Boxes in the attic number 9.
I would say that Robin is mostly known for his communication skills, as teacher, writer, education advisor, canoe instructor. But as a husband his communication skills have sometimes been lacking.
When I was forty-two I began my training as a nurse. Robin, during this period, had his first two books published. ‘Where the Forest and the Garden Meet’ and the prize-winning ‘Lord of the Dance’. This enabled him to be included on an Scottish Arts Council (now Creative Scotland) list of people who, as invited speakers to a club interested in the speaker’s area of expertise, would have travel expenses and half the fee paid by the Arts Council, enabling clubs to more easily afford guest speakers, and making it more worthwhile for people with expertise in one of the arts to share their knowledge.
One day Robin said ‘I have been asked to speak at an Edinburgh Writers’ group. If you have that day off, I wonder if you’d like to come too?’
My two days off per week were very precious. I still had one child at home, my travel to and from work took about 3 hours per day, and on my first day off I would catch up on only absolutely essential housework, cooking and shopping. The second day I devoted entirely to myself. Listening to opera, working on a patchwork quilt, meeting friends. I also had reason to be cautious about Robins’ invitations. They didn’t always turn out to be just as they seemed. For instance, when my son, Glyn, was a baby Robin asked if I’d like to come on a picnic with him. I was thrilled. I wasn’t usually included in his plans. We set off in the car to the foot of a mountain, where Robin instructed me to stay, with now screaming baby, for some time, then drive halfway round the mountain so I could be there for him when he arrived down the other side. This was not my idea of coming on a picnic with him. So perhaps you can see why I now said to him -
‘what exactly are you offering me?’ Robin replied, ‘Well we’d go to Edinburgh by train’. This earned several plus points, because there were really only three things he could do on the train – read, sleep or talk to me. The last would be my favourite option.
‘Then,’ he said, ‘I have to meet someone, but you could go round the shops’ Now some minus points – I don’t do ‘going round the shops’ unless I am hunting for something in particular. ‘Then we could have tea together somewhere’ More plus points – no reading, no sleeping, just talking to me. ‘Then’ he said ‘I would see you to the train home and go to the meeting.’ Lots and lots of minus points. I don’t want to travel home on the train alone, half of it is the journey I take every day to and from work, and I would have liked to have come to the meeting.
‘I think I’ll pass, thanks, ‘ I said. And that was that.
Until a couple of months later we were having a bit of a spat about something Robin had wanted or expected me to do and was disappointed. ‘I’m not psychic’, I said. ’If you want me to do something you have to tell me.’
‘Well, while we’re on the subject of wanting you to do something, I have to say I was a really hurt that you refused to come with me to the Edinburgh Writers’ group. I asked a woman there what she wrote, and she told me she didn’t write, she was just there to accompany her husband, who was the president of the club. And I thought ‘and my wife won’t even come to hear me speak!’
‘Wait a minute, Robin, ‘ I said ‘I would have loved to come and hear you speak, but if you remember, you said you were going to see me to the train home before you went to the meeting. He hung his head, as well he might. I realized that he was so afraid he’d be hurt if I refused that he didn’t give me the option!’
Next time, he said ‘I’ve been asked to speak at………but you wouldn’t want to come, it’s a very cold hall, and the coffee’s not good. ‘I’d love to come’ I said firmly. And the time after, it was ‘You won’t want to come, I’m only giving the same talk as you heard before.’ ‘Robin,’ I said. ’I don’t come to learn how to edit prose, I come to accompany you, to support you, to admire your expertise and to let the women there know you’re taken. ‘
Thereafter, whenever he was asked to give a talk, adjudicate a competition, or give a master class, he would say ‘my wife will be coming too.’
And then he’d tell me about it.