The Husband Post

Regular readers will know of Husband. He gets frequent mentions in posts, mainly due to being my significant other and travel companion, so that the events I’m involved in tend to involve him, too.

When you think of how detailed and intricate individual personalities are it’s surprising that any relationship endures beyond a week or two, let alone years. But, given a moderate number of interests in common and similar backgrounds after a few years people grow alike. I could never imagine sharing a small space like a camper van for weeks on end with anyone except Husband, and while we do have differences of opinion [who doesn’t?] we seem to manage.

We did not meet as fresh-faced teenagers, up-and-coming twenty-somethings or even high-achieving thirties career people-no we met as world-weary forties veterans of previous marriages and relationships, so the entire enterprise was a triumph of dogged hope over experience.

First impressions are telling. When we met, on a cold winter’s night in a pub, the attributes in Husband’s favour were:

  • His open, friendly, unpretentious, chatty manner.
  • His offering of crisps alongside the glass of port he bought.
  • His brown, leather, lace-up shoes. Men’s shoes are crucial to a first impression. Had he worn trainers, reader, he’d have been put down to experience.

During the first weeks Husband was unerringly persistent [in the face of my haphazard lifestyle at the time-another story]. On the way back from one of the first dates, his car [a Vauxhall Astra with a coat hanger for an aerial] developed a flat tyre. Without hesitation he pulled into a lay-by, whipped out the requisite equipment and changed the tyre so that within minutes we were on our way again-and all this late at night, too!

Husband Facts:

  • He is a devoted fan of Gloucester Rugby
  • He was a keen runner when younger, ran a number of marathons and now enjoys walking and cycling, except in cold weather-when his hands get cold.
  • One of his favourite activities is pottering about making what he calls ‘modifications’ to his pride and joy-the van.
  • He is a domestic god-and does not shy away from such chores as hoovering, washing windows and cooking.
  • He likes old rock/blues music, in particular The Rolling Stones but is not a fan of cinema. [He can be persuaded to watch a Bond film on occasion].
  • He likes beer [also red wine].
  • He is Dr Husband, having completed a PhD, post degree, a label I’m always hoping to capitalise when booking airline tickets but as yet with no success. His thesis, leather bound and languishing, as it has for years, on the bookshelves details his many experiments coating grains of wheat for some obscure purpose. I’m sorry to say I have not been able to read it.
  • Despite his impressive qualifications in botany, the number of garden plants Husband is able to name would fit easily on to an average sized postage stamp.

This weekend Husband is reaching a ‘milestone’ birthday. It is probable that he will be grumpy about this post, but that is a risk I’m taking and hope to be forgiven. For those who follow and have read of him, here he is:

Graham train

Happy Birthday Husband-here’s to the next adventure!

 

A Neighbourly Manor-Part 4

  In the fourth and final part of the story, Lena and Richard are surprised by a late night visitor and Lena is witness to some revelations about her cynical, curmudgeonly husband of many years…

A Neighbourly Manor [Part 4]

