Third time lucky: Part Four

The non-marriage.

That night out with my friend was to see the start of something that would consume the next two and a bit years of my life. I should have stayed in.

Standing at the crowded bar, I was chatting to colleagues, and having quite a good time, despite the noise. I was not drinking much at all, as I had to drive back to Harrow that night, and turn up for an early shift the next day. I felt a tug at my sleeve, and looked down at a table nearby. There were three nurses seated there. I knew them all very well, and was on first names terms with each of them, as we had all been around the same casualty departments for many years. One of them was pointing at her mouth, indicating that she wanted me to give her a cigarette. I was in a playful mood. ‘Do you want a kiss?’ I asked, speaking loudly above the hubbub in the bar. She shook her head, and made a smoking motion, also pointing at the chest pocket of my shirt, where she could see the outline of the cigarette packet. ‘Is it my heart you want?’ I continued, ‘Are you trying to tell me that you love me?’ I gave up the teasing and sat down, proffering the cigarettes. ‘I will expect a kiss though’, I persevered, and she reluctantly planted a peck on my cheek.

She had recently returned to the hospital where we took most of our patients. After starting there years earlier, she had moved around, left to get married, and had recently had a child. She was now back in a senior role, managing nurses, and not always in the same department. Armed with with a University Degree, a Masters Degree, and a qualification in teaching as well; her sights were firmly set on a serious career. We had been friendly enough a few years earlier, but no more than that. I had never really talked to her outside of work before, and saw a very different side to her immediately. At work, she was confident, assured, almost brash. That evening, despite the social atmosphere, she seemed vulnerable, and unhappy. Very soon, we were talking just to each other, and ignoring the crowd around us, and those we had arrived with. She was 12 years younger than me, but that did not raise any issues, as we chatted easily, relaxed in each others company. I told her what had happened to me since we had last met, keeping it brief, and trying to add irony and humour. I even said that I envied her the marriage to her teenage sweetheart, and the birth of the son she had hoped for. It wasn’t long before she was telling me that her life was far from enviable, and that she was desperately unhappy.

This wasn’t how I had planned to spend the evening, and I looked for a exit strategy. However, something was niggling me about her, and I couldn’t leave. In fact, I felt compelled to stay, to hear her story, and to spend more time in her company. Some time later, I brazenly said that I would have done it all different, if it had been me that she had married. I told her that I thought her to be too intelligent for the man she had chosen, and that she had drive and ambition that he could never hope to match. She was from Ireland, and that background was stopping her from moving on; the Catholic guilt would not allow her to consider divorce, and her family would not countenance it either. I reminded her that it was 1998, not 1898, and that she could do as she wished, and to hell with the consequences. When it was time for the bar to close, she left with her friends, and thanked me for the chat.

I drove home, and found myself unable to stop thinking about her. As I got into bed that night, I had the uneasy feeling that I might well be in love with this woman. I discounted this idea as complete nonsense. I did have trouble sleeping though.

The next day at work, I was as busy as ever. Late that morning, I turned up at the hospital, and saw a colleague waving to me, from across the parking area. He had a message for me, written on a piece of paper. It was a phone number, and I was to call it when I got into this particular hospital. He had been sworn to secrecy, and entrusted with this delicate task. I never really knew why he was chosen, though I suspect it was because he was from an Irish Catholic family. I rang the number, and it was her of course. Could I meet in the coffee bar, main entrance, in ten minutes? I asked my crew mate to cover me for a while; if anyone asked, he was to say that I was ringing my elderly mother. I went to the meeting, for some reason, expecting to be reprimanded for cheekiness, or talking out of turn. I was convinced that I had gone too far, and that the friendship would be dissolved forthwith. I could not have been more wrong. Back in the work environment, she was in possession of her confidence once more. She asked me not to interrupt, as she had something to say to me. Then, to my complete surprise, she told me that she had been thinking about me all night, and had been unable to sleep. She had been imagining  a life with me, something that would normally never have occurred to her. She asked me if I was serious about her too, and if I had meant any of the things I had said the previous evening. I told her the truth; that I had also been thinking about her, and amazingly, considered myself to be in love with her, although I could offer no sensible explanation as to why this had happened. She wasn’t outraged, or even surprised. She simply said, ‘What are we going to do about it then?’

