Monday, 31 August 2009

Old friends

A couple - good friends - came for a barbeque. It was high time - my five-year-old had been a babe of six months, when we last sat and broke bread together at our place (another house: one of the myriad addresses in the nomadic existence we'd had since settling down in this country half a decade ago). But though the location has changed, this long-standing friendship, thankfully, has not.

There's no substitute for the glow of close company, forged over years - the type of bond which doesn't break, even with a four-and-a-half-year gap between physically meeting (and often many many months inbetween, twixt emailing or 'phoning). And so we sit, indulging in a dance of catch-up: news versus reminiscing. An easy balance of old experience and new.

Wine flows, happiness and laughter and shared jokes trip off the tongue. There's a slightly charred smell of cooking, over the sweet perfume of fallen apples littering the grass around the tree. This could never be less than an all-day thing. From late lunch, talk about life, business and ambitions wrapped in snippets of children's play (ours - they have none - yet). Sitting at the green wrought-iron table in the shade with flashes of footballs kicked past, little voices calling: the younger generations thus occupied, we had our discussions in peace as third helpings were devoured and bottles of beer, sparkling with cool condensation, popped. Elbows propped. Bliss.

When we got married - during our actual wedding reception - this couple sat outside the venue on a Caribben garden wall, for hours during a similarly stretched-out afternoon. They missed the revelry - engaged in a fierce summit-meeting about their future and their relationship. Whether our wedding had sparked this tete-a-tete, we never knew, and never asked, just chided them (gently, and with good humour) for being absent for the toasts and, especially, the cake piled high with flowers and soaked in rum! So many years later, as our marriage (as do all, I suspect) grinds with painful effort over rocky terrain, their union (undefined by vows and paperwork) is as solid (and as joyful) as a honeymoon. And their co-founded business is going from strength to strength.

My friends started a venture from nothing - and this, even, after suffering huge losses, financial and emotional. His inheritance, sole legacy of a father's early death, was gobbled up by an unwise investment involved with dodgy real-estate deals in Asia, spectural scammers who disappeared into the burble of low-life India leaving lives ruined and purses void. The fact that my husband's family was (unwittingly) involved in various introductions could have left our friends sour, but instead they soldiered on and six months later put everything they had into a new hope for the future. An all-or-nothing calculated gamble, for him, a second start-up, with the currency of the serial entrepreneur: brash hope. Which paid off. And it's prospering.

She's thirty-eight now, and it's her brainchild, her baby, she who had the light-bulb moment in the first place. Now, thoughts of international expansion, of franchising, of uber-branding. But other thoughts, too: of a real family, flesh-and-blood, the pattering of little feet. In a way, she envies (or at least, aspires to) what I have (a ready-made family now, no more pregnancies or nappies or potty-training. Two well-adjusted, bright children at school).

And I, more than in a way, envy (or at least, aspire to) what she has: a business of her own, a commercial legacy and a success in entrepreneurship.

Well, I've been doing a spot of reading - Anthony Robbins, whom I won't start to hype, just check it out yourselves. I'm going to work with what I have, just as my friends did. That doesn't, of course, mean you cannot shoot for the stars, or have huge dreams. It just means that the building must fit its foundations as well as the time and materials available. To dream, you must first be realistic and draw up your drafts and plans. As the daughter of an architect, it's a discipline which I should (repeat, should) be familiar with... by now.

Our friends left late. Lunch morphed into afternoon snacks, morphed into dinner. Still-warm late summer breeze morphed into a slight dampness, overcome gradually by strings of chill wind signalling cardigans and wraps and eventually a decamping onto the couch to watch sport and continue fragmented discussions. Light excitement and close engagement and animated chat, evolved into heavy warm contentment and the satisfied silences preceeding the end of an enjoyable day of friendship reunited.
By the time the hubble of voices departed through the front door, kisses and promises stamped, it was past the kids' bathtime and dark outside.

