Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'In bed by 7pm, we read, watch movies, and discuss how soon we can go into a home for the elderly'
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The Independent Online

If Relate, "the relationship people", should ever decide to institute a "Mr and Mrs Jack Sprat of the Year Award", for married couples with nothing in common, I'm pretty confident that the statuette they would present (of two people staring at one another in disbelief) would be a cherished and permanent fixture on our mantelpiece.

The miracle about us is that we have managed to share more than one car journey, let alone 16 years shackled together, as Matthew so romantically puts it, by the bonds of holy matrimony. For instance, I love to travel while he has a morbid terror of luggage carousels. He lives for football, while I would prefer to watch a rerun of an entire series of Noel's House Party than a single match. I enjoy walks in the countryside, he rings the Samaritans at the sight of a wellington boot. To annoy me, he sometimes says "tomayto", while I, being neither American nor a sadist, do not. Still, we have yet to call the whole thing off, despite the chalk-and-cheese nature of our marriage.


There is, however, one difference between us that has caused a great deal of tension over the years – aside, that is, from his habit of forcing me to watch the BBC2 quiz show Eggheads – it is our biorhythms. I am what is known as a lark – up and about by 6am, shattered by lunchtime, and ready to retire to bed with a book by 9pm. Matthew, on the other hand, has always been an owl.

Two nights before our wedding, he hadn't come home by midnight and, not aware at the time that he was phobic about luggage carousels, I thought he might have fled the country. It turned out he was at his desk in Kensington playing computer golf (instead of writing his wedding speech), and when I berated him for the lateness of the hour, he said, "What are you talking about? It is only 12.45am and I have just chipped in for an eagle at the long 15th."


In the last few weeks, however, since the dawning of 2008, although Matthew has been awake until the early hours on many occasions, obsessively following the US elections and the Australian tennis, he too has been going to bed very early. Yesterday, we had both retired before 7pm, and while this new regime leaves Louis at something of a loose end, being an owl himself he is delighted at the sudden cessation of any effective parenting. We, meanwhile, read, watch old movies, and discuss how soon we can go into a care home for the elderly.

Our joint ambition to go into a home together, and not too late in life, has been the one thing we have had in common, apart from Louis, for about a decade. It started when my grandmother died, and we went to the post-funeral "do" at the elegant home in Hampshire where she was looked after for the last 12 years of her life. It was a beautifully run establishment, with sweeping lawns, starched white uniforms and delicious food. And when the manageress approached us with a plate of whisper-thin cucumber sandwiches, Matthew took the opportunity of cross-examining her about the facilities, nodding enthusiastically at everything she said.

"And tell me," he interrupted when she mentioned occasional talks on classical music, Renaissance art etc, "is there satellite TV in all the rooms?"

The manageress said that there had been no demand for it so far, but she could see no reason why a resident might not have it installed if they so wished.

"In that case," said Matthew, "we'd like to put our names down now for a double room with French windows on to the lawn for my wife, and Sky for me."

"Ah," said the manageress, looking quizzical, "please forgive me for asking, but how old are you, because we generally don't take a younger resident. The average age here is 75, and I would estimate, forgive me if I am wrong, that you and your wife are still in your..."

"Yes, thirties," said Matthew, "but we are as old as we feel and neither my wife nor I have ever felt anything less than 83. We are crypto-geriatrics by nature, temperament and lifestyle, and though I say so myself, we would be an adornment to your lovely home."

But the manageress was adamant. The minimum age was 70.


And now, a decade on, we are in our forties, and the prospect of retirement seems barely less remote than it did then. Just before Christmas, we were going through some old photos and came across one of my grandmother sitting in the home's garden, reading a book and wearing an eccentric hat, and Matthew came over all wistful – not for my grandmother, who insisted on addressing him by his surname, but for such a blissful retirement.

"If we were there now, some other mug would be peeling the sprouts and we could be in bed by 4pm, watching Alastair Sim in Scrooge," he said. And then he went to the fridge and took out the stuffing and angrily stuffed it into the turkey and said, "We wouldn't have a care in the world because someone else would be doing all the caring for us. We'd be free as a bird. Well, not this bird, obviously, but free as an owl."

"Or a lark..." I said, dreamily, as I fashioned another bacon roll. "I could be free as a lark."