If I had a Time Machine, I would go back to a few minutes before that moment, and then not go for that coffee. I had no idea what we had set in motion, and no concept of the heartache ahead of me.

She was still living with her husband, in the marital home. Despite her telling him that she wanted to split up, he was hanging on, hoping it would all go away, and understandably reluctant to leave his son as well. The one good thing about this, was that she had a baby sitter, which meant we could meet in the evenings. She would not throw it in his face, but pretend to be out with friends or colleagues, a frequent occurrence anyway. Thus began a series of encounters, not always sexual, but invariably intense. Sometimes she would come to mine, having to leave early, other times we might stop at a hotel. We even managed a short break away one weekend, miraculous considering the circumstances. She wasn’t comfortable with the situation though, and eventually succeeded in getting her husband to move out. He rented a flat in the same area, and they came to an informal arrangement about childcare. We were now suspected to be an ‘item’ at work, and she feared the day when she would have to tell all, both to him, and her family.

This was also my first experience of having a partner who had a child. He was also a very small child; not yet at school, but attending a nursery when she was at work. I had no game plan for children, and simply treated him as an adult, expecting him to respond accordingly. Naturally, that was destined to fail. Before too long, I had adjusted to hours of mindless, repetitive, kids’ TV, along with the same games, played over and over, without a trace of boredom, at least on his part. I occasionally collected him from nursery, and took him to play at the park, if she had to work later than expected. The other parents around the sand pit just presumed that I was his grandfather; after all, I was old enough to be. He readily accepted me stopping over in the house, and being around a lot. Another lesson learned; kids are incredibly adaptable. I found myself choosing restaurants with a kids menu, where previously I had chosen them because there were no kids inside. I was getting used to the little terror, and I was beginning to grow very fond of him.

She faced the demon of breaking the news to all and sundry. A weekend trip to Ireland, followed by a ‘showdown’ meeting with her husband, on her return to London. The reactions were very strange, and both unexpected. Her parents only concern, was that I had been divorced before. In their eyes, that meant that I was still married, to my first wife. Apparently, my second marriage had not counted at all, as it was not in a church. This was my first experience of this medieval Irish viewpoint, held by many I encountered then, and since. They agreed to meet me though, and said that I could be invited over to the house, the next time they visited London. As for her husband, he was fuming. Not because she had a new boyfriend. He had already found solace in the arms of a young East European girl, who later had his child. No, his anger was directed at my age, and the fact that I was spending time with his son. He did not want some ‘old fella’ treating his son as family, and that was that. Although she put a brave face on it all, she was consumed with guilt. Thirty-four years of Catholicism had left its mark, despite her move to England, and progressive attitudes in other areas.

I finally met her parents, and her sister, a couple of months later. I dressed very smartly, kept my opinions to myself, and behaved impeccably. We met at the house, and went out to a restaurant, as a large group. Later, I made my farewells, and was naturally interested to hear what they had said to her. I got the news a couple of days later, after they had returned home. They thought that I was a ‘nice man’, but far too old for her. I would never be welcome overnight at their home, as I was still married, as they saw it. If I ever wanted to visit her in Ireland, I would be expected to stay in a hotel. Should we ever decide to get married at some time in the future, they would never recognise the legality of it, as she had married in church, in Ireland. I found all of this too farcical to take seriously. We had only been together a few months, and it was like coming up before the Spanish Inquisition. I was sure that they would come around, and that my loving girlfriend would not let these archaic attitudes spoil things in the long term.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Nurture 1. Nature 0.

With Christmas coming up, we decided to go very public, and appear at the hospital Christmas Party, as a couple. To enhance the mood of celebration, we even booked a night at the outrageously expensive Tower Hotel, on the river in London. The party was a smart affair, at Lord’s Cricket Ground, and we arrived arm in arm, telling the world. They already knew though. Our big reveal was a damp squib, and nobody could understand why we were making such a fuss about it. The only real downside, was that the casualty staff I saw every day, were now much more careful about what they said and did. After all, I was going out with their boss.