Interaction with friends at this stage in life oft includes the realisation that we can all wish for aspects of each others' lives. This of course is an opportunity to bring into focus what we've achieved already individually. And to understand that with the differing experiences gained, we're in the position to support each other in calibrating our aims further over the years or months to come. True partnership works this way. Having gone through university together, these friends and I happily share a real desire to help one another with the 'assignment' of life, shared technology projects for grumpy tutors fortunately being long gone!

Somehow, I suspect, there won't be a four-and-a-half-year gap until the next time we meet. We're back in each others' lives again, and ready to exchange. Mutual exchange. Support. Friendship. True friendship.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

marital (dis)harmony

This is yesterday. Go out to romantic dinner with husband. Or, rather, intention was just dinner - but restaurant (river view at sunset) fits the romantic bill. Stunning menu. Nice atmosphere. Me, all glammed up.

I brush down my floaty silk skirt, in which I feel free and gorgeous. It's got a print with orange and brown and electric blue, exotic and flattering - and the colours of sunset: beyond the expanses of glass the river is still and the sunset sky, actually, that same electric blue, merging into an orange tinge beyond the blackening silhouetted bridge. It's the time of day where, magically, the fading screen of natural daylight meets the new manmade glow of lamps and bulbs - and everything is clear and defined but yet strangely hazy, in waiting. There's a promise held in the air of darkness beyond the wondrous setting, sun going down. A ethereality. Beloved of photographers, this magical light, brief moment in time. And of me. My favourite time of day. A time for lovers, when heart strings pull and the silky strings of jazz are at their most apt. Not for us, though. We're married. I feel an uncomfortable nostalgia, brush it off.

But, life is good: oh yes. The oysters are unsurpassable: melt-in-the-mouth, with that lingering taste of freshness and ocean. I have to wait between mouthfuls to fully stretch out the indulgence. Wine's cradling me already in its basking chill-out haze.

We're making nice conversation. Not the heady romantic stuff (we're well past that) but reasonable exchanges, after all, what do you expect after 6 years of marriage? The mains arrive, service is courteous and perfectly timed. My black olive bread, of burgandy hue, explodes with mediterranean earthiness. The seabass falls neatly into flaky chunks beneath the crispy, shiny parchment of skin. Complements the creamy mussels sauce - oh, what a surprise! - and the waxy asparagus which snaps satisfyingly between my teeth. Heaven. I'm in heaven. Nice food, nice atmosphere. Just my thing.

And then. We start a conversation about, of all things, Facebook. Let me fill you in. Until recently, I didn't 'do' Facebook. Then I waved my prejudices (about time-wasting etc.) to see a dear friend's new baby pics - and, of course I had to join! I discovered, that used in moderation, Facebook is...well, Great!

I'm on the subject merely to state that two 'famous' bloggers, with books published and all (bestsellers to boot) are now my 'friends' on Facebook. I tell my husband how, in a way, that's kinda amazing. The fact that this era of networking and contact is so, well, facilitating (for someone growing up with royal mail and an egg timer attached to the telephone, paid per unit into a money box!). I mean, I can ask advice at the drop of a hat from people I admire and respect! (even if I rather do less fancy a digital scribble on their Facebook 'walls', each one to his own use of technology!). I'm gushing with the positivity of the evening and how in fact, it's rather nice to see what friends are up to all around the world, and not just at Christmas and birth/marriage/death occasions. To note NOT that someone you know's in the process of drinking Colombian coffee (!) - but, maybe, taken a trip, rather, or been to an interesting place recently. It brings, in a small way, distant and well-missed friends a tad closer. (I waste no more time than a few minutes every few days - which, considering I've only just signed up, is the rate at which friends are 'adding' me. Admittedly the photos are all one-way: I don't and won't post photos on Facebook, bar one profile one. But my friends do, and it's interesting.) So, well, it's all an example of me having made an incorrect value judgement, which again, is a learning opportunity in life. Positive, all positive.

