Hit mute for chat heaven

20th January 2012 at 00:00

My husband has just buggered off to London. He's managed to find himself a job in the south, which means he'll be away from home for nine months. Suddenly the diamond ring he gave me for our anniversary takes on a new significance. I thought it was to celebrate 25 years together, but it's obviously a sweetener for the lonely year ahead. He was annoyingly chipper about it. "Don't worry," he said, rather too carefully folding his cable-knit sweaters into his new expandable case, "we can always Skype". Great. That's something to look forward to after an eight-hour slog in school: an evening of middle-aged Chatroulette with a bloke most women would "next".

Last night we attempted our first session. You'd expect a bit of fumbling on a first internet date, but this time our ham- fistedness was due to technical rather than sexual naivety: "Where do I find the video button?", "Hang on while I get my specs", and that age-old chestnut, "How do I make you go big?" Once we'd worked out how to maximise our screens, the rest was easy. The great thing about conducting a relationship on Skype is that you only have to look good from the shoulders up. As long as you've brushed your hair and your top half is tidy, he's never going to know that your bottom half is covered in fleece and bits of basmati rice.

Video-calling is not all it's cracked up to be. Skyping is like visiting someone in hospital - you spend a lot of time sitting in uncomfortable silence wishing you'd brought some grapes. After the novelty of seeing each other wore off, we struggled to make conversation. Usually, in the evening, once we've finished arguing over whether we're watching Come Dine with Me or some esoteric documentary featuring Simon Schama, David Attenborough and Bear Grylls cooking roadkill in the Sahara and discussing the Arab Spring, we're happy to sit in silence and share a bag of crisps. But with such a long separation ahead of us, there's a lot of pressure to keep in daily contact.

Now Skype does have one great advantage over real life: you can mute the other person. And it's a short step from silencing them to dubbing them with a new voice. Remember how effectively Johnny Morris could anthropomorphise a hamster into a human? Well, working some Animal Magic on my husband was even easier. While he droned on about renewing the car insurance, always using the mortice lock and taking the bins out on Thursdays, I had him lip-syncing to the words of You Are Everything by Marvin Gaye. When I finally un-muted my laptop, he asked me, with a wink, whether I was alone in the house. I should have seen it coming. Give a woman Skype and she'll talk to you for hours; teach a man to Skype and he'll ask to see your tits.

Separation isn't easy on a marriage. Luckily, I'm not prone to sexual jealousy. Given that he's a middle-aged bloke with a dicky heart and 40in comfort-fit jeans, the chances of him attracting someone who hasn't got glaucoma and support tights are pretty slim.

I save my jealousy for school, where the sight of my neighbours' airy classrooms and even airier timetables brings my green-eyed monster out in force. I even get envious of my colleagues' attentive young husbands. It must be nice to be feted with chocolates and flowers rather than to-do lists and unpaid bills. Still, I can console myself with one thing: while the cat's away, the mice are watching Come Dine with Me.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England.

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