I then had an opportunity to move. One of my friends at work had married a nurse from Belfast, and he was joining the Ambulance Service in Northern Ireland, and obviously going to live there. He wanted to keep his flat in Hertfordshire, as it was rented very cheaply from a Housing Trust, and he might later have the option to buy it. He asked me to take it over, pretend to be staying with him, if anyone asked, and just pay the bills. It was good news for me, as the rent was less than half what I was paying in Harrow. In addition, the flat was well-decorated, warm and bright, and much bigger. I had also applied to rent a property from the Crown Estate, as they had subsidised rent flats available, for government workers. The waiting list was notoriously long though, so I took the offer of the Hertfordshire flat. I moved in during the spring, and looked forward to a better way of life, and being able to enjoy the large garden. Although it was a lot further out than Harrow, it took no longer to commute to work, as the route was less congested.

That was a good summer all round. My girlfriend had finally agreed an amicable set-up with her husband, and I was becoming tolerated, if not accepted, by anyone who mattered. We tentatively began to talk about the chance that we might buy a house together. She could sell the family home, and with both jobs, we could afford a very nice house in the Thames Valley area, this side of Oxford. There was nothing concrete, but favoured areas were discussed. That would all be a long way off though. For now, we enjoyed life, and had nice times together, as well as with her son. One thing worried me. She was visiting Ireland a lot more. As well as missing her family, and taking her son to see his relatives, she was also working out there, attending Nursing conferences and seminars, and recruiting for the hospital in London. On her return, she stopped over less and less, and although we both seemed to be as much in love as ever, no future was ever discussed, or even hinted at. As the end of that year approached, we were static. I was still in another bloke’s rented flat, and planning to spend Christmas pretty much alone, as she was off to Ireland for two weeks. When she returned in January, she came round to see me, and we had a massive argument. A lot was said, by both of us, and she left without stopping the night, with the pair of us raging, and unrepentant.

The following week, I received a letter to say that I had come up on the waiting list for a Crown flat, and would be interviewed the week after. The situation I was living in was ideal for this, as I could truthfully say that I was staying with a friend, and had nowhere to live otherwise. At the same time, my girlfriend’s house sale went through, and she moved with her son, into a hospital flat, a stone’s throw from her work. She had put all her personal stuff into storage, until deciding what she was going to do. I visited this flat sometimes, and they occasionally came to Hertfordshire. However, every part of me knew that she was ‘off the boil’, and things were not right. My flat came through, with a moving date of 1st March. It was going to be in Camden, and priced almost the same as the current rent I was paying. It was ideal, and I was really pleased. I arranged the move, and she arranged a trip to Ireland, an early Easter visit. Very early.

When I saw her again, it was almost April. We had chatted on the phone, but she had been evasive, non-committal. I could tell immediately that the news was not good, as her face was flushed. However, she suggested a trip to Brighton the next weekend, which threw me completely. As a fan of the seaside, I readily accepted. Her son was going to stay with her best friend, all was arranged. I should have realised, the condemned man always gets some treats before sentence is carried out. Maybe I was blinkered, or perhaps I just didn’t see it. I hardly remember now. The first night in Brighton, we went to a very good Chinese restaurant on the front. I was babbling on, all good-humour, seaside excited, and pleased to be with her again. She said that I should listen for a while, as she had to talk. I ordered a second bottle of wine. I had a feeling that I was going to need it.

What she told me was much worse than I had anticipated. I had thought that she was going to just break up with me, and that was that. But it was more painful than that. She was going to buy a house in Ireland, and had accepted a job there. It would be good for her son, as he would go to better schools, and get a more disciplined upbringing. Although her husband would stay in England, with his girlfriend, and new baby, her son could come over for visits, and it would all work out for the best. He could have more space, go horse-riding, and be brought up near his family. Her parents were getting old, and it would enable them to see their grandson, without travelling; they were delighted at the news. I would not be able to visit her at this new house, if her son was there at the same time. This had been agreed with her family, and her husband. She would still come to London at least three times a year, and would be happy to see me on those occasions, and to stay at my flat. She did not want to end our relationship.

