Back in the days when I edited The Erotic Review, the dashing poet Hugo Williams wandered into our London office every now and then to select the best verse from our postbag. I once asked him what he planned to do of a particular weekend and was struck when he said, ‘‘I’m going to visit my wife at her home in France.’’ Her home? This seemed rather exotic, even for habitues of Erotic Towers, but Williams explained that his wife - a former tightrope walker, turned writer and chanteuse - had inherited a country house and was running it as an artistic community. He supported his spouse’s enterprise, but had no intention of abandoning his tranquil study in Hampstead for the shared chores and chaos of communal living.
The idea of being married ‘‘apart together’’ seemed rather batty to me then, but today - especially when I note the Williamses have been 49 years spliced, and how fondly the poet speaks of his wife in interviews - it makes better sense. When you’re young and lovesick, it’s intolerable to be more than a heartbeat away from your beloved. But when you’re older, a room of one’s own isn’t bold enough a daydream: why not a whole separate house?
My husband and I can never read of a fortunate celebrity who has wealth and gumption enough to adopt this lifestyle without sobbing a little in envy. Take the actor Martin Shaw, who announced this week that he lives 200 yards away from his partner, Karen Da Silva, but that the couple use both houses and this suits them just fine. My spouse said admiringly, ‘‘I bet Agent Doyle never has to explain why his speakers can’t double as Lego Batman’s base, or to remove his wife’s knickers from the hall radiator [handy place to dry them] whenever friends drop round.’’
My husband is an only child, who managed to maintain an orderly solo hearth until I nabbed him when he was 42 and I was 27. It’s fair to say he’s never quite got over the shock of my domestic sluttery. This, after all, is a man who shelves books in thematic order and chases down germs with bleach. I file important papers under the carpet and treat discarded mugs as petri dishes. Then our sons came along and added insult to injurious mess: as when the oldest peed on his Dylan CDs and the youngest pulled the propellers off five painstakingly assembled Spitfire models.
The boys and I bicker through Masterchef (or what my husband calls ‘‘the one pleasure left to me‘‘) and jeer when he plays bootlegged Grateful Dead tracks. The truth is, a shed is not a world enough apart for us. The poor chap needs a cottage in the Hebrides, or a refitted nuclear bunker. But next door would do just for starters.
Some married friends of ours spent their first five years of wedlock in two houses with adjoining back gardens, meaning the husband could strew his table with widgets and oil cans, while the wife could enjoy the pristine comfort of cream linen sofas. She used to creep through a gap in his garden fence in a fur coat and scanties, and both parties were the merrier for separate abodes. Then she fell pregnant and they bought a home together; the fur was abandoned and the engine parts banished. Now the poor man looks as hunted as my husband.
Not that it’s just male partners who suffer. I’d love just once to watch a film that doesn’t involve superheroes, aliens or gangsters. I want to make a shrine to shoes. I long to play Dolly Parton ’til my ears bleed. I’d like to make devilled kidneys without the sanctimonious vegetarians (husband and older son) making gagging noises. Would it be too much to ask to live in a house that didn’t feature large framed pictures of HMS Hood, Miles Davis and a downed Heinkel in a hop field? To not have to plead on bended knee every time I want to use the Ford Focus? To not find Lego in my cereal? Would it really be unnatural to park my men folk across the picket fence with their boys’ toys and The Sopranos?
I’ll gladly keep the cat and Game of Thrones.
The Telegraph, London