But, on the other side of the conversation, my husband's not positive at all. He's goading me, challenging me. Why I change my loudly-voiced opinions so easily. Why a Christmas card or a phone call isn't enough. "If you really cared about your friends you'd phone them up" sort of thing. Why it's a waste of time to read what people are having for breakfast, etc. What they're doing in the minutiae of their everyday lives being irrelevant.

I'm trying to explain, I don't read the trivial stuff. And how I used to think that way but have seen a different angle. And that anyway, naturally and of course, it's not a necessity. But, it's NICE! It gives me an idea, an insight, a feeling of warmth even, to glean the smallest snapshot of the lives of people I care about or am interested in, or even curious about. Saves you wondering, as in: "I wonder what dear so-and-so is doing these days in Japan/I wonder what dear another-friend is up to in Dubai/I wonder how ex-good-pal's business is going/I wonder what became of fun-acquaintance-who-emails-every-18-months". It's not necessary, in the way that eating oysters isn't necessary. BUT, it's nice. I mean, life isn't all about what's necessary. Christ.

But this conversation ain't going nowhere. I'm trying to explain, maybe getting a little defensive. My other half's provoking, prodding, questioning, provoking, prodding, questioning. This isn't what I signed up for at a 'nice' dinner, I'm thinking. I say so. He says, he's just challenging me. I say, I'm trying to explain but he's not listening. And why challenge me? there's no competition here, we're meant to be enjoying our night out! It doesn't help, things are escalating. I'm trying my utmost to concentrate on the melting flavours of my fish - "be aware. Be present. Live the moment"...

Then: "You need to GROW UP"...I, umm, WHAT? I can't believe he's just said that! Out at dinner with his wife! I thought, I was having a nice conversation and suddenly...this is how it all twists? I can hear the evening deflating, like those old movies when the projector suddenly winds down and dies - eeeuuurrr splutter!!. And the bright picture suddenly crumples and fades away with a whine of the soundtrack. CRASH.

"You know, there are plenty of guys who'd be only too happy to come to dinner with me and not ruin it by telling me 'to grow up' - quite unprovokedly - halfway through..."

(oops. wrong thing to say, probably. like a red flag to a bull)

..."No, I just meant, that, in that case, why do YOU, my HUSBAND of all people, have to ruin a perfectly lovely evening by being so...patronising. I mean, insulting! I just find that, well, incredibly insulting. It shows a lack of respect for your wife."

Nope. He's now caught the plenty-of-guys thread and bashing it for all it's worth. But I didn't mean...

"Look, I NEVER said that I actually wanted to go to dinner with 'other' guys...but why do you have to ruin it when you're the actual person it's meant to be"

I tail off. Anyway the waitress is embarrassed, probably followed the whole thing, asking us if we want dessert. "No thankyou, we've had enough." (too right we have). Horrible stony silence ensues, we both look away. Down, at the river, up, whatever. Big, big wall in the way.

"I'm going." announces my husband. He gets up. I barely saw him pay the bill, too busy looking inside the crevice under my (quite sexy) top, way beneath the skin, inside my chest, in the centre of human emotion where a choking boulder's blinding me to what was a beautiful evening. All I can see now is this heaviness, in front of my eyes, in front of my thoughts. Like, how have things ended up like this? and how long have they really been like this?

I sit, alone, looking out at the river. Fixedly. Diluting the inevitable streak of pain into the orange glow of the lamps, washing it out into the inky dark. Listening to my breathing, inside, and calming my thoughts. There's a couple on the next table, and I can't help but hear. I'm staring past them, no change of expression, but can't help eavesdropping. Perhaps they heard us argue too, clash and repel like magnets, perhaps she feels some empathy. I dunno. I do, when their words drift past me.

