Just back from Rome. Typical post-holiday blues already setting in within an hour of reaching home: slight sunburn, headache from travelling, strong need for tea but no milk in the house, a suitcase full of clothes to be washed, things to be unpacked and the prospect of work tomorrow.
Oh, the holiday itself went better than I had anticipated from the vantage point of my airline seat - Tom insisted I sit by the window because he knew I liked looking out at the landscape. Although for most of the journey the view was obscured by heavy cloud.
The hotel was comfortable and a convenient location near to the centre of town, two minutes' walk from the Underground. The weather was kind to us too: not as hot as Italy can be midsummer. In fact when we arrived it was actually raining, which meant that in the ten minutes it took us to walk from the station to our hotel we had been accosted at least twenty times by street sellers eager to offer us an umbrella to ward off the unaccustomed precipitation.
The next morning it was still damp and drizzly, and sure enough, the moment we emerged from the hotel to sample the delights of the Piazza di Spagna, there they were again, on every street at five hundred metre intervals. Surely there weren't enough people, let alone gullible tourists, to buy the number of umbrellas offered for sale?
'I wonder what they do when it's not raining,' I mused.
'Probably sell sunglasses,' suggested Tom.
Sure enough, by the afternoon, when the day had blossomed into sunshine, there were the same street sellers, now armed with racks of sunglasses. And dolls, small battery-operated fans and weird tiny tripods, the purpose of which we never discovered.
We did the usual tourist trail round the Coliseum, marvelling at its size; the site of the old Forum and ancient Rome - Tom wondered aloud why all the ruined bits can't be swept up, leaving the buildings still standing in a neat, well-kept park. While I (protective, imaginative, clingy?) reflected on the history, pictured toga-clad Romans wandering the Forum doing business, revered the alleged site of Caesar's tomb and defended the preservation of the rubble.
We visited the Vatican of course, and although neither of us are particularly religious, the sheer size and magnificence of St Peter's Basilica awed us. Like the typical tourists we were, we sent family postcards from the portacabin post office in St Peter's Square and then toured the Vatican Museums. We were overwhelmed by the gallery after gallery, room after room crammed with priceless artifacts; detailed, beautiful murals covering the walls and ceilings, but Tom was impatient to see the one thing he thought it worth visiting Rome to see: the Sistine Chapel.
As we entered yet another huge, vaulted chamber he whispered 'Is this it?' The answer was repeatedly no, until another flight of steps led us, now footsore and weary, to a sign announcing that this was indeed the famous chapel, site of Michelangelo's most celebrated artwork.
But when we walked in, the anticlimax was palpable. Intricate and gorgeous the paintings all over the room may be, but our senses were by then inured to this by the amount of similar, even superior, murals we had seen on our journey through the museum. And the chapel itself seemed smaller that I had anticipated and somewhat shabby in reality. Even the piece de resistance, Michelangelo's God and Adam mural, is just a tiny part of the ceiling, and seemed insignificant within the context of all the other images surrounding it.
Tom however, appeared transfixed by the chapel and engaged in a discussion with one of the museum staff about how it has been his ambition to visit the Sistine, and how amazing he was finding the experience. As we walked out of the chapel, I asked if he had truly been moved by the chapel, and his response jolted me.
'Of course. It's the Sistine Chapel.'
But his voice was dull, unemotional, and I realise that his underlying, honest reaction was essentially the same as mine. But he could not admit this: he had to provide the expected response. He is incapable of expressing honest emotion and opinion, without filtering it through the consideration of what is the 'correct' or 'socially accepted' viewpoint.
And I was further jolted by the realisation that this is not a new thing - he has been like this ever since I have known him, and I now wondered if he ever really loved me, the way I once loved him, the way I need to be loved. Or did he meet me, decide I would make a good corporate wife, would fit in with his lifestyle and ambition, and decide through a logical, rational process that he should court and marry me. He certainly took that rational approach to the prospect of children. I wondered how it has taken me this long to realise the true character of the man I married.
As we walked out into the Italian sunshine I knew that Tom was blissfully unaware of the revelation I had just undergone: he chatted companionably about the treasures we had just seen and suggested getting a coffee and resting for a few minutes before taking the tram back into the city centre. Or would I like to walk up to St Andrews Castel along the bank of the Tiber, and perhaps find a little taverna to have dinner on this side of the river?
For the rest of the week I got through by treating Tom as a friend I had happened to meet on holiday, distancing myself from any emotional involvement. He unwittingly complied by making no sexual demands on me at all, which was not unusual for a normal week at home, but one would have surmised that a week away, booked to celebrate the birthday of a life partner one professed to love, would have involved some romantic overtures.
No - not so much as holding hands as we circumnavigated the Parthenon.
So I have returned home still unsure what to do about my marriage. Can I live for the rest of my life with a man I have now acknowledged I no longer love, but who represents security and will look after me, while undermining the self-confidence I need if I am to have the life I want, and who wants me to stay with him because I am a social asset and he does not want the ignominy of divorce.
This is one area where we do see things from the same point of view: both our families have a decided opinion about marriage breakup and divorce. It means failure, lack of moral backbone. Couples in trouble try to sort things out, don't just give up when times are tough. And if they're can't work things out, they endure. They stay in the marriage and accept their lot. They have made their bed, and they must lie in it together. Tom does not want the family or wider social opprobrium that comes with the label of divorcee.
Neither do I for that matter, but I have people like Mary to show me that there is life after a marriage split, and these days surely most people would agree that they deserve first and foremost to be happy. My mother's generation valued duty above everything, and tend to look down on more modern mores as selfish and self-serving. Yet Gran, at her birthday party, was, I believe, giving me her tacit understanding of the situation and approval to let him go and find my own route to happiness.
Sometimes, doing what most people think is the selfish and easy thing is actually following the course of action that takes most courage: it would be easier to maintain the status quo, to do what Tom wants and stay by his side, as his wife. But to do that would be denying who I am. I have done that for so long now that it has become second nature, but that doesn't mean it's right or that I should continue.
Quite the reverse in fact. All I need is the courage of my convictions.
And to talk to Brenda.