Ian has been away this week and I have had a bit of time here on my own. Visitors who come from the brightly lit city and look out into the velvet dark up here often ask if I mind being here on my own. The answer is not at all. Our neighbours at the farm are seconds away even though we cannot see them from the house and I don't mind being alone by the fire or snuggled down in bed.
For the last twelve years or so I have been the one to go away. It is curious now to find myself the one who stays at home.
So what is the difference in how it feels? Well, going away is a strange mixture. If you have children there is always a little bit of guilt (or even a lot!) no matter how well looked after you know they will be when you are gone. My children were in their teens by the time I was spending weeks away with work and didn't seem to mind too much. Perhaps they even liked the fact that I wasn't hanging around checking if they had done their homework and trying to encourage them to talk about their day. But there was always a bit of me that felt guilty about driving away on a Monday morning, leaving their care to my husband, not guilty enough not to go, obviously.
And then there is an odd lightness, a sort of relief. You are leaving behind all the minutiae of home life: the unpaid bills, the unwashed laundry, the shopping lists, the teetering piles of ironing, the cat to take to the vet, the insurance quote to find. You are not there so there is nothing you can do about it. If you stay in a hotel there is nothing to do at all except unpack your bag and look at the minibar. I never liked hotel life, the meals on a tray from room service or eating on your own in a hotel restaurant pretending to read a book, though both of those were sometimes better than finding yourself eating with people you didn't care for in a fug of drink and jollity. It wasn't always like that of course. Sometimes you found yourself in a beautiful city with locals who took you out for great meals with interesting people and allowed you to pretend for an evening that you too lived in Barcelona or Lisbon or Amsterdam. It was a far cry from changing beds or taking the bins out. There is an excitement, an energy in leaving home with your bag and going out into the world.
But very often being away from home for work contains vast tracts of time where the strongest emotion is boredom. Business travel gives you hours hanging around in airports, sitting on trains, having an evening to kill with nothing to do other than mess about with your presentation. And travelling is tiring too, even though it is sometimes hard to see why it should be if all you are doing is sitting on a train reading a report and drinking coffee.
Being in touch while you are away is tricky too. You already feel disconnected and if you don't ring and talk to your family you begin to feel even more distant and disorientated. But ringing can be a minefield. You find that your daughter is being bullied or your son is ill. Your partner is clearly struggling with the twin pressures of work and home and you suddenly can't talk about the success of a meeting or an enjoyable meal out without feeling uncomfortable and somehow disloyal. Or you are having a miserable time in a cheap hotel with sticky carpets and a client who stubbornly insists on the impossible and they are all clearly having a great week. You can hear them laughing in the background and you struggle not to feel sorry for yourself and left out.
I think if I had stayed home for years I might feel differently about staying home now. It is odd to be the one left holding the fort. It is disconcerting to find that the jobs of ringing the builder and renewing the road tax and finding a new dentist which you blithely said you would do are messy and hopelessly timeconsuming and frustrating with hours wasted hanging on the phone, listening to a chirpy girl telling you how important your call is to them. I never used to have time to do any of that so I didn't.
There is always a small sense of being left behind when the person who is leaving goes out of the door. You look at the dishes and the laundry and suppress an internal sigh. But then you remind yourself that you don't actually want to get on the train. You can go and walk round the garden, sit at the computer and read blogs. It is entirely up to you what you do with your day. And having an evening to yourself is actually rather wonderful. I have always liked it - no sound but the fire, no television, a glossy magazine or a new book or a shiny laptop hour. I like getting into bed by myself and stretching out on the cool sheets.
That enjoyment lasts for the first night but if I am by myself much longer the attraction fades. In a few days I am longing for company and conversation and a warm body to hug in the bed and someone to laugh with at Armstrong and Miller.
So just for now I think I like to be the one who is left. I like to be the still centre of the turning world, feeding the cats and sorting the chickens out and hanging up laundry and watching a thrush eating berries in the yew tree for long quiet minutes. As long as next week I can get in the car and drive away.
Are you the leaver or the left?