I am in a situation, probably in common with a great many other women, in which I only have a husband some of the time.
That is not to say that I am emulating the Liz Taylor model of marriage. I do, of course, have a husband all the time, strictly speaking, but I only have him with me some of the time.
When we moved to southern Spain almost eight years ago, and especially when we relocated here to our rustic mountainous home, we understood that it would be pretty difficult to earn a living. All intentions of self-sufficiency and of morphing into Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall to one side, we were realistic enough to recognise that chickens’ eggs, olives, figs and almonds were not generally acceptable as payment for such essentials as local rates or electricity bills or fuel for the car.
So one of us, at least, needed conventional work. My significant other, John, opted to be the one; and he further opted to fulfil that role by continuing to work for the Greater Manchester Fire Authority. As a Firefighter, then, he works a four-on, four-off shift pattern, and is therefore able to grace us with his presence in Spain every other four days, pretty much.
We have managed to
run limp with this system thus far, despite the strains. And there are most definitely strains.
Travelling is clearly one of them – John spends much more than enough of his time waiting at airports for ‘planes that are actually on schedule, let alone those that are delayed. I spend far too much time sat in a car driving the 100km to and from the airport, which journey is now so utterly, mind-numbingly tedious that I am obliged to drink volumes of killer coffee so that I can actually make the run with my eyes open.
Spiralling costs of travel is another.
And we are, indeed, sometimes totally thwarted – air traffic controllers (the little sweethearts!), inclement weather and even volcanic ash clouds have all conspired to keep us apart.
Yes, these things are irksome. But if I’m completely honest, then I have to say that the biggest strain of all on the arrangement is Part-Time Partner Syndrome.
I’m calling it that because, having spoken to others in a variety of different situations who have also opted to be part-time partners, I am convinced that this syndrome is very real and demands recognition. Part-Time Partner Syndrome has two completely different faces, depending on the party suffering it, as the following 24-hour snapshot will illustrate:
|The Absentee Party (AP)||The Permanent Fixture Party (PFP)|
Part-Time Partner Syndrome makes this party insecure in his own home. It gives him a need to make a mark, to overcome the feeling of being a guest..
Part-Time Partner Syndrome makes this party fiercely defensive of her space. It gives rise to sensitivity about all perceived slurs on her home management.
| He arrives and unpacks. He notices that the place is spotless, with everything in its place; not quite as homely as he would like, perhaps, but a nice gesture.
He has things for the PFP from the UK that she requested, and he bought in quantity to make sure she doesn’t run short. And he found a couple of other bargains too. She will be pleased!
| She, so pleased to see the AP at first, feels agitated almost immediately when he unloads his stuff and spreads it all over the place after she has cleaned and tidied it so lovingly in readiness for his arrival.
OMG – she asked for a packet of kaffir lime leaves, not a year’s supply. And where the hell is she going to store five boxes of SPECIAL OFFER dishwasher tablets (with powerball)?
| The PFP serves up the dinner she had prepared in the slow cooker earlier in anticipation of his arrival. He’s not especially hungry since he managed to grab something at the airport. But a relaxing glass of wine or two is certainly welcome after work and travel.
|Amongst the debris of disgorged luggage, the packaging from a Meal Deal alerts her to the fact that the AP has snacked en route instead of holding out for a proper meal, as she has done. Wine is clearly more welcome than food.|
| After dinner he offers to empty the dishwasher so that the PFP can clear away the dinner stuff. He is never entirely sure where everything goes, but he takes a guess because he knows it exasperates the PFP if he has to keep asking.
Then he spends some time fussing the dogs, who are as pleased to see him as he is them.
| She then clears away all the dinner things, as well as the rubbish from the AP’s travel bag, while the AP is cavorting on the floor with the dogs for an unsuitably long time.
She notices that the corkscrew is not hung in its proper place, so she fishes it out of a drawer and wishes he would undertake a memory-improving course.
|He then checks all correspondence and catches up with the day’s news and other stuff on the computer, because he simply doesn’t have the time during his busy work schedule. He loves the fact that his time is his own when he comes home.||She then makes a coffee and takes it to the AP, who has removed himself to the office and is now commandeering the computer (which is her habitual after-dinner spot) and is watching ridiculous YouTube clips.|
| After that, he decides to call it a day, since he is tired after a heavy work rota and from the travelling, so he performs his ablutions and turns in.
He really relishes the comfort of his own bed and wishes that he didn’t have to spend half his life away from its welcoming folds.
He drifts into sleep thinking pleasant thoughts about the things he will tackle the next day when he awakes replenished by a good night’s sleep in his own home.
| The AP announces that he is shattered and disappears into the bathroom, while she clears and straightens the computer desk.
The AP then climbs into bed and is snoring loudly within minutes. After putting the lid back on the toothpaste, cleaning the bathroom mirror of splashes and re-folding the towels, she locks the front door, switches off the outside lights and refreshes the dogs’ water.
She then squeezes into the handkerchief-sized area of bed left to her by the spread-eagled AP.
| In the morning he wakes naturally, uninterrupted by the rude alarm clock that rules his working life. He stretches, turns over, and enjoys a long lie-in, which he feels he deserves after four days of solid work.
When he finally surfaces, he offers to help the AP with the morning chores but is informed (a little curtly, he feels) that they are already done.
| She has an uncomfortable night given the limited space she is afforded, together with the loud snorting and honking (and farting) with which she is regaled. Also due to the icy draught created by the sudden lack of covers that occurred at 02:30hrs when the AP did his famous chrysalis impersonation.
Nonetheless, she still gets up at 07:00hrs to feed the dogs, cats, parrots and chickens.
| Over morning coffee, he mentions to the PFP that he was thinking through a few minor home alterations while he was enjoying his lie-in that would enhance the place and make more of it. He is sure she will be pleased that he is taking the initiative, but is surprised to see that she is not actually beside herself with joy.
So he disappears instead to start the tractor and get on with some of the work on the land, while thinking to himself that this is definitely the life.
He could do this all day, and looks forward to the time when he can ditch the job and stay here forever.
| When they sit down to a coffee, the AP tells her that he has decided that the lounge windows would look much better without the blinds that adorn them, so that the views could be better enjoyed. He says that he will get his tools after coffee and take them down. She thinks, “Do it and die”.
The AP decides instead to go and play on his tractor, so she actually sees nothing more of him until she insists (when she can locate him) that he comes in for something to eat mid-afternoon
She surreptitiously checks his departure time two days hence.