It took a while for that to sink in. She did not want to end it, but was going to live in another country, and only see me three times a year. Had I got it right? She said that was about the size of it. I found myself getting upset, as it suddenly dawned on me that I would never see her son again. The small boy that I had befriended, and loved in my own way, for almost three years, was gone to me now. I looked across the table at someone I no longer knew. I felt the affection drain out of me, replaced by tiredness, and the familiar weight of failure, like a heavy overcoat, wet from the rain.

We went home the next day. I did not accept her deal, but wished her well, and told her that we would never meet again. We did speak a few times on the phone after that, but we never did meet again.

It was the year 2000, and I had a fresh start, in a flat in Camden, with all my life ahead of me. Well, not quite. I was 48 years old, and alone once more.

Third time lucky: Part Two

The second marriage.

There I was, living alone at the age of 33. Luckily, my work for the Ambulance Service meant that I was constantly in contact with a large group of people. This consisted of other Ambulance Staff, Nurses, Police Officers, and Doctors. They all had one thing in common, they worked shifts, and understood others that did. They also liked to go out a lot, have parties, and enjoy life. You would have to be completely reclusive, not to have taken advantage of all the opportunities on offer. I resolved to enjoy myself without reservation, despite the underlying unhappiness that occasionally overwhelmed me.

And for the next four years, that is exactly what I did.

To some extent, I lived the youth that I had previously never experienced. Various girlfriends, out with mates, crashing at friends; none of these had been a feature of my teens, so felt a little strange, as I approached the age of 34. I did learn something that has stood me in good stead ever since. The reality of fulfilling a fantasy, is always a little bit disappointing, and sometimes really depressing. I was waking up next to nurses almost half my age, cramped in a tiny single bed, in hospital accommodation. The idea of this happening had been a previous fantasy, long held, since the days of the Carry On films, and nurses in starched uniforms, wearing stockings, and suspenders. The reality of the experience was completely unexpected. Embarrassment and awkwardness the next day at work, (for both parties) as well as an unpleasant close-up of the dubious hygiene of some of the young women I had previously lusted after. I was disillusioned, to say the least.

After a short spell of these antics, I eventually settled down with a ‘regular’ girlfriend. Mind you, she was only 21 at the time, despite being one of the ‘older’ ones. The 13 year age gap was actually greater than the age difference between myself and her father. I should have given that fact greater thought. I was swept away though. Young, attractive, Punky and funky, outspoken and militant; she was everything all the other women in my life before had never been. She had spiky hair and fishnet tights, I was wearing a suit and tie. At best, I looked like her boss, or an older brother; on bad days, I could have easily passed for her dad. It was great though. Tremendous sex, political affinity, and holidays to places I had always dreamed of. After a while, I suggested that she should move in. I should have given that greater thought as well.

There was the usual ‘honeymoon’ period that comes with co-habitation. Constant sex, in every part of the house, contrasted with  the awkwardness of those first breaking-wind, and irritating habits moments. Introductions to old friends, meeting her family, (and finding that you have more in common with her parents) and all those favourite film, and much-loved music clashes, indicating the real problem of such an age difference. That relationship is almost a post in itself, but I need brevity. Suffice to say, it did not last, though surprisingly, it was me that ended it. In many ways, it was domesticity that was her downfall, as in lack of it. I grew tired of coming home to a sink full of washing up, ashtrays full to bursting, and dirty clothes strewn around the bedroom. These things were meaningless apparently; not just to her, but to most girls of her age and occupation, used to living away from home, in cramped spaces.

Ultimately, I could not see a future. By the time I was 40, she would just be 27. I had unrealistic fears of being abandoned by a younger woman, many years in the future, and these insecurities could not be assuaged.  I told her that I wanted to end it, and I was actually surprised at how upset it made her. She moved out quickly, retuning to hospital rooms. As far as I know, she has hated me ever since. If you read on, you will be able to work out why.

The same weekend that I split with my young girlfriend, I was at work, and found myself chatting to a receptionist at the hospital. I was telling her my tale of woe, about the recent break-up, and how it could never have worked. I had known this lady for some time. She was divorced, childless, and two years younger than me. She was a Londoner, born and bred, (my girlfriend had not been) and shared a flat with another receptionist, in Earl’s Court. The reception job was not her main employment, as she worked  as a medical technician at the same hospital, and just did the additional job for extra money. I had always got on well with her, though had never thought of her as a potential partner. At least not until that night.