            The May weather turned unsettled as some gusty showers blew over in the middle of the next week and it was during a heavy downpour on Wednesday evening that the bell rang. I’d been clearing up the kitchen and Richard was upstairs in the study editing his latest batch of Spanish photographs. I hadn’t heard a car pull up so I assumed it was someone from the village as I opened the door.
It was Imogen, though barely recognisable as the radiant girl of six weeks ago. With her hair plastered to her head and her thin shirt stuck to her, soaking, she looked bedraggled. She also appeared to be in some distress, from her red-rimmed eyes and stricken expression. I reached out and all but tugged her inside the hallway, where she stood dripping, her thin shoulders shuddering. I wasted no time.
‘Whatever has happened?’ I asked her. ‘Come into the lounge. I’ll put the fire on!’
Her mouth opened to speak and produced only a shivering sob as she allowed me to tow her into the living room.
‘Wait here,’ I told her, ‘I’ll get you something dry to wear.’
I went upstairs and hissed at Richard’s enquiring face as I grabbed a towelling robe then I dashed back and pulled it around her before sitting her down in an armchair like a child. ‘I’m going to put the kettle on,’ I said, and by the time I’d returned my husband had seated himself in the chair next to her. He glanced at me.
‘Let’s all have a cup of tea,’ he suggested.
As I left the room she began to mumble in halting sentences dotted with ‘sorrys’ and ‘thank yous’ until Richard leaned forward, put his fingers together and asked her, ‘Can you tell us what is wrong?’
By the time I’d set the tray down she was into her dismal story, which was no less depressing for being predictable; a whirlwind, fairy tale romance rising from a chance meeting with a charming, wealthy, practised, older suitor who’d promised the world before exposing her fully to the circles in which he moved. Circles which included a whole host of other women; ex-wives, of which Kristina was one, ex-partners, ex-girlfriends, ‘friends’ who would like to be girlfriends, ‘friends’ who were ‘helping with the designs’ like Liliana, married women, single women and all with one purpose-to be Jackson’s wife.
Having swapped a ward shift and wangled a couple of days off Imogen had planned to turn up without warning and give her intended a surprise, but when she left the car and approached the house she looked in at the un-curtained window and saw him with Liliana; the two of them dancing in the stark emptiness of the drawing room, one of his long arms around her waist, another with a glass of wine in hand. She’d stood in the rain and watched them, watched as they laughed together at the intimacies he whispered in the woman’s ears making her throw her head back in delight. She didn’t know how long she stood in the rain watching. She’d felt panic rising, welling up, threatening to overflow into a scream and then she’d run, back along the curving drive and through the gateway up the lane to our front door. The girl’s breathless narrative ground to a halt as she sniffed; taking another tissue from the box I’d placed beside her.
Richard sat back in his chair, crossing one of his legs over the other and turning his head a little in Imogen’s direction without looking at her face. He began to speak in a quiet monotone. He told her that she may feel distraught now, but that she would recover. He reminded her that she was a strong, independent woman and had proved it by raising a child on her own and following a responsible, highly valued career. He said she must remember that she’d led a good, happy life before Jackson and would do so again; that she must never allow any man to control and manipulate her feelings or treat her as an object to be owned and cast aside like a painting or a house; that a relationship should be based on mutual love and respect and she should look at me, Lena for an example of a resilient, capable woman; that our marriage might not look glamorous but he’d never been in any doubt that he’d chosen the right person. Throughout this monologue she sat motionless, her shuddering sobs subsiding, her narrow shoulders lowering, her eyes fixed hard upon Richard as if he were dragging her from a swamp.
‘Right,’ he concluded, ‘it’s far too late for you to be driving back tonight. You can stay in our guest room, which is always ready’. He looked up at me. ‘My wife can lend you anything you need. Shall we open that bottle of brandy we brought back with us? This would seem to be a suitable occasion to try it.’ He winked. I have a feeling my mouth was hanging open.
He asked Imogen for her car keys, declaring that he would fetch her car from the Manor.
Later on I ran a hot bath for our guest, after which she was subdued enough to submit to being tucked up in bed.
I extracted a promise from Imogen as she left next morning that she would under no circumstances email, ring or visit Jackson Agnew, neither should she respond to invitations from him, all of which she agreed to with a solemn nod. Her puffy face and red eyes showed that she’d wept the night away, but as she drove off Richard assured me it would pass.
‘Let’s go out for lunch,’ he said and I knew the subject was closed.

Some unspoken agreement kept us from cutting through Chiddlehampton Manor’s grounds for a couple of weeks and we were relieved to see no sign of Jackson or any of his paramours in the pub, or anywhere else in the vicinity.
It was June when we returned from a week in Torquay and saw the sign on the gate at the end of their drive. ‘For Sale- Grade Two listed Manor House with OPP for eight apartments’, it read. It was to be sold by the agent ‘Knight and Rutter’ who are known for their upmarket properties.
Doctor Jackson Agnew and his entourage, it seemed, had moved on.

 

A Neighbourly Manor [Part 3]

In Part 3 of ‘A Neighbourly Manor’, Lena and Richard return from a holiday and meet yet another of Jackson’s visitors. Richard is less than impressed…

A Neighbourly Manor [Part 3]

                 We left Chiddlehampton and the UK a few days later to spend April in Marbella with our son, who works there as an architect. We prefer to visit in spring or autumn when the Spanish temperatures are less sweltering than in summer.
On the day following our return I collected Molly from some friends in the village who look after her when we are away and decided from her disgruntled expression and affronted manner that I should offer a brisk walk as a placatory gesture, so I combined this with a route through the estate. I was keen to learn what changes had occurred and who might be in residence.
In our absence the mature trees in the grounds had taken advantage of the balmy May sunshine to burst into blossom so that intermittent drifts of white or pink petals showered across in a light breeze. Scaffolding was still in place around the creamy walls, although the roof replacement looked to be almost complete.
Around the back in the car park area I noticed that an unsightly, corrugated pergola had been removed to reveal a semi-circle of elegant columns, a stunning feature. Jackson then had not been idle. His car was parked next to one of the sets of French windows facing the lawns. I loitered for a few minutes in hopes of spotting him or Imogen, or even Kristina, but with no obvious signs of human activity I continued through to the meadows with Molly.

