Are you married? People ask me this a lot. Not because I hang out at the end of bars looking for fun but mainly because I don’t wear a ring. I’m bad with jewellery; I don’t wear a watch either, I only wear earrings on a night out. And like any mum knows, you avoid necklaces because they’re just asking for a two-year-old to swing off them like a gymnastics bar. But I don’t wear a ring because there is more that binds Ned and I together than just a bit of metal around a finger. There’s legal binding contracts for a start and four little people who got up at 6am this morning and asked if they could go out and play in the garden. Errrrr, no.
But recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a marriage, what propels it along, what keeps it afloat. And before you ask, yes, I’ve been at the gin. I may be writing drunk; again. I met Ned Stark at a wedding, exactly twelve years ago – it was the perfect place to get swept up in love as a singleton and cast off those desperate pangs of ‘shit, I’m going to be left on my tod forever…’ He is and always has been a bit of a romantic and an all-out good guy. My first memory of him was giving me his coat outside a La Tasca, back when he used to live near Winterfell. He once drove all the way to Germany through ten hours of heavy snow to help his brother move home. There was a heroic occasion that he caught a girl on a subway train and had it stopped so she could get medical attention. There’s some old school manners about him. He is genuine and straight up. He does all the dad stuff too – the nappies, the cooking, the reading of stories. But alas, this doesn’t sound like you, Mrs Bailey, this is a bit of a gush-a-thon. Tell us all the shit stuff too, please! OK…well, there’s plenty of that too.
Ned hates Christmas. That’s the biggest thing. I’ve never seen anyone hate Christmas the way that he does and every year while I’m prancing about, listening to Buble and getting my Santa on, he is doing an Ebenezer in the corner and sucking the joy out of my life. I thought some of my love of the festive season might rub off on him. Twelve years on and it’s getting worse. One day, you may read a headline about a woman who pelted her husband to death with baubles, sticking the shards in his eyeballs. That would be me.
And there are other things: the silent night time flatulence, his love of golf, the way he thinks oven chips are a suitable accompaniment to chilli con carne, the swearing at inanimate objects, the fact he’s a morning person, the general misery he feels every year when it’s his birthday and he slumps into some weird depression about how little he’s achieved with his life. Oi! Ned! Look at me and those four little people over here! What are we? Chopped liver? We’re frigging awesome. Pull your head out of your arse!
And I won’t lie but occasionally you suffer a jolt and ask yourself about your relationship. Usually on the days when you’re sat on the sofa, midweek drinking, binge watching Game of Thrones and both of you are in a worn and dirty assortment of pants and pyjamas. You ask yourself what happened? One day, you were this young couple smooching by the Thames, taking long walks by the South Bank and baring your souls to each other. The next, the only contact you have all day is you shouting down the stairs for him to take the bin out and three little texts.
We need milk
Blue or Green
You haven’t really shaved your legs for three months, you can’t think of anything to say to each other, you hate everything he does. Like the way he scratches his bollocks in front of you. Or tosses wet tea towels into the dirty laundry. Or eats peanut butter with Marmite. Or looks at you like you’re a cretin because you listen to too much commercial pop gubbins. That sucks balls.
Because sometimes parenthood and real life drains your relationship of any fun or conversation. Your focus is on getting through the every day, surviving. Ned had to take me aside the other day and check me for nits. Yeah, that was the day the romance died. Or was it the day, the baby did that epic dump at 5.30am in the morning that leaked down the back of our bed? Perhaps both.
The romantic midnight nit-check
Moods and needs change, life changes. You go out into the world and run into other men, other women, you witness other relationships, everything becomes a comparative exercise to your own relationship. You watch a movie and see a man run across traffic in the rain to tell a girl he loves her. You wonder if your husband would run into traffic for you. Or would he rather throw me into the traffic? With the way the house looks at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised. Because it turns out I’m not especially perfect either. I don’t look after my feet, they kind of look like Monster Munch. I’m careless with money. I keep a messy house. I’m stupidly disorganised. I am far too trusting and chat too long to double glazing salesmen about our fascias. I can't park a car for shit.
Yet despite it all, we stay here, together. I think if I were in the middle of the Atlantic keeping afloat on a wardrobe, I would try and move across and let you share a space on there too. I wouldn’t let go. Kate Winslet let go.
Because half of life is keeping afloat, juggling children and moving shit from A to B. It’s a partnership, a practical endeavour, teamwork. It is not always plain sailing. Times get stormy, sharks stalk the boat, you get a leak, someone always forgets the milk. There may be a time when another skipper may wave at you from his boat. He questions whether you’re having a good time. You could be having a better time on my boat. But you choose to stay put. And sometimes the boat capsizes, people jump overboard and these relationships end. I know about that. My own parents’ relationship ended this way. But my boat is still chugging along. It’s not the most exciting of trips at times but I have a sturdy and reliable sort manning the wheel. He has nice eyes. He has excellent old school manners so he gives me his coat when it starts drizzling. He won't let me drape tinsel off the boat in December but he puts up with the fact I am a thirty-five year old woman who still listens to Justin Bieber. We laugh. We cry. We shout at each other. We simultaneously roll our eyes when the kids piss off the side of the boat and embarrass us. It's not perfect and we get that. For there is something which keeps me here. I think that might be love (heaves..)
And that’s all I have to say about marriage. That was a fuck load of boating analogies. Never write when drunk. I'm trying to think back to the last time Ned and I were on a boat. I was four months pregnant with Jon Snow. I had to throw up mid-trip and good old-fashioned Ned followed me into the loos to hold back my hair. Funnily enough, we got many disapproving looks when I emerged from the restroom with husband in tow, wiping the corners of my mouth…