ANY BLOKE settling down in a pub will naturally require a decent pint, a packet of Porky Scratchings or some other snack of dubious nutritional value, and something to smoke. Some blokes, though, favour an additional item, namely their wives.

To me, this is odd. My reluctance to bring my wife to the pub is matched only by her hatred of going to the pub, a piece of symmetry which has probably been the key to our blissfully happy (and I use that phrase in its broadest sense) four years of marriage. Only once, in fact, have I ever been to the pub with my wife. She ordered - and I kid you not - a lemonade, made various critical remarks about the decor, and said "Can we go now?" so many times that we left before I'd finished my pint. Later on, I had to apologise to the landlord.

We've never repeated the experiment, and my wife never stops me trying to go to the pub without her. What generally happens is that, at the end of a long, hard bout of childminding (that hour, I mean, between the nanny knocking off and bedtime), she'll say: "You off for a pint, then?", which is code for "Go out for a pint, and give me some time on my own", to which I respond by saying, "Mmmm... might do" - code for "You bet your bloody life I am." So I go down to my local, and find refuge, over two pints and a copy of Autosport, from domestic cares.

Most of the regulars at my local are blokes of a particularly bloke-ish sort who have selflessly devoted their lives to drinking as much beer as humanly possible, and therefore have little time for relationships. Women do come into the pub, but usually with other women, and they conduct themselves as - and are usually treated as - honorary blokes.

I like the way that pub relationships are thus kept on a formalised, superficial level. The place for the fraught dynamics of a couple is a restaurant, where dining etiquette imposes a certain civility even during difficult moments. But watch couples in pubs, sitting in silence, frowning, the man periodically muttering "Want another?" in a resentful tone, while all around the cheery shouts of the singletons ring out.

Sometimes, as I sip my pint, I have a waking nightmare of my wife walking into the pub in pursuit of me, like Flo after Andy Capp with a bone to pick. To espy her in the saloon bar would be very disturbing - akin to those occasions from childhood when you'd see your parents in school, a sight always portending trouble. The other day, though, there was a dreamlike crossover of my pub world and my home world. I was in the high street en famille when I spotted, across the road, three of the regulars from my local. What they were doing out of the pub I cannot imagine - it must have been some sort of day release scheme - but I stood revealed before them as a person leading a double life: on the one hand the solitary minder of a pint of Kilkenny; on the other, the possessor of not only an attractive wife but also two children and a family saloon.

I nodded slightly in their direction and my wife said: "Who are they?" "Oh, just some blokes from the pub," I replied, and there the matter ended, for not only does my wife dislike pubs, she also has no interest in anything that happens within them. So to any man in fear of a long-term emotional commitment I say this: get a wife like mine, and a decent boozer around the corner.

Andrew Martin's novel, 'Bilton', is published by Faber & Faber on Monday at pounds 9.99