That evening, when Richard suggested we stroll down to the pub and catch up with some village news, I needed no persuasion. Since the evenings had drawn out and drawn the locals out, the garden of the Cuckoo was as busy as the two bars, making it tricky work getting to buy a drink. I noticed that most of the tables were occupied with diners, too.
We’d just managed to gain access to the counter and the attention of the bar staff when I felt a rangy arm clamp around my neck and winced as a deafening voice boomed in my ear.
‘Well, well! The wanderers have returned! Welcome back you two. Did you have a good time? You must come down and see all the changes we’ve made. You won’t recognise the place! We have a table over in the alcove. Come and join us. You will let me get those, won’t you old chap?’
This was addressed to Richard, who’d not turned his head during the greeting, but responded while taking a note from his wallet and handing it across the counter.
‘We only came in for a quick one.’
I could have predicted my husband’s reply, however I was not about to allow an opportunity to talk with one of the two women pass me by.
‘But we’ll come and say Hello. Where are you sitting?’ A quick scan of the tables revealed no one resembling either of them.
We picked up our drinks and followed Jackson through the throng to the alcove. A woman was seated there, not Imogen, not Kristina; a young woman with a mane of dark curls and a heavy pasting of make-up, dark, sooty eyelids and a scarlet gash of lips. Jackson introduced us. When she stood she revealed a swell of cleavage above the line of her blouse.
‘This is my friend Liliana. She is an architect and has come to help with the interior design plans.’
The woman placed her hands on Richard’s shoulders and kissed his cheek, one side followed by the other, continental style. Her fingers, resting on my husband’s upper arms were long and tapered, nails topped with the same livid red as her mouth; as she leaned to offer the same treatment to me I caught a whiff of sweet, pungent perfume.
‘I am happy to meet you’ she breathed; her speech coloured with a strong Latin accent which was confirmed by Jackson’s adjunct.
‘Liliana is Italian.’
Beside me on the bench, Richard was silent, concentrating his attention on his pint of Best as Jackson continued.
‘She is also a terrific artist. We’ve brought some of her canvases down to see where they’ll hang. You must come and take a look.’
As he spoke the woman’s lips smiled in their red slash, her eyes narrowing until I thought she might purr like a pampered cat stretched on a hearthrug. To fill the conversational void I murmured something non-committal and took a sip of my wine. Richard lifted his glass and tipped it back it in uncharacteristic gulps before turning to me.
‘We can’t be too long, Lena. Don’t forget Bob is coming round this evening.’
As we walked back along the lane I asked him, ‘Who on Earth is Bob?’
‘No one. Anyone. What does it matter?’ he replied, ‘I just couldn’t spend any more of my time with that insufferable man.’

 

Coupling up…or Disentangling…

There must be a reason why the popular press loves to dollop liberal helpings of news about celebrity couples all over their pages. Does it make enjoyable reading because relationships are what interest the public more than anything? Who is with who? Who has had a baby? Who has been seen on holiday cavorting in the waves with who? And even more riveting: Who has split up with who? Who is having an affair/threesome/visits to prostitutes/paedophile allegations? Recently we’ve seen the split of Hollywood royalty ‘Brangelina’ as well as having to suffer the odious Donald Trump crowing about Bill Clinton’s indiscretions [of years ago-and for which he paid a hefty price].

You have to feel for the poor celebs. Their relationships have to weather the storms of fame, being in the public eye, having to undergo endless photo shoots for ‘Hello’ magazine, having loads of money and getting photo-zapped by stealthy paparazzi whilst exposing their flesh on expensive yachts. One or two famous couples have also amassed more children than the old woman who lived in a shoe by jetting around the world and hoovering up spare tots like flies on a window sill.

