Catherine Alliott ponders all the benefits of having the husband live next door.
When I was asked to write a piece about whether it might ever be better for husbands to live next door, I almost ran to the computer. Of course! Why wouldn’t it be? There are surely endless benefits! Firstly – and most obviously – there’s the cooking. (I presume, God help us, he’s not allowed to pop in for sustenance?) Think of it, no more – “What’s for supper?” No more going to the fridge with a sinking heart knowing you’re only going to find half a lemon, lots of tonic and a piece of cheese? I’d live permanently on macaroni cheese – hence the cheese – and poached eggs, hence our chickens. He, next door, would live on hamburgers (I make them, he wouldn’t bother) and curries (again, I make them, he’d go to Tescos.) We’d be in heaven. No more compromising and toying with a bit of fish and salad neither of us particularly like, no more eating at nine o’clock, by when I am, quite hungry and therefore quite stroppy. I like to eat at eight, he likes to wind down after a hellish commute and have a long cocktail hour, wandering round his garden drink in hand and who can blame him? I, on the other hand, might have had a drink in my hand for some time and need to mop up the excess.
Then there’s the laundry. I don’t pretend I iron his shirts these days, but I do bung them in the washing machine and hang them out and there seem to be an awful lot of them. Happily, he doesn’t get through two a day as one of my friend’s husbands does, changing into a clean one when he gets home from work and chucking both in the laundry basket at night which I really think is the limit. He’d have been next door long ago. Still on the domestic front, I could make a hell of a mess in the kitchen, leave it all until the morning and not even have to clear it up the next day! And now I sense I’m losing a few of you here. You see, I am the secret slob in this household, not vice versa, as I know is the fashion in most relationships. My husband was in the army, from whence he emerged with expressions like “surface training” and “squaring things away”. My roots, on the other hand, are still firmly in the student kitchen where once, my friend Carrie and I, after the washing up from a supper party had festered in the sink for three days, threw it away. Just one casserole dish. But we simply couldn’t face it you see, it had gone hard and – you know…crusty. Anyway, I digress.
In another room, there’s the telly viewing. With the hubby safely next door it would be goodbye tedious natural history programmes and hello drama. Arrivederci serious documentaries and bienvenue frivolous ones. Lots of Wills and Kate trawls and plenty of One Born Every Minute. (I can quite see how this doesn’t go down well with the boys as they’re toying with their tuna steak, but isn’t it riveting?) Imagine being in sole command of the remote without having to relinquish it? A friend’s husband – he of the two shirts a day, incidentally – takes it to the loo with him. You’re right, it’s beginning to smack of a serious personality disorder.
And what about the shopping? All those secret carrier bags that are hustled quickly upstairs and squirrelled under the bed – no more waiting ’til the coast is clear to retrieve the precious dress which is getting horribly creased to hang in the wardrobe beside the other one you haven’t worn yet. Oh – and the telephone! So what if you’ve been on the phone to Sarah for an hour and a half and you hear his key in the door? No more winding up the conversation and jumping up to look busy with the supper, just cruise on through for another hour, nonchalantly swinging your legs over the arm of the chair.
But then again…I quite like winding it up with Sarah and chatting to him when he gets home. And I quite like being poured a G&T and not having to get it myself, and wandering round the garden chewing the fat. And whilst it would be heaven to live on the food I like, might it not pale after a while? Eating alone night after night? So maybe, if he did live next door, we could meet half way? Down the garden perhaps, over the fence, drinks in hand. And then later – so that no one has to cook or wash it up – we could perhaps saunter down to the Italian in town, for dinner?
When Ella married the handsome, celebrated artist Sebastian Montclair at just nineteen she was madly in love. Now, those blissful years of marriage have turned into the very definition of an unconventional set-up. Separated in every way but distance, Sebastian resides in an outhouse across the lawn from Ella’s ramshackle farmhouse. With an ex-husband living under her nose and a home crowded by hostile teenaged children, gender-confused chickens – not to mention her hyper critical mother whose own marriage slips spectacularly off the rails – Ella finds comfort in the company of the very charming gardener, Ludo. Then out of the blue Sebastian decides to move on, catching Ella horribly unawares. How much longer can she hide from what really destroyed her marriage . . . and the secret she continues to keep?
Best-selling author Catherine Alliott writes her books in the garden or on the sofa at her home in a rural spot on the Herts/Bucks border. Catherine shares her home with her family and a menagerie of animals. My Husband Next Door (Michael Joseph) is available now.