The following week, I asked her out, little realising at that moment, that I was going to go on a date with the woman who would become my second wife; and in that same year too. We got on so well from the start, it seemed as if we had always been together. The similar age group meant that we could share memories, discuss music, and reminisce about identical things from our parallel youth. She was kind and patient, nice to look at, and lacked the fire and opinionated manner of her predecessor. That seemed to me, at the time, to be a very good thing. After a few months, we got engaged, and seeing no need to wait, decided to marry that year, in late June. I went from break-up to wedding in seven months. Small wonder my ex was convinced that I had been seeing her before. I hadn’t, but I could understand everybody’s suspicions. I would have had them myself, in different circumstances.

I was now 37, and my wife-to-be 35. We felt that we both knew the ropes; we had made the mistakes, seen it, done it, and lived to regret it. This time, it would all be different. And to some extent, it was.

The second wedding was another small affair. The local Registry Office on a Saturday, followed by a meal in a riverside pub near the house. Later that evening, it was back to the tiny starter home, for drinks in the summer heat. It had been the hottest day for 23 years; by 7am it was 77 degrees, and by late afternoon, almost 90. I got drunk, and felt awful the next day, especially as we had to get up and go to Heathrow, to fly to Amsterdam for our short honeymoon. This was a new me though. Gone was the man who had been rejected in Wimbledon. I was attentive, loving, and caring. As soon as we were settled at home, I did the cooking, cleaning, washing, and ironing. I went to Tesco to get all the shopping, drove down to Kent to see my mother in law, and welcomed my new family, of her brother and sister, on frequent visits to our home. I had determined not to revisit my old ways, and I didn’t. I continued my new found domesticity, and despite working all sorts of unsocial shifts, I was pleasant at all times.

As I did all this, I failed to notice that my new wife was doing nothing. Other than travelling into work, doing her job, and returning home, she did nothing at all, except to wash up after dinner. She was asleep most nights, by 10pm, and even when we went out, to visit friends at their homes, she would also sleep. I started to think that she had developed narcolepsy, and became concerned for her welfare. It was nothing of the sort. She was just contented, uninterested in conversation, and plain lazy. Her habit of dropping off became a matter of comment, and then became accepted, eventually being disregarded. She liked to watch soap programmes on TV, and also developed a passion for games on machines, like Game Boy, or Super Nintendo. She could spend many happy hours playing Tetris, or Zelda, as I hoovered around her, or went to Tesco to stock up. But she was happy. She obviously loved me, and it showed. I had taken on all these tasks willingly, and told her not to bother with them. So she didn’t.

There was also no issue over children. We didn’t want them, and she was as adamant about that as I was, right from the start. We had some good trips, and some even better holidays, including a memorable Nile cruise. There were difficult times too. A few months after we married, the National Ambulance Strike began. Together with almost all my colleagues, I went for almost six months with no wages, facing an uncertain future, dependent on charitable donations, and all during a hard winter. She stuck by me, uncomplaining, and helping out with extra money. The following year, I suggested moving to a bigger house nearby. It would be nice to have a small garden, and the extra room, for guests. She was happy to go along with anything I suggested, and left the whole thing to me, despite my efforts to involve her. We moved that summer, or rather, I moved us that summer, as she didn’t even bother to take the day off.

Once in the substantially larger house, she was still showing no active interest in much. I was left to furnish and adorn the place as I saw fit. The end result was a masculine, minimalist look, with few ornaments, monolithic leather sofas, and black metal accessory furniture. A female friend remarked that it did not look as if a woman lived in the house at all. My wife was unconcerned, stating that she liked it the way I had arranged it, and that she was happy for me to ‘sort things out’.  With the extra space, we entertained more. I still cooked, she went to sleep by 9pm. We bought a new car the following year, and she changed jobs. Tired of the long commute to work, she went for a completely new career in the City, in the financial world. This was a much shorter day, and she was now home even earlier. She still did nothing, and would wait until I got home, then ask ‘whats for dinner?’  I decided to confront the issue, as it was beginning to irritate me. I discussed how I felt, and her lack of input into the running of the home, and our life in general. She was amazed that I saw it that way, but apologised, and promised to change her ways.