But what of we mere mortals? Observing couple behaviour is an interesting slant on people watching and a sport I’ve been enjoying during the time we’ve been away. Unless it’s an arranged marriage a relationship will usually have begun with some mutual attraction or downright lust from one or both partners. The lust gets tempered over time for a variety of reasons. Babies are renowned passion killers as are domestic chores and financial duress. For some couples, however this round of domestic obligation can be the cement that sticks them and an adhesive that fails once the chicks have fledged and the pair realise that the sprogs was all they had in common. I know a number of these.

Many couples, however seem to stick together even though nothing remains or they’ve forgotten why they became one to begin with, sharing their accommodation and little else. In our local hostelry the same individuals [almost exclusively male] can be seen any or every night of the week, leaving spouses to their own devices. Most people don’t want to be joined at the hip, and a few different interests in retirement is a good idea, but some seem not to have contact at any point, like the couple in a motorhome in Agde, France, one of whom spent each day cycling and the other inside watching TV. I’ll leave you, reader to imagine which half of the couple indulged in which activity.

Separating is scary and expensive for we commoners, more so in older age, but myself I couldn’t contemplate living the meagre remainder of my life with a cold vacuum of relationship in which the property we occupied was the only thing in common.

Mr Hyde, I Presume?

An old friend who now lives on the Spanish Mediterranean coast rang last week to ask if he could stay. He is splitting up with his wife.

This is awkward. A number of issues jumped into my mind. Husband and myself are both ourselves ‘second-time-arounders’. This couple, both in their sixties are the first friends we made twenty years ago together, that is to say not friends from one of our previous lives. They are, or were both our friends. I had no desire to be taking sides, neither did we want to appear to be judgemental in any way [having ourselves been in their situation many years ago].

Being the hospitable folk we are we concurred, offering our best guest accommodation with the en suite. They had, after all accommodated us when our leaking, malfunctioning camper-van rolled up on their driveway several years ago. He arrived.

After a relatively short time I began to realise that while his political views and many of his likes and dislikes had always been at odds with ours we’d got along fine, except that now, without the tempering, conciliatory presence of his wife he is a different person altogether. His loud ebullience, once an asset to raucous nights at the pub has become overbearing and intrusive. He is unaware that we may be reading or writing, butting in with the tales of his current predicament, his medical conditions or immigration.

He explained that he has ‘not been happy for a long time’ in the marriage. He wasted no time in regaling us with the details of his testosterone levels and how he needs medication to help him satisfy his new girlfriend-the real cause of the gash. All this is far too much information. There was a much needed interval while he went shopping, returning with a substantial haul of medicines which he heaped into a pile in his room; then we were plunged back into his views, gleaned from the red-tops he reads or commercial news stations, his love life and money issues.

We continued to accommodate, murmur, provide and feed him, even when he threw himself into my own, favourite, comfortable chair with the TV remote control to watch football and comment loudly that I was eating a ‘big’ bowl of salad [whilst he chomps through the chilli and rice I have made].

My good intentions not to take sides blew away on a blast of hot air. Out of earshot I rang my friend, his wife. She is staying with another friend, too upset to see anyone. ‘How had she managed forty-five years with him?’ I asked her. ‘He is a monster. I’ve struggled to get through two days with him. She should get shot of him, ASAP’. She agreed he is difficult, but unchecked, his disagreeable traits have become exaggerated and offensive. When I told her she will be better off without him she replied that I was not the first to say it.

Husband whispered to me that relief was at hand. He would be leaving us after the weekend. We shared a grin of relief. We had only to spend an evening at a restaurant [he took us for a ‘thank-you’ meal] and then our duty would be despatched. The meal [our chosen venue] was good. His excesses were a little tempered. I drove him home. If there is a next time we will be a] very busy b] away or c] have a houseful of guests. Phew!

Celebrating a Long and Well Lived Life

There is no other life event that compares to a funeral. You expect weddings to be picture book pretty, baby-naming to be joyful, divorce to be bitter and embattled, but a funeral can be any or all of these things and more besides, depending on your relationship to the deceased.

Last week I went to my cousin, Gordon’s funeral. He’d reached the grand age of 92 and was the son of my eldest uncle. Like many families of the age, my father’s family was and is an enormous, village tribe consisting of so many branches I’ve lost track of who everyone is and how they are related to me. Being the youngest of seven my father was uncle to Gordon at an almost identical age, prompting my grandfather [who died before my birth] to use ‘Uncle’ as his nickname.

