"Having nothing in common has never got in the way"

COASTAL Suffolk, and we are instigating radical change; with an empty nest looming my husband and I have put ourselves to discovering areas of common interest. 

From now on we are to share more than history, chat, chores, rupture, reconciliation, worries and the delights of the marital bed; we are to share a leisure pursuit — something we don’t do already, individually or as a couple.

Fortunately for me this rules out having to join him in any of his activities requiring specialised footwear, equipment and/or the desire to put oneself in imminent danger of physical harm/death. Nor will I have to read sports sections, or grow summer salad and forget to water it. And there will be no gym. Or going through bank statements of a morning (which I say counts as a leisure activity: perverse enjoyment is still enjoyment).

Fortunately for him, this rules out anything floral, having to read novels by day, or do anything with paintbrushes, hedge-loppers, fairy-lights or a spade. Nor will he have to lie down for long stretches when/where no-one is looking so as to talk rubbish with one’s siblings on house-phone while looking up cheap flights to London. Or spend afternoons sorting cupboards (which he says counts).

But even with all these leisure activities ruled-out, all sorts of things are still ruled-in, such as, for example, standing in Minsmere Nature Reserve, as I’m doing now, with marsh grasses and a hundred pensioners whispering all around me, waiting politely in the boiling sun, to rent a pair of binoculars.

I know it could be taxidermy, or ping-pong, but I don’t quite know how bird-watching rose to the top so fast. Surely binoculars count as specialised equipment? But my husband says, all shifty-like, that he mentioned it before we left for Suffolk. I have no recollection of this whatsoever — but then I might have been sorting cupboards at the time.

We bird-watch for one mile. After one and a half, I am very, very hot with a big red face, and three miles of wetlands to go. And despite what the brochure says about there being “so much to see and hear at Minsmere: rare birds breeding and calling, shy otters, and the booming call of bitterns in spring”, so far, I’ve only seen a duck.

We enter the first bird-hide; a big wooden box with benches filled with more whispering elderly. I sit down, cowed into silence and stare at ducks for 10 minutes.

“Why fix what isn’t broken?” I whisper to my husband. “Why meddle with the delicate foundations of a marriage?”

“I found a Lapwing,” he says, fiddling with the focus on the binoculars.

“I mean having nothing in common has never got in the way of us getting along. Why change things now?”

“I think that’s an Avocet,” he says.

“I mean what if marriage is a bit like Jenga? The ‘opposites attract’ thing might be one of those crucial little building blocks in our relationship that if you take out, the whole...”

“There’s another bird-hide on the other side of the marsh,” he says. “Let’s walk to that one.”

“I mean, it’s a strange thing, longevity, when you think of it.” I say. “Neanderthal couples didn’t have to worry about finding new hobbies. They just died before things got to that stage.”

“A Coot!” he says [march, march, march].

“And now I come to think about it, I don’t suppose monogamy was an issue for Neanderthal couples either, not if they died at 30.” [march.]

“On balance, which do you think is harder, monogamy or marriage?” I ask, trying to identify an odd, unfamiliar feeling... is there such a thing as outdoor claustrophobia, I wonder?

“It’s the same thing isn’t it?” he says [march, march]. “I think we might see a Marsh Harrier if we’re patient.”

I’ve finally identified the feeling: boredom. No wonder it took me so long; I am never, ever bored. I’m going to have to rule birding out.

“What I mean is,” I continue, now bored to such distraction I’ve even forgotten how honest my husband can be, “is it the marriage bit, you know, the drama and irritation of two people trying to fit their lives together forever — or the ‘forsaking all others’ bit, that’s harder? I mean personally...”

He swings right for the bird-hide and swishes through the tall marsh grasses. I can’t see him, what with all the bulrushes, but I can just about hear him.

“The marriage bit,” he says [swish, swish], “definitely the marriage bit.”

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