"So what do we do now?" she asks. "You've just got your ideas" he says, low. "If that's what you think...but, I try my best. I really do. It seems it's not good enough."
"You don't understand", she says, monotone. "It never changes. We just don't seem to be able to connect, communicate, about this."
"So, what do we do?" (again) "Tell me, what do we do then?"
"I don't know. I really don't."
I sigh, internally. Get up, slowly, 'cos I'm aware that people must wonder why I'm still sitting there, alone.

Outside, my husband's in the car, headlamps on, engine running. Gagging to get out of there but going nowhere without his wife. That's life, buddy.
I get in.
We go home. We don't talk.
What an evening.

But - tommorow's another day. Never forget. No man's an island - even if you feel like it, bundled up on the very edge of the bed. Tommorow's another day. Marriage is hard. What did I do wrong? What do I not understand about the person I thought I understood so well? and why does he seem not to understand me any more? Is this what marriage is always about? (my parents still don't really have compatibility or understanding after more than 35 years of marriage). Does it get better when it just seems to have gotten worse? And, did I wake up one day on the wrong side of the tracks, suddenly? These are my jumbled thoughts as I drop into sleep.

Next morning, I wake up hearing the front door click shut, remember last night, shrug it off, and begin my day unburdened. Later on, we don't talk about it. Today is another day. You just have to remember why you're there, and repair the chips.

(But I still think telling your wife "to grow up" is wrong. I mean, isn't it?!)

P.S. Just saw a very interesting movie: "The Darjeeling Limited", about a brothers' spiritual journey. Quite arty, and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

High maintenance

So, I got back home to the big smoke. Leaving the little ones frolicking on the beach for a few more days @ Grandparents. And when I returned to an unkempt and overgrown and over-dusty and full-of-washing-to-be-done-home, it struck me. This is what occurs when you go away and/or take your foot off the pedal. Maintenance is the key. Meaning, a steady commitment applied on a continuous basis.

Y'know those nice tidy mansions with their perfect lawns and flower beds always in bloom? No cobwebs under the eaves or weeds between the paving stones? (it took only the two weeks for these to take up residence chez moi). Don't be deceived. They take, 'scuse the expression, a shitload of work. A SHITLOAD of gardeners, patio clearers with power washers, cleaners and window polishers. Nothing which looks polished or well-maintained gets or stays that way without constant polishing and maintenance. Not your house, or your car, or, indeed, yourself.

We women know that to look our best takes an ongoing routine of nutrition, exercise, manicures, pedicures, creams, hairdressers, wardrobe and make-up. If you let it slip, it'll show. Forget the just jumped out of bed and look fantastic thang. Save that for the 16-year olds. In fact, post-30, might as well include the guys in this. Because I've seen quite a few examples recently of how men age. Not well, generally, unless they make the effort to catch up with their wives' examples.

And, it's the same with the inner life. Thoughts, state-of-mind, confidence, self-worth; and their progeny: development, learning, improvement, fulfilment, success. It's got to be a daily exercise, castles forged from a daily brick day after day after day. Weeks, months, years. My son has taken less than a year, at age 5, to learn to read at the speed and with the vocabulary of an adult, to learn to read music as well, and to play the violin and recorder to the standard where he can perform tunes, reasonably complicated ones with all sorts of notes and up to 6 or 7 lines long. I know, however, how much effort was involved. A commitment to keeping the practice going almost every day, wherever. There's not been a holiday away where the violin and the reading books haven't come too. And before you brand me a 'pushy parent': it's his choice (if there's not self-motivation, it'll never work. Resentment isn't fertile ground for laying down knowledge or applying oneself to understand new and challenging skills). My son wants to 'be the best' so he can buy himself a Eurofighter jet when he grows up!!!

So, as I slowly but surely realise that there's no lounging to be done in this temporarily child-free house (despite the temptation!), it strikes me again, as it does again and again in life. It's the accumulated effort, applied on a daily basis, that'll put you in a position to win the race; plus, of course, the vision of what you want eventually to achieve. It may be a long way off, but, as Lao Tse (NOT Confucius, despite popular belief) said, a journey of a thousand miles (or even a hundred metres) starts with a single step. I'm sure Usain Bolt, world Champion Record-breaking runner, would agree.