For a good while, she began to help. She went shopping occasionally, on a Saturday, if I was working. I had to write a list though, and she would often say that she couldn’t get things, so I had to go back anyway. She still didn’t cook, but did some of the washing, and started to do all my ironing, which was actually a great help. I was left with the so-called ‘heavy’ jobs too, anything from hoovering, to cleaning windows. I made a nice small garden in the patio outside, but she never once sat in it, as she could not see the TV ‘from there’. Despite how this reads, we were actually quite happy. Her life was one of being cared for, and being totally dependent on me. For my part, I was doing what I would have done anyway, had I still been alone, and I had a loving and friendly wife, who was nice to my Mum, my family, and all my friends. And so it continued.

Some years later, I was about to have my 45th birthday, and I began to feel uneasy. Something inside me changed.

What happened is now commonly referred to as a mid-life crisis. At the time, I had no pat title for how I was feeling. I was being let down, that was how I saw it. The promises of a few years earlier had long been broken, and we had slid back to the same life I had experienced just after we were married. I still had to do it all, and I was older, and much more tired. Inside, I reasoned that if I had to do everything, and my only ‘reward’ was the company of a woman who allowed this to continue unabated, then I might just as well do it all for myself. This all came to a head, on the night of my actual birthday.

I had invited some old friends around to help me celebrate. I decided to prepare a buffet, so we could all sit together, and I did not spend half the night in the kitchen. For some reason, best known to herself, my wife decided to go shopping with a friend, and leave me to do all the preparation. I cleaned the whole house, went and bought the food, laid the tables, and prepared everything. I cooked pasta dished to be eaten cold, and arranged all the other stuff for self-service. I had just got out of the bath, when my wife arrived home, less than thirty minutes before the first guests arrived. I was not in a good mood, but I was also determined not to spoil the evening. It went well at first, but I did have a fair bit to drink. At some stage, a friend complemented my wife on how nice the house looked, and how much they had enjoyed the food. She smiled, and said ‘thank you’, deliberately not mentioning the fact that she had been out all day, and I had done everything. I lost it completely, and told all, in an angry outburst. That was the end of festivities, and everyone left. She went to bed, refusing to discuss anything, as I had had ‘too much to drink’.

On the Sunday, I spoke very calmly and reasonably. I told her that this had been the last straw, and that we would be splitting up, and selling the house. She was distraught, and pleaded with me to reconsider. She would change, she would do better, become more involved. I almost gave in, but hardened, telling her I did not trust her not to return to her old ways in the blink of an eye. After more discussions, and a great deal of heartache, the house was put on the market, and eventually sold. She bought a flat in South London, with a preferential mortgage, and half of my money from my ‘previous life’. I was not left with enough to buy anything worth living in, so rented a flat in Harrow, Middlesex, as it was convenient for work.

As I saw it, I had failed again, and was left with less than I had started with, but with self-respect intact. Both marriages had lasted exactly eight years. Perhaps that was my maximum, I thought to myself. At 45, I was in a rented flat, miles from anyone I knew, and at the lowest point of my entire life. That Christmas was the bleakest that I had ever experienced, and not because of the wintry weather. In the space of twenty years, I had had everything, and lost everything; and I had done that twice. The first time, I was too neglectful of my duties as a husband, and the second time, I did it all, and made a rod for my own back. I wondered if I would ever learn, and if it would ever be possible to find a way to make a relationship work, on an even keel.

I did manage to stay friendly with my wife though. One of my friends described my separation from her as ‘like clubbing a seal pup’. That did not make me feel that good about it, I can tell you. We did not divorce for a long time, and we stayed in touch, visited each other, and sometimes attended social events as a couple. When her mother died, I took her to the funeral, and the family treated me well. It sounds strange, but we actually got on better like that. When she eventually met someone else, I was pleased for her. I was introduced to him, and he seemed to be a decent ordinary man, who treated her well, so I was happy to see her settled. She married again, and moved to the West of England. She still lives there, and we are still in touch, as good friends today, as we ever were.

First time unlucky, second time unlucky; many years before the third time. That is the final part of this trilogy, and will follow soon.

