Life and times
The TV presenter and author on canine companionship and feeling the pull of two houses
Television presenter Janet Ellis
THIS TIME LAST WEEK, my husband, John, and I were in Sicily, on a train from Modica. It was early morning but the next train didn’t leave until after three. We’d had a hasty breakfast, watched as usual by the colony of stray cats that Maria, our neighbour in Modica, feeds twice daily. Their expressions suggested that their mealtime should, ideally, be brought forward.
We’ve only owned the house for nine months but already it feels like home – it was an impulse buy and the best thing we ever did. Tiny, spartan, simple and proof that I can be a minimalist – although there is still time to introduce what others call ‘clutter’, and I think of as ‘jewellery for the house’.
The train had only two carriages, and six occupants. As we stared at the fields, the twisty trees, the farmhouses and the sea, it felt as if we were learning the ways of a lover and had to commit everything to memory for when we parted. And it was like being unfaithful – we’ll see you soon, we crooned, as we shut the door on our London house, and the bustle and daily routine. We won’t be long, we told the Modican cottage, holding back the vine from its face. If they ever find out about each other, we might have to choose.
I RECORDED AN EPISODE of Older and Wider, the podcast Jenny Eclair makes with Judith Holder. I’ve known Jenny slightly for years. We have some little things in common: our daughters were at university together; we have mutual friends; we have crossed over at events, but I haven’t spent much proper time in her company. Each time I see her, I like her more.
I make friends quickly and I was lucky to go into a profession – acting – where you meet potential chums all the time. Working together over only a few weeks, friendships are accelerated. My address book is a happy aide-memoire of past employment and gathered friendships. It’s conceivable that Jenny doesn’t share my ambition to be her new best friend but I’m tenacious, so this is fair warning if she needs any excuses ready over the next few months.
MY HUSBAND JOHN has cancer and is having three-weekly cycles of chemotherapy, which has left him feeling, as he puts it, ‘unreliable’. He chooses to devote his time to study. To the untutored eye it looks more like watching copious amounts of daytime TV, mostly involving people standing in bare rooms in sunny seaside towns saying, ‘This hasn’t got the wow factor.’ But I’m not qualified.
However, it leaves my Italian Spinone, Angela, and me free to breakfast at leisure, walk four miles of Thames towpath and spend the rest of the day lying down beside John (her) and working (me). We have walked this route in rain and shine, or that bizarre combination of the two known as summer. We never tire of that walk, either of us. The river is a beautiful, reassuring presence. Angela explores and chases things. I work out tricky bits of plot or have conversations with myself about what’s going on.
Italian Spinones are loyal, friendly and stoic. She likes company, and she’s a good mate. I try to follow John’s lead in the brilliant, phlegmatic way he copes with cancer, but I could do worse than learn about unquestioning, loving friendship from our dog.
Jenny Eclair had better watch out. How It Was, by Janet Ellis, is published on Thursday (Two Roads, £16.99)
I could do worse than learn about unquestioning, loving friendship from our dog, Angela