I thought 'Oh well, that'll be the end of it' - my heart sank. The next day when I got into work they were waiting and they called me in. That was really the first time I spoke to Jill. She said she'd send it to someone and she started scheming. Then they went away to Wales. The guy I was sharing a house with in Tring, his mother lives in Wales and we were going there one weekend to visit his mum.

I went along for the trip to see the hills and all the rest of it. I happened to mention this to Alan and he invited us to call in and stay. So we did, and things progressed, so I would call round and see them now and then.

They were never interfering about my writing, always encouraging - just being able to be in those circles and talk about things that I might not necessarily have spent a lot of time talking about before was encouraging.

I see Jill two or three times a week. We talk about everything, we certainly have no secrets. Jill and I are so very similar. I wish I could explain that similarity between us but I can't quite put it into words. We definitely both have the same sense of humour. When we are together, I think we tend to be kind of funny about 80 per cent of the time. We can't help but be like that. And we have the same taste in films and books and things like that, even though you might think we're completely different. I've bought two tickets for Neil Young, we both really like him, so we're going to play hippy.

Jill is permanently giving me books. She's just given me Badlands. Whenever we went away to Wales, you can't get television in the valley, and so we'd take the video up, and it would always be me that went to the shop to pick the films. I would come back with things like Total Recall. She'd be absolutely horrified.

She bought me a bloody waistcoat for Christmas. I went off with her, shopping, and she got me to try on this waistcoat, saying it was for someone else. It's a lovely waistcoat, it's my favourite one, I wear it a lot. She's clever, it goes with everything.

Is there anything I don't like about her? She doesn't understand clocks and calendars. She struggles a lot with them. If she says, see you Friday at eight o'clock, it'll probably be Tuesday at four. They'll change their plans quite a lot. When they went to Wales last time I moved over and stayed in their house. They came back five times - well, they didn't but they were going to. So I panicked, cleaning the house five times. Jill and I are both realistic. I can say to Jill 'I hope to be at your funeral' and she'll say 'I hope so, too' because for her to be at mine would be tragic, outside the order of things.

Any time I ever have any worries she always says: 'Why don't you come up here, we can help you with that.' I'm sure I'll still know Jill in 20 years' time, as sure as if I was to say to you that in 20 years' time you will still know your brother or your sister - I can't imagine how ties could ever get cut now between us. That's been rare in my existence.-

(Photograph omitted)

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