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Ancient Feet: 38 - Domestic Disillusion

...I couldn't think of anything else to say, so left it at that but it made me realise that there are a lot of very troubled people around us and we have no idea what's going on in their minds...

Alan Nolan hears of domestic discontent while trekking towards Kirkby Stephen on the Coast to Coast walk.

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We walked on and, as Kirkby Stephen drew nearer, Don and I were some distance ahead of Tom and Joe. On the few occasions that I'd tried to walk at the back of the group, I found that my presence there was unacceptable. I might get away with it for a few minutes but it would not be long before Tom would step aside and tell me to 'Piss off. You can walk in front.' By the Tuesday afternoon I was beginning to get the message and so walked on with Don who seemed to be growing stronger by the day.

Don has been self employed for most of his life and is one of those unfortunate people who has seen his livelihood eroded by new technology. At a time in his life when he should be at the peak of his earning power and looking forward to a comfortable retirement, he was struggling to find work. Indeed, on occasion, he has had to turn his hand to doing odd jobs for friends and neighbours in order to keep a bit of money coming in. Most of the British companies which had kept him busy for many years have either been driven out of business by cheap foreign imports or have sold out to larger American companies. He is left with just one client a large American company which calls on him sporadically when it encounters a problem which can only be solved by a human brain. When he is called upon, he has to spend time away from home in the States or the Far East, which is another thing that he had not anticipated at his time in life.

'How are things at home, Don?' I asked in a conversational way.

'Okay,' he mumbled in what I thought sounded a less than convincing tone.

'Well, not that okay, actually,' he added after a moment's thought. 'That's one of the reasons I'm doing this. Jane and I decided it would be a good idea if we spent a bit of time apart; thinking time, if you like. Things haven't been great between us for a couple of years; ever since she had to go back to work a couple of years ago. She only works part-time, but she didn't expect to have to go back to work in her sixties.'

'What, do you think she blames you? That seems unfair. After all, it's not your fault that work's dried up,' I said, making a mental note not to ask anyone how things are at home, ever again. Also, I couldn't help thinking about a story related to me by a divorced lady, a few years earlier, when she told me about the breakdown of her marriage. Apparently, she lived a very affluent life by courtesy of her husband's successful company but, she learned later, business had been poor for a couple of years and their luxury lifestyle had been sustained by loans and a mortgage on their very desirable home. When she discovered that not only was their life of affluence at an end, but also they were likely to lose their beautiful home as well, she could not bear him even to touch her any more. Whether her feelings for him changed because she saw him as a failure or whether it was because he had put their entire way of life at risk without her knowledge, I never did find out. Whichever it was, I thought it best not to relate the story to Don at this moment.

'I don't really know what she thinks any more. If we try to discuss anything, we just end up arguing, so it drives us further apart.'

'Well, the last thing you want at your age is to split up, so you need to sort out your differences. It's not too late, is it?' I asked.

'I think it might be,' he sighed, 'I think she's having an affair.'

Oh, no, I thought. Never, ever ask anyone how things are at home, ever again.

'What on earth makes you think that?' I asked calmly.

'It's just little things really. She seems to look forward to me going away on business and she encouraged me to come on this trip. She's gone to stay with a friend. At least, that's what she says,' he said, glumly.

'But, that sounds reasonable, Don. Perhaps she thinks it will do both of you good to spend some time apart and be with your own friends. I'm sure everything will be fine when you get home,' I said, hopefully.

'Oh, I don't know,' he said in a dejected tone. 'I don't even know what I want now.'

'You do still love her, don't you?' I asked, feeling alarmed at his apparent defeatism.

'I'm not sure,' he said slowly, as though he had not thought about it for a lifetime. 'I really don't know,' he said, looking me directly in the eyes, realisation dawning as he spoke.

'Listen, Don,' I said, reaching the limit of my marriage guidance ability, 'you'd better make up your bloody mind, sharpish. When did you last tell her you love her?'

'I can't remember,' he said.

'Well, get on the phone and tell her. It'll make all the difference,' I said, sounding far more confident than I felt, 'and if you can't bring yourself to say it, then send her some flowers with a note saying you love her. She'll find that dead romantic.'

'I'll have to think about it. Anyway, she won't be home until the weekend and we agreed not to phone each other before then. That was something else that made me think she isn't visiting her friend.'

I couldn't think of anything else to say, so left it at that but it made me realise that there are a lot of very troubled people around us and we have no idea what's going on in their minds. Also, I thought, perhaps this is why Don's been so tetchy, poor bloke.

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