Although I’ve been married to the same man for 18 years, every evening at seven o’clock I have an assignation with another man. He is tall, handsome, sensitive, intelligent and trustworthy (the son of an Anglican bishop). I like his ties. My husband is sanguine: ‘There are three of us in this marriage.’
Like many relationships, this one began badly. It started in the weeks following 9/11, when I went from radio addict to television junkie. One evening, after the dogs were fed, the chickens shut up, the vinaigrette made and the wine poured, I realised that I had also become my parents. Watching the news before dinner, drink in hand, was their ritual. But troubling as this realisation was, there was no turning back: the seven o’clock Channel 4 news and the man who presents it were a vital part of my life.
My relationship with Jon Snow is not a fling. This is a long-term affair. We have been together through the synchronised suicide mission and the war in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq. The fox-hunting debacle. The American election. The search for Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Abandonment of the Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction.
I admit there have been days when the nightly despair has outweighed any happiness and hope. Nights when I cannot bear to watch the dusty craters of another car bomb, the bewildered eyes of grief. But I know it’s too late for me to break it off with Mr Snow (press the ‘off’ button) and return to the Aga and The Archers.
Still, every now and then I see the hurt in my husband’s eyes. Like last night. ‘I have feelings too,’ he said, gazing into the distance. ‘And I feel that Jon Snow isn’t going to vote Conservative.’
‘What makes you say that?’ I asked. Call it feminine intuition or sedation by Merlot but deep in my heart I believe Mr Snow’s soul was shaken by a Government that duped its people into a war to disarm a dictator who was already disarmed. Ah, come sit beside me at the Wishful Thinking Cafe, here everyone you like and admire loves just what you love: Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach cello suites, extra-virgin olive oil, Libby Purves, farmers’ markets, Rory Bremner (most of the time). And, naturally, they dislike what you dislike: the haranguing interviews on the Today programme, Little Chef, Asda, the tabloid Times, John Prescott.
Then you go further: you start to believe that everyone who likes novels by Ian McEwan, fly-fishing, hellebores and hymns will vote the way you do. But democracy isn’t so predictable. In the sacred privacy of the voting booth, the man who weeps when he sings God Save the Queen will vote Labour – ‘better the devil you know’. The woman who marched against medical experiments on animals will vote Conservative – ‘My daughter is in a wheelchair because of MRSA.’ The couple who drive a 12-year old Ford Fiesta in order to send their children to private schools plan to vote Liberal Democrat – ‘the only party that opposed the war.’
If I did not have my nightly rendezvous with Mr Snow I’m not sure I’d know there’s an election going on. Voter apathy is contagious and toxic. I worry that today more people in this country will shop at Tesco than stand in line to vote. When folks would rather buy dog food and light bulbs than say how they want the world to be, life loses its meaning. We lose perspective and sanity. We begin to talk gibberish.
This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on May 5, 2005.