It's not a good start to the day as I realise, yet again, that it's bins day and neither of us remembered last night to put the rubbish bags out for collection. As I stumble around the house in the half light of early morning, muttering and grumbling about being late for work, I wonder how other people organise themselves for the day-to-day activities of living together. With the small part of my brain that's awake at 6am, I trawl through faint memories of our early conversations, but I can't remember us ever having a conversation where we allocated out the chores; I don't recall any lists of tasks carefully shared and balanced.
There wasn't any negotiation process all those years ago, and I'm sure there would be no point in opening talks right now. It's too early, I'm sleepy, he's asleep. So I gather up the newspapers for the recycling bag and move from room to room emptying bins into a black sack. I line up the bags at the kerbside, then go back indoors to wash my hands before leaving for work. When I go upstairs to say goodbye, I realise there's one bin I've missed, so I dash back down for another bag, my irritation increasing with each of the thirteen stairs down and every one of the thirteen stairs back up again.
In our bedroom there's a small white basket, it's usually got a few tissues, perhaps the label cut from a new t-shirt or the polythene wrapper from the weekend's newspapers. Today, just because I'm in a hurry, it's full. And when I tip it up, the contents don't empty quickly or cleanly into the bin-bag. I reach down gingerly through the tissues, hoping for nothing damp, then extract a pair of broken sunglasses, one lens missing, one arm sticking out at a strange angle. I tug to release it from the wicker weave of the basket, and as I do so, the rest of the litter falls to the floor. As the tissues float down like over-sized snowflakes, there's an unexpected thud, and I see a wrinkled old potato rolling across the floor and under the bed.
A little later, I'm driving to work, along with the often-slow lanes of traffic on the M25. This is usually my time for the mental shift from home to work, an hour of thinking about the day ahead, preparing the virtual list of things I'm probably not going to achieve in the next eight hours. But today, my mind keeps returning to home; the images in my head are a pair of broken sunglasses and an old potato.
I can't help but think how well those two objects sum him up. If I was taking part in a tv game show, I'd have guessed the identity of the bin-owner before the compère had even finished describing the wrinkled gnarliness of the potato.
I'd have known why sunglasses are a year-round accessory for him; that it's not a vain affectation, just a need to stave off the unsettling effects of over-bright lights. I'd know that he loses or breaks them time and again, that one day he'd like to own another pair of real Ray-bans, but that in the meantime he settles for something close.
I'd have been able to describe to the watching millions exactly where that potato came from, how it's ancestor sat in an egg-box on the window sill in Crown Road, before being planted in the middle of our allotment. I could talk about the enormous pride we felt the first year we harvested our own crop, how every year since then he's dug up the potatoes with the glee of a boy searching for buried treasure. I could go on to explain how he's the cook in our family, how he turns those potatoes into the crunchiest roasties, even though he insists on leaving the skins on.
Today, the traffic flows as smoothly as my imagination and soon enough I'm pulling into the car park. As I stand in the lift on my way up to the seventh floor my last thought of home is the realisation that, without any negotiations about the sharing out of chores, I seem to have done ok. A frantic early morning emptying of the rubbish bins is a very fair price for the dinner I know I'll be going home to later.