Bridget and I have been married for more than forty years, or, expressed in another, rather more frightening way, slightly less than fifteen thousand days. That’s a staggering number of mornings, afternoons and evenings, isn’t it? Both of us would say, however, that the saga of our relationship has been well worth the time and trouble involved. We may have teetered on the cusp of killing each other on one or two occasions, but after four decades we are still the best of friends, and, generally speaking, happier in each other’s company than anywhere else.
Incidentally, if we reach our fiftieth anniversary I hope I shall make a better speech than the one delivered by my Lancastrian father-in-law at his Golden Wedding celebration. Rising reluctantly to his feet George removed a ridiculously small scrap of paper from the inside pocket of his suit jacket, adjusted his glasses and produced the following memorable oration.
“Well, we got married and er.... then we had the children. And er... nothing much happened after that.”
That was it. That was how George summarised fifty years of married life. His wife was furious, and you can’t blame her really. I’d better start planning my speech now.
Anyway, the reason I mention all this is quite simple. I’ve decided that after forty years, regardless of what I just said, it’s time to have a fling. Other folk do it. Why shouldn’t I? People would understand, I think. After all, forty years of being with the same person doing more or less the same thing is about as much as you can expect from anyone, don’t you think? And, let me be honest, I’ve done it before. It happened one day about five years ago. I found myself sitting on a train opposite a rather interesting looking woman. The more I looked at this person the more I became convinced that I had met her before, and had once known her very well indeed. Maybe this would turn out to be a starting point for my ‘fling’. Worth taking a chance anyway. I leaned forward and spoke to her.
“Excuse me – I hope you don’t mind me asking, but didn’t we know each other a long time ago? I remember your face so well.”
She gazed at me for a few moments with what I can only describe as an exasperated expression on her face. Then she spoke.
“Do you think you could stop talking nonsense for a couple of minutes and pass me a sandwich?”
That’s a pretty cool response for someone who’s being eyed up for a fling, wouldn’t you say? Still, that’s my wife for you. The coolest of the cool.
There was a point to what I said, though. When you’ve battled your way together through the long haul of bringing up four children, hardly stopping to take a breath in the process, it comes as something of a shock when the last one leaves and, exhausted with kidlag, you are suddenly confronted by the person you fell in love with so very long ago. Definitely the right time to have a bit of a fling with an old flame. And I seem to remember that that is exactly what we did.
There is a sort of spiritual equivalent with God as well. Eighteen months ago after living in the south for thirty years, Bridget and I sold our house in Sussex and moved to Scargill House Conference Centre near Skipton in North Yorkshire. There was a real sense of adventure and reinvigoration about our change of direction. The tectonic plates of our faith seemed to groan and shift under the pressure of divinely instigated change. Now, as we enter the final year of our stay in this place, we are more conscious than ever that the concept of having a ‘fling with God’ should be a familiar and welcome one in communities such as this. Eventually, the slow-motion panic of establishing a framework that allows the Centre to operate efficiently will be as complete as it is ever likely to be. Then, I would suggest, each person involved might do well to look into the face of the God who is responsible for putting them there in the first place, remember how the love once burned, and ask what kind of a ‘fling’ he is planning for the future. God protect us from the tedium of flame-proof religion.
So, coming back to my desire to have yet another fling with my wife, we shall be planning our next moves (geographical and spiritual) over the coming months, and a renaissance in our personal relationship is definitely one of the moves we are planning. Looking back, I rather wish we had enjoyed a few more of these during the years that were eaten, not by the locust, but by changing, feeding, cleaning, clothing, entertaining, driving, rescuing, financing, shouting, whispering, forgiving, being forgiven, talking, listening, laughing, crying and all the other attention-consuming aspects of parenting. Like most people over sixty we have now become experts on the things we could have done better.
As for God, well, we’re trying to keep a very low profile at the moment in the hope that he’ll let us stay in the north for a little while after we leave Scargill. The problem, as you will be sick to death of hearing me say, is that you simply cannot trust God at all, and what a blessing that is. No, we know what we think we want, but when the tectonic plates start to tremble once again I know for a fact that we shall be ready for a fling