Alone Again, Naturally

Posted on: 07 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Our ex-pat lives the single life for a week.


I’ve always had a sneaking regard for Gilbert O’Sullivan. Naturally, I wouldn’t have admitted it as a teenager, up there in my lonely bedroom, listening in the dark to the apocalyptic likes of Van der Graaf Generator.

Now, as a sensible fifty-something, I can confess it. Anyone prepared to model his public persona on the boy from the Hovis advert has got to have guts.

Gilbert’s song has lately been stuck in my head. "Alone again… nat-ur'lly". April, you see, is the time that I’m usually left to my own devices.

My wife customarily takes our daughter back home to her mother’s in Cumbria. Ten days of suiting myself. Not that you can ever be alone with a dog, or even two singular cats, who make their presence felt in various ways.  Recently, for example, I discovered a dead mouse underneath the washing-up bowl.

I’ll miss "the girls", of course, but I regard these breaks positively. Just as Deborah, too, enjoys my occasional absence. Self-reliance is good for a relationship. Naming no names, I know at least two men who forbid their partners to read in their company because they demand uninterrupted attention.

Nothing much will change here. I’ll get up, feed the animals, walk the dog and go to bed at a similar time. Because I can make enough for two days at a time, I’ll spend less time cooking and more time working. There might even be sufficient hours to indulge my quirks. I might smoke a Gauloise with my coffee, play all my Thelonious Monk records, have a W.C. Fields evening, and re-run the greatest try ever scored, the best of Best, or David Gower’s finest knock - without fear of reprisal.

Golly, I could even do as I did last April and invite a buddy over for a Sunday roast. The chicken came from a good home, but, as a 95% practising vegetarian, the admission is tantamount to treason.

I did a good job, though, considering the last time I roasted a chicken was maybe 15 years ago, for my brother. He’d suffered a heart attack at the age of 33, and I took him to France one April as part of his recuperation. A bit of light work in our house: demolishing a breakfast bar dubbed “The Berlin Wall”, building a bathroom out of breeze blocks in the cave. Nothing too strenuous.

Our old house in the Corrèze was a big drafty stone farmhouse. After a winter abandoned to the elements, it was as cold as Juliet’s tomb. We had one feeble log fire in the humungous hearth, in which we would heat bricks to wrap in old scorched towels to keep us warm in our airbeds, which would gradually deflate throughout the night. It rained a lot, too, and I was given to reciting "Oh to be in England, now that April’s here."

For entertainment, we would devise adverts for those effeminate little “man-bags” and other curious facets of French life. "Men! Why mislay that moustache comb when you can keep it in a new Robespierre Man-Bag…?" Sometimes we would drive to the local supermarché and score points for spotting the "lariest" shell-suits on parade.

Occasionally, we would eat at a local restaurant and The Brother would grow louder and funnier with each glass of wine. Airing his appalling French. Not that mine was much better then. I would chat as best I could with neighbours-to-be and later learned that I’d asked a retired schoolteacher whether she’d planted her breasts in her kitchen garden. Well, "poitrines" is almost an anagram of "potirons" -pumpkins.

Despite the back-breaking work, despite the rain and the cold, we had fun that April and I got to know my brother better than ever before or since. We even fantasised about starting a building firm. Les Frères Sampson. Our strap line: "Faites votre problème notre problème."

It was marred only by my return to Sheffield to learn that my beloved cat, Stan, had died during the journey home.

So I shall endeavour to ensure that there is a full quota of animals for the return of "the girls". Living the single life each year has its attractions, but I wouldn’t exchange my family status for all the new leaves in April.

Mark Sampson, April 2008

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