THE BIG difference between life at home and life here in my father- in-law's cottage in Cornwall is that here there is no telly. At home I tend to express my individuality outside the family unit by staying up late by myself, drinking and watching the telly. It's my private time, which I waste with the profligacy of a callow bachelor. Lots of family men I know do this. I think we're the only ones who have ever seen The Larry Sanders Show, although in the morning none of us can ever remember what it was about.

In Cornwall I don't have the option. There is no reception in this vale, so I can't even bring my own telly. This leaves me at something of a loose end in the evenings. I have tried staying up late drinking and reading, but there comes a point where you have to shut one eye just to make out the letters. I have tried simply staying up late and drinking, but with nowhere to rest my gaze I end up staring at either the bottle or the glass, with predictably depressing results.

This telly-free period might be a good time to start a novel or teach myself Italian, or to pursue some other panicky middle-age gear change, but to be honest I'm a little bit too drunk to do anything like that after 9pm, and in the day I'm too busy trying to save my children from tipping off cliffs. By the way, I would like to thank the kind stranger who really did save my one-year-old son from certain death last week, by fishing him out of a rock pool while I was busy getting my beach towel "just so". I still cannot forgive myself for allowing fate and a good Samaritan to fill in for me.

Fate is so notoriously unreliable, although it's clearly more reliable than I am. The episode has at least given me something to think about when I stay up drinking by myself.

On several nights I have been left with no choice other than to go to bed at the same time as my wife. Naturally she regards this with suspicion, and treats me like someone who has sat down next to her on a bus. She doesn't say anything, but then she can't criticise me for going to bed early and relatively sober. On these occasions I wake up feeling unusually refreshed, with an utterly alien sense of possessing the upper hand.

Last night I went back to staying up late and drinking, having made a fire in the grate to stare at. I've decided to regard the lack of telly as a good thing, a cleansing experience akin to a stretch in a drying- out clinic, which is probably where I'll be spending next summer.