While Alex my wife remains in hospital, someone has recently asked me whether living on my own again after fourteen years of married life is anything similar to the twenty three years of bachelor life which began when I flew the nest in 1976 until Alex moved into my apartment in 1999. I guess there may be one or two similarities, such as at present arriving home to an empty house where the only sounds are that of the clock on the mantelpiece ticking away every single second, and the constant bubbling within the aquarium generated by the combined filtering and oxygenating of the water. Not that I have any fish in the tank, of course. Who would ever think that? When I set up the tank more than six years ago, I had sixteen tiny goldfish swimming around, with the size of the tank allowing plenty of room for manoeuvre. But as the fish began to grow, one by one the fish died, the very last one more than five years after introducing it to its new environment.
Perhaps that is why I didn't bother to re-stock, at least so far. When a fish died, my heart always sank over the loss of its life, but again, watching fish glide gracefully and peacefully through the clear glass of the aquarium was for me very relaxing and perhaps therapeutic, unlike with a dog with which, after a hard day's work, having to fasten a lead to its collar and take it out into the cold night, and train it not to poo on the neighbour's prize flower bed, or to make a bee-line for the pussycat as the feline leaps up the trunk of a tree - not to mention the need for a dog licence, exorbitant veterinary bills, and rivers of tears when the animal is put down due to old age or an incurable illness, as was the case several times over the years at my parent's home. Re-stocking of the tank, this time with tropical fish, has been my consideration for some time. But ah! Here's the difference between us as a married couple. While I'm content to watch fish glide gracefully in the water, Alex loves the idea of owning and cuddling up to a big dog, such as a Rottweiler.
Then there is at present the need to cook my own meals, another parallel with my bachelor days. One of my delights of married life was always to arrive home from work to a meal already prepared, in a house kept constantly tidy and all necessary household tasks completed. Such as the choice of life she has taken immediately after our honeymoon was over - a rather obsolete or antiquated title of housewife. In my bachelor days, it was no burden to cook my own meals - I recall buying a prepared tray of steak and kidney pie and sticking it in the pre-heated oven for thirty minutes while I prepared the gravy and vegetables. Certainly then, as now, potato granules or powder must have been invented specifically for me, for there has never been a way I could handle a potato peeler. Likewise, I thank the Lord for creating apples I can eat with its skin, as an option to always having to peel oranges and watching the juice squirt everywhere, along with bits of the rind lodging under my fingernails. And not forgetting the moment I had to remove the old microwave oven from its place after coming to the end of its life, leaving behind two or three shrivelled peas, a stalk or a pip from a long eaten apple and some crumbs, all which remained hid under the oven for months, if not years.
I guess in many ways bachelor life was pretty routine. Each weekday I came home from work, cooked dinner and watched the news on the telly, along with any other programme I found interesting or entertaining. Then there was the home computer, with which I learnt the fundamentals of programming in BASIC (an acronym for Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) on the good old Sinclair ZX81, the latest in whizzkid gadgets which was to totally revolutionise home technology up to the stage of the far more sophisticated present day laptop, the i-pad and the Internet.
The ZX81 was a black box, 6 inches 15cm square, with a touch pad keyboard, with no colour, no sound, and just one kilobyte of random access memory (RAM). Since each programme was short, graphics were chunky, and no serious software could be keyed in, Sinclair came up with the 16K RAM pack which, when fitted, tend to wobble, causing disruption on the normal TV screen, which acted as the monitor. Software came on traditional cassette tapes and often it was a nightmare to load into the computer. Heavy black and white stripes continue to flicker across the TV screen even after the tape had stopped, instead of showing the 0/0 report at the bottom of the screen to tell us that the loading was successful. Yet I recall the times I held my head up high with pride I was feeling in owning one of these gadgets. Forefront of home technology.
But I did not spend every evening at home. In the 1980s I was a member of a Triathlon club in Reading, and I attended twice a week for training, along with the Friday night social, when a group of us met at a local Pizza Hut before I cycled home along a deserted road late in the night. At weekends, I often partook in Triathlon events, mainly across the South of England. Because I never owned or driven a car, most of these Triathlon events involved train travel and an overnight stop at a hotel or guesthouse. Indeed, being a bachelor had its good times, memories which I treasure to this day. Then not to mention independent long haul travel, which began in 1976 when I flew to Israel for the first time in my life, then to North America in 1977 and again in 1978. Then there was a long pause as I was made redundant from my job as a precision engineer in 1979 to becoming self employed a year later. Then in 1993 long haul travel and backpacking resumed, taking in Israel, North America, Singapore and Australia.
At a Triathlon, 1987, wearing a Lycra Trisuit, compatible for swimming, cycling and running.
At present, living on my own while my wife remains confined to her hospital bed is not a resumption of the old bachelor life. Throughout these weeks there were days, and especially nights, when I lay in bed shaking with fear, wondering what exactly is wrong with her health. I was also afraid of the future. Would she be permanently confined to a wheelchair? How would I cope watching the one I love so deeply languish in her misery? One thing for sure: I would never even consider leaving or abandoning her for an easier life. Furthermore, would I have to close my business to become her full time carer - something I have never done before? And much worse than this, would we suffer intrusion into our home by social workers or other health or Government agencies? There was even a fear of widowhood. In truth, Alex is irreplaceable. I cannot see myself marrying anyone else. As for resuming long haul travel, this would have been a possibility, but it would never ever be the same. Places such as the Mediterranean islands of Rhodes, Kos and Malta, along with Lanzarote of the Canaries, all filled with memories of us together, I would stay away. Even Israel, the Holy Land which means so much to me, would be stained with memories of us celebrating our first wedding anniversary in the year 2000.
Unlike during my bachelor days, each day of the week I take a train to Reading to spend up to two hours with my wife by her bedside. From Monday to Friday, I head for the station soon after work and a quick bite to eat. I don't get home until 9.20pm, after which I cook a quick meal. At weekends I leave for the station earlier in the day to be home earlier. Every day the house is unnaturally quiet, except for the clock and the fish tank, along with the late evening news on the TV or music from the hi-fi. Furthermore, there are times in the last several weeks which I had my heart ripped out, and the suffering of loneliness - something I did not particularly feel during the years between 1976 and 1999.
I guess life in general consists of eras, or different stages reflecting various aspects to daily living. For me, I guess it was childhood, then adolescence, then after flying the nest, a life of bachelorhood, then married life, now this, although I'm not sure what this is suppose to be. But one thing I know which stands solid like a rock or a mountain, and that is knowing God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Long before I was even born, God knew exactly how many days there will be in my life. Sure, at present I can work out how many days I have already lived (okay, if you must know, it's 22,327 days from birth, up to the time of this writing) but only God knows how many days I still have left, and what the grand total will be.
Psalm 139 makes a good read. In it, King David admits that God knew his days before he was even born, he knew exactly what he will think, say and do throughout his life and how many days God has in his book, together with the knowledge that it was God who formed him in his mother's womb, and regardless of where he goes, he cannot escape God's omnipresence. With such revelation, while Alex is still in hospital, I should, and I do, take comfort with the knowledge that everything in my life is in God's hands. The day I married Alex was a happy one as not only did we prepare to fly to Rhodes for our honeymoon, but to prepare to spend our lives together. God saw all this before I was even born. And he also saw the day when she goes down with a malady which sapped all her strength from her legs, making her incapable to stand up, let alone walk. God had already known about this, long before it had ever crossed our minds. Therefore, I find it safe to trust our future in his hands. Whatever happens, with God it is always for our good. Through him we have peace.
Even if the water in our aquarium remains lifeless.