Friday, 14 August 2009

a (flat) learning curve

Right. This is just a "testing...testing...1,2,3" kinda post, so please refer below for the interesting stuff. I'm learning how to tag/link whatever you call it. Having been too lazy (or distracted, or otherwise engaged) so far to find out where/what to do.

Here goes. Let's try. For a wonderful painter, try clicking here

For a wonderful photographer, try clicking on this one

My god. Is that all?! I didn't realise there were icons to do this stuff (I was obviously traumatised by my meagre computing past: check this posting

And, just to reward myself, a piece of chocolate cake

...bloody hell. Way too simple! there was a real gap between how complicated I thought this would be when I decided to find a moment to learn, and how primary-school simple it is. Hyperlinks! Bah!
..Right. Next I'm going to learn HTML. That's what I thought it was all about. That's a start to the website I want to eventually set up. (And the book I'm planning on writing). Where's the challenge otherwise if all you do is click on an icon?!

...[even if it DID take me 4 whole months to find it: i.e. look up beyond my words to the formatting possibilities on the frame. Equals: Deep and narrow concentration span - or just plain blind?]

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Beach

The sand's soft, the sea clear. Where water meets sky, barely-there horizon, darker blue-gray, delineating the shimmering silver. Sunny. A stretch of coastline, golden croissant, encrusted with the colour and energy of holiday fun. Barbecue wafts across. Teenagers spray sand. A toddler, tiny hippo, padding. Red inflatable maneouvres diagonally, past muslim family, mums splashing fully garmented. My kids line up another shade and shape of fresh seaweed, no smell, newly collected, emerald green. It's hot. It's calm. I sigh and stretch. Happiness.

Surprise? We're in England! Could be anywhere bar the little beach huts in a row, some with striped curtains, and - yes, that obese couple over there with the footie shirts on, matching the (too round) hippo toddler with a aertex tee proclaiming: "Rooney...ROONEY" (no, geezer. Not with that unhealthy physical start in life, sorry). But there's no 'English tourist abroad' misbehaviour here. It's all lovely, well-behaved, pleasant, everyone's having fun. It's a nice England, this stretch of little cheap paradise, boutique seaside town, without the brash corn of Tracey Emin's Margate - thank God. Perhaps this country would need a prescription of sun and sea more often, to forget the governmental screw-ups, knife crime, unemployment and endemic drinking culture. Because I'm enjoying this moment, not feeling like I want to emigrate (as I often do) and even thinking - "yes! you've got it all here, on this beach,on this...what is it you call it in 2009?: 'STAYCATION'!!...and we didn't even have to spend the money! Hurray!"

Then I start thinking that I can't, shouldn't, be 40 and broke. Of course, my husband doesn't come into this: as a woman, I hate - no, detest - no, cannot ABIDE! -not having my own money. Of course, I did have it once. Got injected straight into bricks and mortar. For all practical purse-string-opening-purposes, however, it's gone.(Anyway, I want it back. To do what I'd like with. Splash around, if I wish. And a career of my own, to boot.)

Meanwhile, to my left, my daughter's lugging a bucket almost the size of her, with a uniquely determined set face and little muscles tensed. She manages it. And I smile to myself.

Then I start running over all my business ideas. One website one and one product lightbulb. Or two, if you're thinking future range expansion (I dream deep and wide). I'm staring at the line between sky and sea in the afternoon shimmer and distressing the cogs in my head, turning them this way and that. Doing all the psycho-speak to myself, the neuro-linguistic-programming [look it up folks if you dunno, it can change your outlook] on my own doubts, cropping up here and there across the sea of thoughts and obstructing like those mossy sea-walls break up the bay.

