(This was first published in Le News 14 August 2014)
If marriage is a journey (and not a destination, as Jane Austen says), I want mine to be like a car trip: a nice long one, on interesting roads. Although not as interesting as London’s M25 which I was on yesterday and which may have actually taken several years off my life.
There are so many things to love about road trips: all the family is snuggled up together in the car, along with the usual giant toy dinosaurs and monkeys. It’s like being in a big, travelling bird’s nest. The proximity really gives us a chance to appreciate each other fully. For instance, my children really appreciate having a captive audience to perform to. And on this most recent road trip, my husband and I really had a chance to appreciate the children’s sweet voices, as they sang us a seven-hour medley of their two favourite One Direction songs.
Yes, I’ll admit that road trips have their challenges: my husband seems to have developed a permanent twitch in his right eye, probably caused by the children asking, ‘How far to Hamleys?’ every three minutes from the moment we pulled out of our driveway. Also, it must be said, those children have let themselves go, somewhat: the bigger child ‘lost’ her hairbrush somewhere in France and now looks like a thistle, while the smaller one is pink and shiny as a ham, glazed with a happy combination of apple juice and raspberry ice cream.
But … road trips! They’re good! They’re fun! And, very importantly, road trips let me keep an eye on my husband. Because he was born under a wandering star, and he must be corralled. For instance, he will happily sit in an airport departure lounge for ages, doing nothing. But as soon as the boarding gate opens he’ll stand up and announce, ‘I’ll be back in a minute’. Then he goes somewhere and he’s never back in minute. He wasn’t ‘back in a minute’ fourteen years ago in Bangkok International Airport, when he first said those terrible words to me. We’d been first in the boarding queue but by the time he eventually reappeared, we were last and so we had no overhead luggage space at all. I had to fly all the way back to Joburg with five bags of Thai silk, a decorative bamboo ball and three Jenga sets on my lap.
Nor was he ‘back in a minute’ ten years later, when we flew from France to South Africa, with two small children in tow.
‘Please,’ I begged the ground crew, who had not only closed the boarding gate but were switching off the lights. ‘Wait!’
‘Well, where is he?’ they asked, looking down the long empty passage, devoid of husband.
‘I don’t know, ‘ I wailed. ‘But he won’t be long. He said he’d be back in a minute.’
At least once he’s on an aeroplane he can’t get off again. Unlike a train. ‘Back in a minute,’ he’ll say, as the whistle blows and the train starts moving. Apparently that’s the perfect time to hop off and get a sandwich from the platform shop.
No, I definitely prefer road trips. There we are, strapped into our seats and hurtling forward together, for better and for worse: when the children sing and when they wail; when the scenery is good and when the gift packs of French cheese start to fog the atmosphere; when the roads are smooth and easy, and when they’re the M25.
I think it’s a good metaphor for marriage.