‘I started to wonder if he lived a double life’
Abigail Radnor on discovering her husband might be a people person after all
In the early days of our marriage, my husband explained one major factor behind his decision to marry me: “You do the talking, so I don’t have to.” (What can I say? I’m a sucker for a sweet-talker.) He is not a people person. Besides the global pandemic side of things, lockdown suited him perfectly: all social arrangements cancelled, zero need to wear anything but tracksuit bottoms, his revered “indoor clothes”.
So imagine my surprise when I learned that in his working life he has to talk. A lot. It turns out the man charms, banters and, most disconcertingly, schmoozes for a living.
It shouldn’t have been a shock (he works in sales), but it wasn’t just the conversations with clients that startled me. I was taken aback by the way he interacts with colleagues and started to wonder if he lived a double life. Motivational activities and team bonding are big where he works. Every month, a different delivery arrived with ingredients for the next Zoom event. There was pizza-making night, which resembled a seven-year-old’s party – but who was I to judge as they laughed their way through pixelated dough-kneading when I got a pizza out of it? My favourite had to be the cocktail-making, complete with couriered gin box, especially as my husband doesn’t drink. Feeling the pressure, he faked it with a glass of water, while I was set for gin and tonic for the month.
But it wasn’t all fun, and there were occasional pressures on his team. The tone of these calls was markedly different, and in these I recognised the man I married: a patient and calming ear, a wise counsel. So perhaps he’s not an entirely different person at work – just a chattier one. Who would still rather leave the talking to me.
‘I’ve blundered into her meetings. “Oi! Want tea?”’
What film critic Peter Bradshaw learned about his scientist wife
My wife, Caroline, is a research scientist, a senior group leader and assistant research director at the Francis Crick Institute in London. While I ponder the exact way to describe Mark Ruffalo’s hair in The Avengers, she is figuring out ways to cure pancreatic cancer.
Before Covid-19, she worked long hours in the lab while I worked from home or at a screening theatre. When we both started working from home, it gave me a salutary lesson in the challenges of dealing with large numbers of people every day, especially as I was now one of these people.
In my own working life as a film critic, the people I encounter are mainly imaginary, up on a screen. Caroline has seven or eight Zoom meetings a day, and I have been in awe of her directness mingled with diplomacy. I have clocked up three Zoom meetings from the beginning of lockdown to the present. That checkerboard of little faces makes my head spin, and I speak far too loudly, like Alexander Graham Bell shouting into his telephone for the first time. Caroline will appear behind me, mouthing: “Will you please be quiet?”
Similarly, I’ve blundered into her meetings, putting on a comedy accent to an audience of top scientists and Nobel prizewinners: “Oi! Do you want tea? A cup of honest, brick-red tea?” Caroline will sharply absent herself (“No, and please be quiet”), before turning smoothly back to the conversation. I always knew she was brilliant, but it has been humbling to experience it live.
‘I am resigned to the constant hum of Sky Sports News’
How Alex Clark found out what goes on behind her husband’s broadcasts
I had a pretty good idea of what my partner did. He’s a broadcaster and I do a bit of radio work. If I was feeling particularly supportive, I’d even catch him banging on about football on TalkSport (Danny Kelly’s TransEurope Express and The Press Box, if you’re curious). But that arm’s-length view got a lot closer when he arrived at our home in rural Ireland, lugging a case filled with important-looking black boxes, and enough cable to wire the Pompidou Centre. He was going to do his three-hour live shows from our mouse-strewn, leaky front room.
My central contribution? Tea. Piping hot, tea bag swirled the regulation number of times, taken in while the news is read at the top of the hour. This is when I am privy to him and the backroom team tearing up the running order; he was on air, for example, when Lionel Messi spat out his comforter at Barcelona.
Meanwhile, I am resigned to the constant hum of Sky Sports News. The whole family has memorised the names of the co-presenters and producers, courtesy of our weekly Zooms, in which we swap the minutiae of our lockdown lives; my sister-in-law dispatched hand-knitted baby clothes to a new dad on the team. But perhaps the most crucial thing I have learned is never to interrupt the big pre-show preparation. Or, as I call it, a nap.