Conversation is the social food we live on. Sometimes hot and spicy; sometimes windy with a tendency to repeat the following day. It finds its path naturally as the water of a burst pipe in the upstairs bathroom will inevitably lead to the soaking of the carpets in each floor of the house before leaking under the front door and down the garden steps.
That is unless you are talking to my wife.
She is charming, funny and insightful with the occasional single-minded directness similar to that of a Prime Minister from the 1980s known for turning.
Conversation with my wife however will occasionally turn into a white knuckle ride where suddenly the path disappears from beneath your footsteps.
Take last night.
I returned home from work and my wife and I exchanged updates from the day, going through the usual topics - the children, her work, my work, her mother...
Relaxed and relieved that it was just us, we carried out our evening chores passing occasional comment of little consequence, very happily in each other's company.
And then it happened. After declaring that she was withdrawing herself from one aspect of extended family turmoil for which the necessary response was "That's good, dear", there was a description of the dress she had bought that day and then a pause.
"Aung San Suu Kyi - she's amazing", came the next utterance.
I was not expecting this. The path in our conversation had disappeared from beneath me. I felt I was hanging from the edge of the cliff in the coach in the final sequence of The Italian Job.
My "Help Me" expression caused her to reach out her hand to build of the events of the day which led to a seamless transition from the dress she had purchased to Aung San Suu Kyi after which our conversation trickled forth again like a river heading toward the sea.
She does the same at night when we are curled up in bed together. Occasional insomnia leads her to listen to the World Service, declaring to me as I snuggle close to her in the early morning in the mood for love "there's been a dreadful accident in Turkmenistan" or "Unemployment has risen for the fourth quarter in succession in Malawi".
There is no way to respond to this situation positively without delaying the inevitable outcome that within 15 minutes of the statement being uttered, I will be sitting in the kitchen with my wife learning how many have died and how many are missing or how multiplier effects from changing Western shopping habits have led to the contraction of the Malawian economy.
Alternatively, we will be joined by our lonely Cocker Spaniel, Dudley with bad breath and a doleful eyes which seem to emphasise the sadness of the news. Dudley also has the ability to take over the snuggling space I inhabit with my wife, joining the cuddle with his furry feet and claws in such a way that as I stroke my wife lovingly with one hand, I find a dog's arse on my other.
My day therefore begins with a more intimate knowledge of current affairs than I was expecting, a reminder of the fragility of life and one hand smelling of a dog's arse.
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