I’m a Comedy Widow. Apparently this is the title for those hetty women whose male partners are stand-up circuit comedians touring the country (sometimes the continent, even the globe) every weekend. The intimation is that our other halves may as well be dead. A more positive spin is also possible. At the wedding reception of Dave Fulton, the American UK-based comic, his wife Ange gave an impromptu speech divulging the secret of their successful relationship: absence. It’s hard not to miss someone when they disappear every Thursday to Sunday. It can also be hard to spend most Saturdays in alone. But over the years, I have developed a range of entertainment strategies.
One is to search online for images of celebrity facelifts. Unfortunate outcomes are particularly good at warning me off when my vanity starts to nag, now that being re-drawn has become increasingly normalised. I admit that pinning back my cheeks and jaw with my fingers forms a much better reflection when I look in the mirror, but I can barely trust my long-term hairdresser to trim my ends, let alone pay an untested stranger to snip the skin around my ears, pull it out like thin pizza dough, and staple it back. There will undoubtedly be one or two surgeons who would do it well, but I couldn’t afford them. Rene Zellwegger could, and her surgery resulted in the face of a distant cousin rather than her younger self, so I continue to use Saturday night as fright night.
Another favourite is to speed-watch all the old films I never got around to seeing. Those legendary movies from which a distinctive snatch of dialogue is now embedded in everyday culture and conversation (…phone home, …blow the bloody doors off, …make my day, …don’t call me Shirley). An evening’s not long enough for me to catch up on the full duration of each one, but I can certainly trip through half a dozen at a time if I only watch the highlights. For my partner, this method is a sacrilege. But he’s not here, is he? I just don’t have enough life to watch the ninety years of entertainment produced since ‘The Jazz Singer’ (…you ain’t heard nothin’ yet).
When I was a child, there was never any ‘casual’ food lying around the house. Everything was accounted for in the consumption calendar, and a biscuit eaten without permission was theft. I didn’t know at the time that this was an essential factor in my parents’ struggle to keep us financially afloat; I did know that I envied the open (cupboard) door policy in the kitchens of my school friends. As a reaction to my family’s frugality, I now love setting out bowls of sweets at home for visitors to pick at. It feels naughtily profligate. The sweets are not intended for my partner and I (he’s diabetic and I’m obsessed with ‘useful’ calories) so they often go soft whilst waiting to be eaten. Give them a month and the sugar turns to syrup and leaks out of the wrapper. Which leaves a very precise window of opportunity in which I can nibble the part that’s gone fudgy and then throw away the rest. This is a perfect Saturday night pastime, pretty much guilt-free because no single, entire sweet passes my lips.
Living in a basement flat provides an extra level of isolation at the weekend, when being sociable is the norm for everyone else. I sometimes push our internal entry button so that it promptly and candidly shows me a live video of the street above. There’s also a speaker button, so I can - if feeling extra lonely - address passers-by. Many don’t seem to hear the small, strangled voice coming out of the buzzer plate. What’s going down up there? Anybody having fun? Do you - yes you, the man walking back from Tesco Express with a sliced loaf - have an opinion on Brexit? It’s the closest I’m going to get to interactive TV.
Then some Saturday nights I drink a half-bottle of port in measures from a tiny 1950s sherry glass. This way you can get drunk pretty quickly in the guise of an eccentric but genteel character. It’s not a regular game, and requires a couple of months abstinence in between gos to regain a taste for port which is mostly thick, sweet and tongue-purpling. It’s also best not to play a selection of hits from your teenage years if you don’t want to get maudlin. But there’s something rarefied about sipping fortified wine like an elderly aunt while watching XFactor with the sound off, judging all that expensive dental work while the panel themselves hang a contestant.
And finally, there are my grass is greener/grimmer sessions. Think of a country where you’d like to live - or one which the media has led you to believe is a hellhole - and then examine the differences between home and away e.g. UK vs Italy. (Italy is actually one of my retirement dreams, not a hellhole). This is not as onerous as it sounds, and I could probably give Robert Peston a run for his money by midnight. There are plenty of websites to choose from: numbeo.com, countryeconomy.com, mylifeelsewhere.com… On offer are comparisons of serious stuff (GDP, health, education); eerie stuff (homicide statistics, fertility rates); and then the detailed stuff that’s closest to home (mobile tariffs, cinema tickets, a pair of Levis, 1kg onions). There is always something surprising to be revealed in the resulting parities, no matter how underdeveloped or twisted you believe the other country to be. It’s touching to discover that there are people whose experiences are just like mine, all over the world, on a Saturday night.