I'm a woman. On the beach. On holiday. Even if only 10 minutes from my parent's house, you can still classify it as that, here, today. In the balmy sunshine. With the kids playing and waves lapping.

But as soon as I chill out into the relaxed zone, I'm in this mental 'office', plotting, thinking, planning. Hmmmm......, if I were rich, successful and on a beach in Bali, with a cocktail in hand, what would I be thinking?.. Would I zone out THEN??....there's the rub.

I'd like to have the chance to find out...

"Mummmy! The tide's coming in!!"

Thursday, 6 August 2009

I'm in a meeting, dear

Hello, umm, I'm in a meeting.
Actually, I've got a few minutes. What is it?
Ok, I'm listening.
You always get frustrated when you stay at your parents' place.
Well just enjoy the free childcare!
OK, ok, I know that's not the issue.
Life can't be one big excitement, ya know.
Well just enjoy the sunshine and fresh air then.
Yes I know that's not the issue. But even so.
Listen, you're always creatively frustrated.
I mean, you've even got a blog telling the world.
No, I don't read it.
Yes I am a little tired of you banging on about this.
Well you DID ask, so I'm telling you.
Whadd'ya mean you've got no-one else to moan to? You write a blog!
Yes you ARE the archetypal frustated stay-at-home mum.
Well get off your arse and do something then!
I know you're trying. Well you've gotta be patient.
I know staying with your parents for two weeks makes you feel like a teenager.
Such a bad thing? I wouldn't say! There are several benefits to being 16 I can think of!
OK, I won't joke. It was a bloke thing.
Listen, I've got a meeting to attend.
OK so take action then instead of blabbering on.
What? your ex-boyfriend, the one you hated so much, is a global executive?
And on facebook in a brand new Ferrari?
And you used to do his homework for him?
Yes I can kinda understand you're pissed off but you're a woman you know.
I mean, having kids and looking after them is the most important job in the world.
Ok, Ok I won't go there. I know it is and it isn't, if you say so.
Yes I know the kids are your greatest achievement but you need more in life. IF YOU SAY SO!!! get on with it then!
OK,sorry, I am listening, I always do. Yes I know it's all part of the process, if you will.
Oh, about that ex-boyfriend again, well really I'm not that interested, you know.
Yes, I do feel better if you say he was a supreme tosser, if you say so.
So,Ok, you feel you're far superior. How do I know? You told me he's a tosser! I know. But that's all in the past.
Well, just because he's got a brand new Ferrari and you haven't doesn't mean he's acheived more than you.
Material things aren't everything. I know you agree fully. Yes it is irrational. You should just ignore it.
I mean, he might sleep in it and not have a flat! You said he's that kind of poser!
Yes, maybe it was a test drive, if that'll make you happy.
Yes I know we should never measure success by material wealth.
It just pissed you off, well don't let it.
Oh because he couldn't even spell.
Well let it go.
Listen I've a meeting to attend to.
I'm a bit fed up of your frustrated stay-at-home mum scenario.
OK I'll remember that.
OK it's all a challenge in life.
Yes it's right to aim high. And take action.
Well I've got to take action. My meeting?
OK. Forget about your parents bickering.
Yes we do bicker too. It's normal.
No, not in front of the kids.
Listen - I've GOT to go.
Forget about the Ferrari.
Bye. Bye. Bye.

(thanks and acknoweldgements to Millennium Housewife (see blogs) for the format inspiration...I've got to learn how to hyper-link, dammit!)

