Better together

But Howard and Hilda we ain't

by Rick Johansen

For those of us of a certain vintage, which is to say old folk, the TV sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles may be a show we look back at quite fondly. The show centred around Richard Brier’s OCD character Martin Bryce and his wife Ann, played by Penelope Wilton. It was inoffensive and, to be honest, not exactly intellectually demanding – so, perfect for me – and played from 1984 to 1989. Briers and Wilton were brilliant in their roles but I was more taken with two members of the supporting cast, Howard and Hilda Hughes (not that Howard Hughes, it should be noted).

Howard and Hilda, played by Stanley Lebor and Geraldine Newman, were in many ways the same person. They had identical tastes and dressed in the same way, often in ghastly matching jumpers knitted by Hilda. I’ve been thinking for a long while now, wouldn’t it be nice to be like Howard and Hilda?

I’m not totally convinced that the answer to that question is yes, but my partner of nearly 35 years and I could not be more different than Howard and Hilda in almost every way.

An example of our differences came just a short while ago when my partner, we shall call her CJ for the rest of this blog, returned from a morning of cleaning hives at the local beekeeping society, while I was busy feeling sorry for myself having contracted a life-threatening dose of Man Flu. As is usual, I was listening to BBC 6 Music and, specifically by way of BBC Sounds, last night’s episode of Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone.

This week featured an eclectic mix of music from all over the world. According to the website: ‘We go to Berlin for some Afrobeat, in South Africa for some 60s psychedelia and in Bradford for some prop pop. Plus Ethiopian jazz, Quebecois electronica, lo fi from Illinois and tunes from likes of Vashti Bunyan, Soft Machine and Charles Lloyd.’ What, I suggested to CJ, could be better than that? It turned out, just about anything, came the reply.

How could you not love Dedicated To Wernher Von Braun by the German band Mythos and Atmetalegnem Woi by Hailu Mergia & The Walias?  Quite easily, it seems, Indeed, CJ demanded, not asked, that I close the door to my Man Cave for the duration of the programme. “It’s awful,” she said.

Admittedly, the Freak Zone is an acquired taste which I acquired some time ago, but it is rather typical that our musical tastes rarely meet up, to the extent that until recently we never even went to the same gigs together. Lately, out of pity, I feel, she has accompanied me to see the likes of Jalen Ngonda, The Bees and Say She She and I shall soon reciprocate by tagging along to a show by one of her favourite artists Kula Shaker, because I like them too. These are rare events, though, because in music terms we are mostly as far apart as ever.

It’s the same with movies. Last week, she wanted to see Dune: Part 2, nearly three hours of what it says here is ‘epic science fiction‘. She didn’t even bother to ask me, instead choosing a friend to take with her, followed by a meal in a Lebanese restaurant, the last type of place I’d want to eat at. It’s one thing or another. We don’t like the same music, the same films, the same food and so much else.

On Saturday, we went on a pub crawl around the harbour. I started with a stomach-lining Cornish Pasty, she with a Burrito. We then visited a succession of pubs where we drank different beers. In one pub, we read our magazines, CJ Gardeners’ World, me Byline Times. Beer can keep us together. I suppose that’s the lesson. But so much doesn’t.

During a recent visit to Corfu, CJ explored an archaeological dig near Corfu Town while I went to Kanoni and watched planes landing and taking off from Corfu Airport. In Split, she visited Diocletian’s Palace while I enjoyed a refreshing ice cold beer in a roadside bar and read my book, which would have been a book that CJ would not have touched with a bargepole. Wherever we go, there is an element of this and I know it’s my fault.

I have little interest in history, which I know is unforgivable, whereas CJ is fascinated by it. I would far rather visit a record or book shop than, say a Castle or some other ruin. Culture is wasted on me, always been, always will be. So, how come we have lasted so long, having so little in common?

Well, maybe it is our differences that keep us together? It’s not as if we don’t talk about stuff. In fact, a two week holiday in the sun – at least we can agree on that, even if CJ will insist on sightseeing from time to time – is basically non stop chatter. And we are definitely a ‘we’, even though we are very different in so many ways.

When a Howard and Hilda couple refer to everything in their lives as ‘we’, part of me is slightly envious. Wouldn’t it be great if we liked all the same things? Life would be so much simpler and entirely predictable. If Madness were playing a gig, say at Westonbirt Arboretum, wouldn’t it be better if I was to say, “I’d love to go to that!” instead of “No chance, Can’t you get someone else to go with?” And by the same token, I could easily persuade CJ to join me at a fun-packed gig at the Fleece to see Panda Bear and Sonic Boom. Never going to happen.

Maybe that’s the secret, after all. You go your way and I’ll go mine and later on and later on we can chat about what the other one missed, which in each case will be nothing.

35 years gone by and still going strong. We’re better together and the differences seem to make us stronger.  Howard and Hilda, we ain’t.

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