My wife has taken our sons to her mother's house on an island off the coast of Essex. For the first time in ages, I can hear nothing but the sound of death watch beetles and the floorboards expanding and contracting as the sun rises and falls. It is a guilty pleasure.
When I first met my wife, I refused to believe that there was an island off the coast of Essex. It all sounded too Enid Blyton. Then I went to stay with her and visited her grandparents' vast Tudor farmhouse. I'd never been to a home with a grand piano before, let alone two (the second one was in the nursery) and felt as if I'd been sent to live in a novel.
My wife's grandparents' heyday was in the 1940s and 50s. Fifty years on, the men still wore pencil-thin moustaches and drank double whiskies, before staggering into their Rovers for the drive home at a steady 23mph. It seemed such a solid world and I felt overwhelmed by it. But within only a few years they were all dead and the Tudor farmhouse, which echoed with the sound of glasses clinking, risqué jokes and druken renditions of 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square', was silent.
It was a world of certainties and a sense of belonging: the yacht club, the Masons, the Conservatives and the golf club. If there was a dinner dance, Nanny looked after the children. Later, boarding school ensured that the social calendar went ahead without any disruptions.
I wonder what my wife's grandparents made of me, with my strange boots and long black coats, all bought from charity shops:
I looked a total prat. But to their credit, my wife's grandparents were never anything less than charming. I suppose they'd seen it all before.
My wife's grandfather once took her to one side and asked what my 'prospects' were. She roared with laughter. I'm not sure if she's laughing now, living in a house that's less than a fifth of the size of the one she grew up in, but luckily she still feels relieved that she didn't end up with a nice young man from the yacht club.
My prospects are still uncertain. I hope that 'Steerforth Books' will at least pay the bills and put bread on the table, but there is still a lot of work to be done. I have 39 days left before I leave the security of salaried employment for the terra incognita of running a business.
Oddly enough, I don't feel at all worried.