Sunday, 2 August 2009

plum jam

Back again in the bloom-adorned haven of Grandparents' Kentish garden - and, thank God, finally an English summer day to be proud of, despite all the cardigans and wellington boots I'd packed for the kids. Clever Granny (my mother, she of computer programming and near-photographic memory and 8 languagues) has taken my 5-year-old to the local Airforce museum where this weekend a special display of military vehicles and aircraft is being held. As usual, he is no doubt astounding all within earshot by cataloguing the specs of his favourites: amongst others, Mig, F-22, Nighthawk, Jaguar, even the first world war Sopwith Camel, he knows them all: at another Aircraft Museum (in Brussels) with over 100 planes, he walked around recognising most of the aircraft by sight before we'd even approached the information boards. "Such a leedle boy, mais quelle information!" gasped one of the staff. A discussion with an elderly British tourist didn't fail to dent his confidence: "Well, I mistook the Blenheim for the Lancaster, but now I know the Lancaster's got 4 engines instead of 2", mused my boy.

Later on, Clever Granny and her charge return. He's all excited about having sat in a cockpit and a simulator (and probably a combination of the two, what would I know?) and the difference between joy stick and fly-by-wire (?). He runs off to draw and document everything he's seen.

My 3-year-old daughter is busy with Grumpy Grandpa (who is NEVER grumpy with his granddaughter, who thinks he's a King) setting up a shop, painting abstract pictures and putting on dance shows. Grumpy Grandpa and little Miss (little Miss Prima Donna, beautiful, stubborn, get-away-with-everything-cute and get-my-own-way-by-any-means miss) are a match made in baby-sitting heaven. They both give each other the full attention they each crave with no-one to curtail or nag: she's his little Princess and he's the bees knees, happily reciprocatingly bolstering up egos all day long. Result: you can leave them contentedly playing for hours.

My husband sits on the periphery of all this activity, like a spare wheel, and with my second-hand cold virus, reading the Sports section of the paper. I bring him a coffee, thinking guiltily that he looks rather redundant and deciding, on a whim, that a bit of wifely attention might help. He lifts up an empty mug with murky residue sat beside him on the carpet. "Did you ask if I wanted one?" he enquires. "I just made one in the kitchen for myself. Didn't you see?"

I give him the mug, saucer and piece of fruit cake anyway. With a nod like, well whatever, eat/Drink it, it can't harm you (AT LEAST I BROUGHT YOU SOMETHING).

Lunch over, the kids are still busy, involved with Grandparents and drawings. My husband's standing alone in the garden with a teacup, looking thoughtful and dishevelled. He enjoys being at my parents' house for the pure relaxation it entails, usually watching sport, reading or sleeping while everyone else's occupied with other stuff. No nagging either, for once.

I walk up to him. I too feel more relaxed here. At home we meet early morning and late evening, too tired to talk except about the kids or work. Weekends back in city life are marred by chores and errands. Married life suffers. Parallel lives, work and kids, are our standard. Seem to be our fate. I know that we're both philosophical about reality, but the partnership, as it once was, no doubt suffers (I don't even, you see, dare say "romance"...)

I reach up and give my husband a cheeky kiss on the cheek. He looks at me without changing expression. A statue. I want to show him the plum trees down the end of the garden, which feed Clever Granny's super plum jam production. My husband likes the concept of grow-your-own. And he loves the plum jam. So: "Come!" I say, and link my arm into his reluctant one. "Come for a walk down the garden with me!"

My husband doesn't move. He looks at me, unimpressed. "Why?" "What?" he asks, rather in a monotone. I am unaffected. "Come! Let me take you for a little walk down the garden path!" I joke, jolly, with cheeky undertones. He looks at me. He's unimpressed. Or by the undertone. I think: "That's marriage for you." (And not too bothered. Used to it. I gave up living my life for others long ago).

He comes nevertheless, meekly or else resignedly, to look at the plum trees.
"I've seen them already" he says...."But what a lot of plums!" he adds, as an afterthought, impressed nonetheless.

"Look at how the plums are this beautiful matte lilac and when you rub them they turn shiny and dark purple?" I spout, fascinated. The miracle of nature never ceases to amaze me.

"I know", he says.

There's such a difference in enthusiasm between the children and their father. I wonder if it's age, or marriage, that does it. I shrug it off. As I've said, parallel lives. Parallel lives. I make myself happy in life. Make myself happy.