A TALE TO RELATE

MY GOOD friend finally reports from the marital battle front. She and the birdwatcher have been to Relate. “How did it go?” I enquire, perhaps a bit too eagerly. “Oh, I’m afraid I can’t say. It’s totally confidential,” is her ridiculous response. I try to explain that that’s what the therapist says – it only means he won’t tell anybody, not that she can’t tell her best and oldest, not to say most discreet, friend.

“Well he seemed as baffled as I was. Said we looked like the perfect happy couple, laughing and joking in the waiting-room, smiling and affable in each other’s presence. None of the usual tension he senses when couples come for counselling. He asked what the problem was and I pointed to J and said: You’d better ask him. He’s the one whose marriage is falling apart. Mine’s fine. I’d rehearsed that for weeks!”

Apart from this rather too clever opening line, I don’t get much out of her. Must be a loyalty thing. Some women just don’t know how to dish the dirt. Especially not on husbands. Anyway they’re still together and planning a holiday so it can’t be that bad.

Meanwhile I struggle on with the B & B. Went to Paris for a few days with Beth and Charlie, and then extended the holiday over the weekend to be with them in Newcastle, then to Corbridge to see an old and dear friend. (Like a lot of my old and dear friends I’m rather surprised she’s still speaking to me as I am the world’s worst at keeping in touch). Anyway I begin to dread the return. The house will be in chaos, the laundry piled to the ceiling and Ian will be exhausted and on his knees, having failed miserably to keep the paying guests happy.

The reality is rather different: sparkling house, extra guests taken in at the last minute when the hotel they’d booked closed down without warning – and already they’ve booked to come back in November, with friends, so impressed were they with the fantastic service. The visitors’ book is full of praise. One entry reads: “The magical Mr Everett. What a fantastic stay. I will return! . . . Michelle.”

“So, who’s this Michelle?” I ask with an air of what I hope is cool indifference. He says he can’t remember, there’ve been so many. “Well it sounds like she had a wonderful time, one way and another. What was so special?” It’s no good – he insists he has no memory of her. Then the penny drops: she was Simon (middle son)’s girlfriend.

Still, he’s proved his point. “See? I can manage perfectly well on my own. It’s really not that difficult, you know. Once you’ve cooked one breakfast you’ve cooked fifty.”

Oh good – next trip, Barcelona. For a fortnight at least.

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