One summer’s evening ten years ago I sat on the sofa while my guts moved nine foot to the left. This placed them about a yard outside the house I was sitting in, which is a tricky sensation if you are trying to have a rational conversation. But when your partner of 15 years says he wants a divorce, it does that sort of thing to you.
It was, not surprisingly, the start of an entirely new phase of my life. It took us a long time to shift from where we were then to where each of us is now; it took us a good two or three years just to sort out the legals. It would have been much quicker if we’d divorced in bitterness and acrimony. (Doesn’t acrimony sound like a wind-swept purple wild flower or a homoeopathic remedy for – well – acrimony perhaps). But we were remarkably leisurely about the whole thing. It’s irrelevant now if that was because of laziness or denial.
Suddenly I realise that something which has always felt very recent was in fact a long time ago. For ages the late 1990s has been just before now, and suddenly it’s a decade behind me.
1999 – I am with a group of colleagues in the centre of Glasgow – a place I had run to out of dire economic necessity and where I was finding my feet in my brand new single life – and someone hands out a card advertising a nightclub. I realise that the only words on the card I have any cultural references for are ‘the’, ‘of’, ‘to’ and ‘and’ and the dates. I guess I’m not in my 20s any more.
2000 – I cross a road in Hamburg from a business hotel to the offices of the multinational company where I have a shiny new contract. What happens if it all goes horribly wrong? What makes me think I have anything to offer this giant company in this foreign country who are paying top dollar for my unexpectedly rare skills?
2001 – I walk back to the friend’s house where I’m staying in Sweden through sunlit suburban woods and find myself thinking fondly of the way my lover talks almost entirely about himself when we go out for a meal. In a moment of self-awareness I realise that I’m falling in love. I stop myself almost physically, by reminding myself that – no – his self-obsession isn’t endearing; it’s actually rather discourteous. And a good thing too, since our affair has run its course and he leaves a few days later.
2002 – I unpack my suitcase one Sunday night in the business hotel where I have been staying for three months; I’ve been to Sweden for a wedding. As I unpack, I find myself thinking “It’s nice to be home”. Then I realise that, no, the Holiday Inn in Leopoldstraße in Munich is not my home.
2003 – I pick up a car from the airport just outside Stockholm, and drive it carefully north through Uppsala. “How’s the driving?” – “Fine; I could go right the way up to the Circle” – “You mean that, don’t you!” I think about it for a moment and realise that yes I do. So we drive through hundreds of miles of austere Swedish woodlands right the way up to the Arctic circle, and photograph each other wearing sunglasses at midnight when we get there.
2004 – My life becomes briefly like a French art-house movie as I spend afternoons in a hotel with a married man whose name I never know and I become a way for middle-aged men to experiment with infidelity in the same way that they’d experimented with drugs in the 1970s, and I spend one unexpected night in bed with a bisexual woman and a transsexual man.
2005 – I accept a job with a Great Big Company in the spring and in the autumn I buy a small and awkward house on the edge of nowhere with a fabulous view.
2006 – I sit among fellow-members of the WI while a moan of appreciation emerges unanimously from 20 different female throats as we watch a cookery demonstrator fold melted chocolate into whipped cream. It is exactly like the scene in Catch 22 when the Colonel’s secretary crosses her legs and the entire gathering of enlisted men groan.
2007 – I rage, endlessly, futilely, week after week as the government destroys an entire generation of junior doctors. My energies are almost entirely taken up with this.
2008 – I take stock, and realise I’m surprised to that find ten years have got behind me, that I’m older and – as Pink Floyd remind me – shorter of breath and closer to death. But I sure as hell heard that starting gun. And I sure as hell have had an interesting time since.