Gordon’s funeral was held at the church in the village of my birth, a tiny, country church in a beautiful, picturesque setting, bathed in the glow of the May sunshine. The small building was packed, as it was for my father’s funeral five years before. My brother and I were directed towards the front pews. Would we know anyone? We are from the family that ‘got away’-my father having left the village with us to take up employment in another part of the country, hence contact with the many aunts, uncles and cousins has been sporadic and increasingly rare.

We made our way up the aisle, aware that curious looks were pursuing us. The lack of familiarity was mutual. I stopped by the first pew with some space. The occupants turned their faces to me, the fleeting blankness eclipsed by impulsive wide grins of recognition. These are two of my best remembered cousins; my recollections of them ingrained as glamorous, fifties belles in stiff, circular skirts, heels and beehive hairdos. They stood to hug us as we all exclaimed our pleasure at meeting.

Of my grandfather’s four sons, my father was alone in pursuing a career away from greengrocery, and Gordon had continued the fruit and vegetable business his father [Edgar] ran. His coffin was born past us adorned with a riotous profusion of flowers, fruit and vegetables, including bright bunches of carrots, vibrant spears of broccoli and large, emerald cabbage leaves. What more life-affirming sight could there be than a mountain of freshly picked plants?

I have attended a variety of funerals during my life; some consisting of no more than six attendees, sad affairs that make you glad, at least that the deceased was not present to witness such a poor turnout. Gordon was a gentle, amenable man, affording to everyone he met the same smiling courtesy and kindness and nobody would have been more proud and delighted to have seen the crammed church, the smiles of recognition and the pleasure we all took in re-acquaintance.

Hymns sung and thoughts sent, we all gathered in the village community centre for tea, cake and recollection.

For those closest to Gordon it was of course an unutterably sad event but there must be an element of comfort to be gained from reflecting on what turned out to be a cheerful and celebratory occasion.

An Expert’s Guide to Partnership

I once read, years ago that your best chance of a lifetime partner is one who, on first meeting comes across as about a six or a seven out of ten. I also read that this potentially successful sharer of your life is likely to have elements of background in common with you; these might be socio-economic factors or cultural. They might, for instance have been born and brought up in a large city as you were, or raised in a remote farming community. They have spent their childhood in a poverty stricken tenement flat or be heir to a vast fortune. They may be from the same era and have a penchant for the same music and TV programmes. As long as their background is similar to your own the relationship stands a better chance of enduring. It makes sense and even more so when you are searching for this partner later in life, as many are.
At any age it is possible to become drawn by the way someone looks or acts. You have to feel sorry for the poor women who’ve been featured on our local TV news programme recently for having been duped by internet predators who stalked them for money. Those women naively assumed that the websites they were using for internet dating could protect them from such fraudsters. The potential suitors were charming, good looking and [crucially] professed great interest in their victims. They did not, however exist. It is easy to think of the women as foolish however anyone can be susceptible to the lure of flattery, especially those who’ve been on their own for some time or are vulnerable from past experiences.
Searching for a partner in later life is a tricky business, but I’ve always believed that anyone who truly wants a companion can have one, whatever the circumstances. It is just a matter of being realistic. For women, sadly, the field is still narrowed by having to search within an older age bracket-a difficult situation for older women! The singles group that [until recently] frequented one of our local bars on Friday nights was dominated by the same ageing females and dotted with a few similarly aged men, the entire group sharing an appearance of jaded acceptance, the women having each partnered one or other of the men at some time. At intervals one of the men would ask one of the women to dance, or a pair of women would take to the dance floor, after each sortie returning to their tables in a kind of desultory trance.
It is also important to remember that singledom can be infinitely preferable to unhappy partnerships.
There are women I know whose expectations are unrealistic [and I’m sure there are men who are the same]. I would say it is worth sitting down and assessing which qualities you feel are important in a potential mate. For me it would boil down to intelligence, sense of humour and downright kindness. Everything else-looks, charm, money etc would be desirable but no more than a bonus.
Of course, you do have to kiss a lot of frogs. I’m writing from experience here [and yes-I’ve told Husband I am still waiting for his miraculous metamorphosis to prince-lest he become too complacent!]