If you’ve noticed I’ve been away – thank you. If not, well I have. And now I’m back. Back to a country sated on Royal Weddings, ecstatic over one man’s death, and squabbling over its voting system. Plus ça change, and all that.
None of these things is at the top of my consciousness, I have to admit. That may not surprise you, but it does surprise me. Those are the kind of things that usually are at the top of my consciousness, as I begin to put keyboard to screen for another post on the world and its goings-on. Instead something else, much more personal, much more unexpected, has jostled its way to the front line of my musing neurones and is now busily burrowing away, knocking Mr Bin Laden, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Mr Clegg’s whining voice brusquely to one side. Doubtless they’ll all be back tomorrow, especially the last, but sufficient unto the day and they’ll all have to wait.
It is now almost 18 months since unemployment forced me to take refuge in Manchester. It’s an exile I have enjoyed for the most part, and which by and large I continue to enjoy. But regular readers will know that my gratitude to Manchester for removing me from the unemployment register has always been tempered by its stubborn decision to remain inconveniently 210 miles from my home and my wife. We’ve dealt with it responsibly and with a kind of war-time phlegm (well, what I imagine to be war-time phlegm; and not literal phlegm I hasten to add, be it war-time or any other time – we’ve not dealt with our separation by contracting bronchitis) accepting its inconveniences and trying not to dwell on its marital disruptions. However, it’s now the case that the only occasions on which I ever spend any continuous time with my wife are when we’re on holiday, and for us that mostly means reminding our French house that, despite appearances to the contrary, we are indeed its proprietors. And it is from there that I’m now coming home.
But where’s that, exactly? When I phoned my wife last night to tell her that once more I’d safely navigated the M40 and the M6, I said cheerily that I was finally home. I wish I hadn’t. Not because it troubled her (for whose benefit I quickly corrected “home” to “the flat”), but because it troubled me. Is my bachelor existence cosily ensconced alongside the M60 (I even think in terms of motorway numbers now) my emotional home? If it is, what has my real home, the location of my shared married life, become? As I ironed my work-day shirts yesterday evening, put my holiday washing in the machine (no, darling, there’s no point my doing the washing in London, and then being left with a bag of soaking laundry – I’ll do it when I get back to Manchester) and cobbled together something to eat from the store cupboard, the facts of my separation seemed to take on a starker and more lonely set of contours. And not just loneliness but anger and resentment, too. Perhaps for the first time since I came to work here, maybe because the pains and anxieties of the long period of unemployment have begun to fade into the distance, my relief at working again has been finally overtaken by a simmering sense of being cheated of something much more important to me than work. I felt that this is time I’m not sharing with my wife, and that it’s time I can never get back. It seems that the nuptials of the Duke and Duchess have not been quite as brusquely swept aside as those other events of the moment. Because whilst watching the Royal Wedding, laughing gently at my wife’s remarkably intense interest in Miss Middleton’s wedding garb, wanting to ignore it all, but feeling inexorably drawn in by it, I felt that my own marriage was being illuminated by the shenanigans in Westminster Abbey. It made me sad.
Perhaps it will pass. Perhaps the workaday necessities will again crowd out these maudlin thoughts. But I’m not entirely sure that they should.