‘Just as well he’s still working I s’pose,’ says her friend.
‘Oh yes, I couldn’t do with him being home all the time,’ she replied.
I manoeuvred my trolley in the direction of the biscuits (is it just me or do you find that the more choice there is, the longer it takes you to choose, until the packet you finally end up with seems altogether less tempting than it did when you began?). And I started to worry that in thirty year’s time my marriage might be held together by a pack of post-it notes and a biro. Or worse still, I'd be living with the looming fear of his retirement and of being under each other’s feet. Since being apart so much of the time seems to have brought us so close, who's to say being together might not pull us apart?
The prospect of old love doesn’t have as much going for it as young love. When two taut, prospective bodies have become saggy and rheumatic, and the forces of entropy have set in, and every bad habit has grated and amplified, and nearly everything of worth that two people could possibly discuss has been said – then what joy, what larks, what pleasure to be found?
I suppose it is natural that whenever I think of ageing couples I think of my dear old grandparents. At their diamond wedding anniversary I read a piece from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernière, who talks about young love as the passion that burns away, and old love as that which is left. When the temporary madness has subsided, he says:
‘You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.’
It still seems to me as good a definition of love as anyone has ever written, and you can hear the whole of that wonderful passage here:
My grandmother had such a hot temper and quick frustration that living with her must have been like inhabiting an emotional cyclone. And yet - and yet - if my grandfather was ever tempted to leave, there was something that made him stay. They may have fought, but they also laughed, and this mutual mischief was enough to make a marriage work.
She remains endlessly quotable, her caustic wit is still the source of an aphorism for every occasion. Perhaps it’s a small, insignificant kind of thing, but I think it punches above its weight in the field of relationships, a shared sense of humour.
We can be connected by families, or social groupings, or shared tasks, or shared experiences. We can be connected by blood, by loss, by mutual need. But to find the same things funny is an elemental connection, as strong as passion, only with a longer shelf life. How very important it is to be able to cheer each other up. I can still hear them singing: ‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are grey...’