My partner and I have been together for nine years now, but the last four months has been the longest time we’ve spent travelling together. Due to this fact, we received one of the all time great holiday platitudes for couples before we left: “This will either make you or break you”.
I’m not entirely sure what “make us” means, considering we’ve already been together almost a decade. Perhaps marriage, which neither of us finds very appealing. But if this is the case, does that mean two drunken morons who tie the knot in Vegas after one night have made it?
As for “breaking us”, I think not. There has been ample things that might have broken us, and a year off holidaying isn’t anywhere near the top of the list. There’s the fact that one year I gave her an unwrapped book for her birthday. Two days late. The fact that she has to order wine by the glass at dinner because like that Biff Loman of sitcoms, George Costanza, I don’t drink wine. I drink Pepsi. And of course the fact that once this holiday is over, getting 50000 Xbox achievement points moves to number one on my life goals list.
So how does a couple “make it” through this? Firstly, you need to find a partner who’s a much better person than you. Also, I’ve often considered pity an underrated weapon in the poor man’s arsenal.
That’s not to say of course that we haven’t argued while on vacation. Arguing is one of the rites of passage for travelling couples, and we’ve both become adept at those wonderful holiday games, “Who’s fault is this?” and “You know what your problem is?”. The most fun though has been partaking in the Passive Aggressive Book Club.
Reading is one of my favourite parts of traveling. There’s the endless downtime waiting on, or for, transportation. The search for diamonds in the rough of second hand bookstores, weighed down by endless rows of terrible Tom Clancy and Ben Elton books, and on one terrifying occasion, a Katie Price aka Jordan biography. You have to be mindful of your partner though, as space and financial constraints mean you generally have to read the same books. And so began the book club.
I guess I have to take the blame for starting it. There are two areas of expertise in a traveling team. Organising, planning and paying is the first. Holding stuff is the second. It should be obvious at this point which portfolio I’m in charge of. So when I showed up with a new copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which is about political machinations in King Henry’s court, and resembles two phone books stapled together, my partner who had spent her whole day getting our bags into amazing eight and nine kilogram bundles was unimpressed.
So the game began. The first rule of Passive Aggressive Book Club is (obviously) you don’t talk about Passive Aggressive Book Club. Otherwise it’s just Aggressive Book Club, and thats not fun for anyone. The second rule is that you must at least be able to pretend the book you’re buying could be of interest to your partner, otherwise you blow your cover. Other than that, all’s fair.
My partner’s opening salvo was We Need To Talk About Kevin. This bothered me for two reasons. Firstly, noone likes to read a book with a psychopathic namesake who murders his school friends. Secondly, the fact my mum had earnestly urged me to read the book which is essentially about a mother who dislikes her creepy freak of a son, named Kevin, did little to settle my rampant paranoia.
I hit back with David Simon’s Homicide, the basis for the series The Wire, which we both think is pretty much the best thing ever. It was brilliant, but weighed about 10kg, and was largely concerned with the overwhelming number of murders of young black Baltimoreans. She made it through, but did have to read it lying on her side.
She almost scored a knockout blow with a back to back double of The Scarlett Letter and Mrs Dalloway. It turns out I’m the one who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf. I almost bailed but after being called an ‘intellectual pussy’ for two days, I relented. Thank God it was short.
There has been the odd backfire. She loved Richard Price’s Clockers which I didn’t expect, and her The Beautiful and the Damned gamble didn’t pan out. While it was light on my holy trinity of novel content, sex, drugs and violence and was set in one of my least liked historical times, 1800-1939, she underestimated my and Fitzgeralds shared empathy with the slackers.
Last week I thought I’d won. I found a copy of Michael Lewis’ Blindside, which is about the evolution of the Left Tackle position in American Football. A guaranteed winner, especially considering I could defend it by pointing to the endorsement on the front by Ira Glass, host of the radio show This American Life. I’ve been informed that Ira is one of a small number of men I will be left for should the opportunity arise (I’m fine with it. His show’s brilliant, and he’s dreamy), so his endorsement meant she had to give the book a chance.
Instead, she looked at it, said ‘I’m not reading that’, then went and picked up a copy of The Virgin Suicides. She now denies having ever been a member of the club, but that could just be an observance of Passive Aggressive Book Club rule number one.
Now some would cry foul, and call this behaviour unsportsmanlike, a literary version of “I’m taking my bat and ball and going home”. But after nine years together, and now four months traveling I know one thing for certain. If you’re lucky enough to find someone who can stand your paranoid fears of strangers wanting to kill you, your culinary and entertainments tastes of a 12 year old AND endlessly quote Sopranos and The Wire back at you, you can’t help but feel pathetically grateful for even being allowed into the game.