Third time lucky: Part One

When I got married to Julie, we had a nice ceremony, at a hotel in Kent. As the registrar pronounced that we were man and wife, my Mum, who was quite deaf, said in a loud voice,’ Third time lucky’. This was a source of hilarity to us all, mostly due to the fact that she was unaware that anyone had heard it.

Mum had said this, because it was my third marriage, obviously. So, what had gone wrong with the other two, that had ended with me in a hotel in 2009, exchanging vows once again?

The first marriage.

I had married for the first time in 1977. I had known my first wife for over two years, and we had often talked about settling down together, but not of marriage, or children. At the time, I was living with my Mum, and helping her to run the family Off Licence in Clapham, South-West London, as well as holding down a full-time job elsewhere. My Mum suddenly decided that she wanted to move away, and live in a quieter place. She thought that she would buy a smaller shop, in a country district, and get away from the long hours, and difficult trading conditions in London. This left me with the possibility that I would have nowhere to live, so we decided to buy a flat, and get married.  It made sense in those days, as tax laws and mortgage providers favoured married couples.

Everything was easier in those days, or so it seemed, and we approached marriage with the same relaxed attitude. After all, we would have been living together soon enough, so why not make it official? As my future father in law was a churchgoer, we arranged a ceremony at a small local church, followed by a reception in the rooms above our shop. Nothing fancy, no need for a lot of expense. We had bought a flat on the good side of Wandsworth, just off the hill, near Putney. This would be handy for my wife’s job, and a pretty good place to live generally. The wedding was over quickly, followed by a weekend honeymoon in England, on the South Coast. As it was 31st December, many guests had to leave for other celebrations anyway.

My idea of ‘how to be married’, was steeped in South London tradition, and a male-dominated world. Even though it was the late 1970’s, it might just as well have been the late 1950’s, as far as my views were concerned. The man worked hard, didn’t mess about, and provided money for the home and housekeeping. The woman basically dealt with everything else; bills, paperwork, phone calls, arrangements, housework, shopping, cleaning, washing, and ironing. I saw nothing wrong with this at the time. After all, I hardly ever had a drink, always worked hard, and did not waste cash on any fripperies. I always came home after work, drove anywhere we needed to go, and I was pretty much completely harmless. I loved my wife very much, even if I never told her so. (That would hardly be manly). I remembered her birthday, always got her nice presents, and asked nothing more from life, than my evening meal, and clean clothes. Of course, I did not do any housework, or washing and ironing. In fact, I didn’t even know how to operate the washing machine, or how to iron a shirt. As for cooking, I couldn’t manage a lot more than a cooked breakfast, but never cooked one anyway.

My wife came from far more genteel circles than I could boast. She spoke well, and had been to University, as well as travelling extensively. I found her friends pretentious, and the occasional dinner parties something to be endured, rather than enjoyed. I was convinced that they all looked down on me, and was later to find that I was correct in those suspicions. My reaction to this was not to seek to improve myself. In fact, it was the opposite. I laid my South London accent on, nice and thick, and spouted my extreme left-wing views at any opportunity. I started to have my hair cut very short, and acted a lot like a gangster, in certain company. Yet still, I remained loyal, faithful, and a good son-in-law to my new extended family. I worked so hard, I had little time for anything outside domestic life anyway. On reflection, I was no doubt trying to keep my wife close, and out of the circle of her upper middle class friends. We had two good holidays a year, and I financed her return to college, so that she could get her teaching qualifications, and become a lecturer. Once she was established in this new career, I decided it was time for a change myself.

By this time, we had moved to a house in Wimbledon. This had been at my instigation, without even consulting her. She was away on a field trip, and I realised that the flat had increased in value, to a figure far exceeding any previous expectations. I put it on the market, and sold it, for the full asking price, to the second viewers; and all this in two days. On her return, I told her the ‘good news’, which I foolishly thought would come as a nice surprise. I had also seen an advert for a nice house near Wimbledon Park, and arranged a visit the following week. We bought the house immediately, and the whole process went through smoothly. The new house was fantastic, at least to us, with separate dining room, small garden, and original Edwardian features. It was also in one of the most desirable places to live, in that area. I thought that we had done really well, after being married for less than two years, to be in this position, and still not yet 27 years old. Much later, I was told of her resentment at not being involved, and the fact that I took over the whole process, with no participation from her. It never even occurred to me. I thought I was doing the right thing; the ‘man’ thing.

