‘I

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

must have a word with Su­sanna about her morn­ing breath.”

That is my first thought emerg­ing into con­scious­ness. Though the kisses on my neck are ten­der, I am reg­is­ter­ing bou­quet of Scotch eggs with top notes of stale fish.

“Don’t be churl­ish,” my thoughts con­tinue, “just let her fin­ish and then qui­etly sug­gest stronger tooth­paste.”

I open my eyes to a glis­ten­ing black snout. I pull the dog from my face and hurl her across the bed. Su­sanna’s side is empty. I hear a ket­tle, the desul­tory move­ment of crock­ery in the kitchen and text her to bring me up a cup of tea.

“Can’t,” comes her im­me­di­ate re­ply, com­plete with a sad face emoji. “I am in London.”

It is the chil­dren I’ve heard down­stairs. Su­sanna has al­ready trav­elled 120 miles to the cap­i­tal city.

She thinks noth­ing of a 5.30am start. I have more tra­di­tional cir­ca­dian rhythms. I wake at 7am but I stay up much later. I like to work late then slip into the back gar­den at mid­night and get a good look at our fox or ad­mire the cir­cling po­lice he­li­copters. Last week their search­light caught me as they scoured the back gar­dens for a bad­die. I raised a glass to the guy with the in­frared gog­gles, my most mean­ing­ful hu­man in­ter­ac­tion of the day.

That’s be­cause Su­sanna and I barely see each other. Ac­cord­ing to my Venn di­a­gram, our paths cross for 28 min­utes each evening. Twenty-eight min­utes. That’s not a re­la­tion­ship. That’s a Downton Abbey ad break.

And in that 28 min­utes we have to pack a lot in. Who is go­ing to pick up the thing from the Post Of­fice? Where are Tommy’s shin pads? Why is the tiny screw for the bath­room door knob which has dropped off been left on the land­ing car­pet?

I reel off an­swers like an anx­ious con­tes­tant in the spotlit Mas­ter­mind chair. And then I half ex­pect Su­sanna to say, “At the end of that round, Michael, you have scored 10 points – although the bath­room door han­dle is ac­tu­ally on the list of things you said you would fix.”

But then comes the re­ally tough stuff. The invitation round.

“Ok, so we need to make a decision about Prague,” Su­sanna says.

A friend is hav­ing a 50th in Prague. They live down the road but the cel­e­bra­tion will be in the Czech Repub­lic. Why? Be­cause in a world of in­creas­ing ho­mo­gene­ity ev­ery­one needs to work harder to feel spe­cial.

“We also need to make a decision about Nepal,” she con­tin­ues.

There is a school trip to Nepal. The chil­dren will trek through a for­est. Or build a school. Or climb Ever­est. Some­thing. I can’t re­mem­ber. But first they have to raise £4,000. Can a child raise £4,000? No, they can’t. I look out of the win­dow hop­ing to God that job doesn’t end up on my list.

That’s the thing about mod­ern re­la­tion­ships: you have to fight for them against the pro­lif­er­a­tion of mi­cro-choices. Some­times you have to run from the Stuffalanche.

“We need to make a decision about Christ­mas,” Su­sanna per­sists.

“No,” I say. “Stop. Just be in the mo­ment. Just for five min­utes.”

Su­sanna has many qual­i­ties but be­ing in the mo­ment is not one of them. She would rather or­gan­ise the mo­ment in three months’ time when a turkey will need bast­ing while a fight breaks out in the hall­way over Santa hats.

“I just need a provisional yes or no. Are peo­ple com­ing here?” she asks.

“Look at me,” I say. “This is us. Here. Now. For­get Christ­mas.”

It is the first time we have had di­rect eye con­tact that day. Some­times I think Su­sanna doesn’t like eye con­tact.

“If I had a flat face like an iPad where you could swipe away the fea­tures you didn’t like, you’d pre­fer that wouldn’t you?” I say.

“Don’t be self-pity­ing. What are we go­ing to do about all this c---?”

I es­ti­mate we are in the mo­ment for a max­i­mum of five seconds be­fore her phone be­gins ping­ing re­lent­lessly with up­dates from the cor­po­ra­tion which ex­er­cises full rights over her at­ten­tion span.

Later we are in bed. I kiss her neck like the dog kissed mine this morn­ing, but Su­sanna is look­ing at hol­i­day cot­tages.

“If we’re not go­ing to miss out on the good places at Christ­mas like we al­ways do, we should book now,” she says. I point out that even dur­ing the orig­i­nal Christ­mas some of the ma­jor play­ers couldn’t find ac­com­mo­da­tion, yet they man­aged.

“They’d have had a good laugh walk­ing along with that don­key,” I say.

“I’m not sleep­ing in a barn. I need a proper hol­i­day,” Su­sanna says, stab­bing at her tablet.

“Look at me just one mo­ment,” I say. “Breathe.” Su­sanna con­sid­ers my face hard. “You need to make a decision about your glasses,” she says.

First-world prob­lems: will the chil­dren go to Nepal? Will the fam­ily get a good place at Christ­mas? Will Michael get some new glasses?

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