‘I had a very interesting dream last night’, says my partner provocatively, by way of a morning greeting. I glance at the clock. 7.30 am. Bloody hell. What’s he still doing here? It used to be that there was no time in the A.M for discussing anything, let alone dreams. He was off on his bike for a 9 am, or an 8 am meeting if I was really lucky. This left me, in my freelance world, to make my own way peacefully into the morning – Radio 3, Darjeeling tea, and a dog walk, before starting work.
Now, in this new world of 24/7 partnerships, I have to at least feign interest. I half-heartedly prompt him for more: ‘It was about how to solve our data collection problem and it involved Plato – but the annoying thing is, I’ve forgotten the vital bit’, he says slurping the dregs of his tea and banging the mug down on the side table.
I want to scream, but even I realise that might be a bit of an over-reaction. In any case it’s not even 8 am and the whole, sorry day, riven with angst over whether the internet can handle Zoom and simultaneous downloading , arguments over which of us speaks the loudest on the phone (him) and who left coffee grounds left in the sink (him), stretches ahead of us.
It’s only been a week since the BBC moved into my guest bedroom and I’m already considering not paying my licence fee. When Jennie Harries the deputy Chief Medical Officer suggested, nay commanded, that couples who were not married and living in two places, choose between giving up seeing each other entirely, or moving in together during the Covid 19 pandemic, she knew not what she did. I’d make a joke here about couples killing each other, but I know, because I’ve seen the news, that this is actually a distinct possibility for those women and children who are living with a serial abuser. The rest of us locked up with our loved ones, are fortunate by comparison.
I have lost count though of the number of friends who have texted me saying that their marriages simply won’t last the course now that their partners have brought their work lives home with them. One reports a leading London lawer has set up in her kitchen, another that her normally overworked building contractor husband is surveying the house she loves with feverish eye, a pickaxe and a desire to ‘do something – anything!’ And then there are those with partners who ‘may or may not, but might just as well have Covid-19. This is not to be unsympathetic, but we all know that a man with a cold manifests as a pallid survivor of a tuberculosis sanitorium at the best of times. My sympathy goes out to all of those females dealing with what a friend with younger children calls ‘a convenient sore throat’.
The salient truth is that in close quarters for extended periods everyone’s ‘little ticks’ and irritating habits, which can be mostly overlooked during weekends, are magnified to Argentinosaurus proportions (largest dinosaur. No me neither). Even mine. So for every door that remains open, sticky kitchen surface that never gets cleaned (unless I do it) and shouty Zoom meetings (welcome to my humble abode, 10 BBC statisticians arguing over the collation of viewer numbers) there are my half cups of cold tea, empty biscuit wrappers and discarded shoes – sometimes not in pairs -littering the house.
Given the circumstances we all find ourselves in, a pragmatist would counsel restraint and gratitude. Of course I’m grateful that I’m not unwell (and neither is he save ‘convenient’ occasional cough) and I think often of my friends in the NHS who are working long, exhausting hours in terrifying, unrelenting circumstances. But that doesn’t stop me from the childish inclination to press my nose against the spare bedroom window and make faces, in an attempt to gain his attention during an irritatingly long meeting, when I require access to the room or from pushing notes under the door in a fury when I find that his ‘chores’ have been again left to me.
In fact, in moments of extreme stress like this, I encourage a return to childish things (god knows there are few enough opportunities for a laugh). I take my hat off to my sister, who has thus far come up with the best revenge strategy I know for an irritating male habit. After months of frustration over her husband’s inability to jump on the ‘learning curve’ where the closing of kitchen cupboard doors were concerned, she took matters into her own hands.
One day whilst he was out on a site visit (he’s an architect) she borrowed his tool kit and removed every single cupboard door. What was the point, she reasoned, in having the doors if he never closed them? Upon his return he was so appalled by the mess that the open cupboard carcasses revealed, he immediately conceded defeat, re-affixed the doors and wrote her a note of apology. With the note still stuck to the fridge (just as a friendly reminder you understand) reader, she has never looked back.