After some time in the new house, with her well established at a local college, I decided to change career. I was tired of making profits for companies, and felt a desperate need to do something worthwhile, and socially credible. I joined the Ambulance Service, and I really believed that this would make her proud of me. I wasn’t allowing for the huge drop in income, and the fact that she would now be the major earner in our household. There had also been talk of having children, but I had made the decision that we were too young, and did not need children to complete our life anyway. Then there was the shift work, the stress, and the fact that my entire life was overwhelmed by this new job. I soon became involved in the Trade Unions, and this added to my commitments. I saw nothing wrong with this. After all, it was a laudable career, and gave something back to the community. It also destroyed our social life, as I worked most weekends, as well as night shifts. When she took up jogging, which later became going to a running club, I had no intention of participating, seeing it merely as a diversion.

I shuffled on like this, through good times, and occasional lows, for another five years. The house was ideal; I was becoming experienced in the Ambulance Service, and she was also branching out, agreeing to work overseas, for the British Council. This was to be for some months during the summer, and India was the chosen destination. Without even thinking, I started to research the trip to India. I was certain that I would be going too, why wouldn’t I? I even enquired about extended leave from my job; I studied maps, places of interest, inoculations required, and planned what to do with myself, when she would be working. One evening, I presented all this research, pleased with my efforts. She told me that she would be going alone. I was outraged. What was I expected to do for six months on my own? The conversation went rapidly downhill from there. It all came out, and went something like this.

She no longer loved me. I had driven out the love, with my indifference, my overbearing attitude, and my inability to discuss our life. My blanket refusal to consider children, had created a rift that I was blissfully unaware of. I never did anything around the house, and rarely considered her job, and having to keep the house going, or prepare my meals. And we always spent time with my friends, rarely visiting hers. Her friends did not like me anyway, and had stopped inviting us to events, feeling that I was socially inept. I had never learned to iron a shirt, use the washing machine or cooker, and I never did any housework, of any description. I was inconsiderate, thoughtless, and only ever talked about my job, extreme politics, or holidays to places that I wanted to see.  More importantly, although I had never given her reason, she was scared of me, and considered me to be aggressive, and hard to approach, so best left alone, and unchallenged. There were a few good points. She did concede that I was loyal and faithful, and that I had always worked hard. However, since joining the Ambulance Service, the poor salary had meant that I put little money into the upkeep of the home, and relied on her to provide most things. The fact that I had actually contributed the lion’s share for the first years of the marriage was written off as ‘old news’.

I was mortified. I did not get angry, or shout. I didn’t even argue back. I wanted to crawl into a hole, and never come out. All my oblivious misdeeds had come back to haunt me, rushing in like waves, breaking over my broken heart. But I didn’t show it. I couldn’t, I didn’t even know how to. She suggested a trial separation. She would go to India, and see how she felt after her return. I decided that if she did not love me, she was unlikely to change her feelings in six months. I felt it best to go, and told her that was what I wanted. She left the next day, to visit her parents, and ask them for the money to buy me out. They actually liked me, and spent a long time trying to persuade her not to do this, but when they discovered that I was keen to leave, they relented, and gave her the money. I bought a house in the newly developed Docklands area of South London, where I had started out from, eighteen years earlier. It all went through very quickly, and I was gone before she even left for the India trip. We said we would stay friends, but that never really happened. Even facing the abyss, of a broken marriage, the loss of thousands of pounds, and someone that I truly loved, I still determined to ‘be a man’, and do the right thing, whatever the outcome.

Before I actually moved, I asked her to show me how to iron a shirt, use the washing machine, and help me to cook a few meals.

It wasn’t until a long time later, sitting alone in my small new house, and thinking deeply about life, that I finally realised where I had gone wrong. I had to agree that she was right, and I resolved to never make a mistake like that again. And I didn’t.

After a year or so, she rang me at work to ask me not to contest a divorce. She had met someone, a ‘professional’ man, with a good job at the BBC, and a salary to match. They later had a child. I wished them well, and still do.