At 60, with her two children Eva and Alfred both in their 20s, she has decided to take a break from her marriage and move in with novelist Deborah Moggach in Kentish Town. Four months in, she ventures home to Cornwall for Christmas…
September 8, 2022
I’m not settled in London. Nothing to do with the Queen dying. I think you need a job, or a family or to be part of something for London to feel like home. I’m feeling it might be time to go back to Cornwall. Maybe London hasn’t forgiven me for leaving in 2002.
Exeter airport to Jersey Festival of Words. Sebastian Faulks of Birdsong fame talked interestingly about human emotions, comparing them to the electrical interface of his new Audi (which keeps sending erroneous messages about battery power, etc.).
After, I asked Sebastian if he’d read the new Ian McEwan. He hadn’t but he’s going to.
I was frank with Seb (I’m calling him that) about my marriage, saying we might be able to work something unconventional out. And he congratulated me.
Author NINA STIBBE decided to take a year’s break from her marriage and moved in with Deborah Moggach in Kentish Town, London
Here, we share extracts from her new book based on her diary Moved To London, Took The Dog, the long-awaited sequel to the laugh-out-loud bestseller Love Nina
Thinking a lot about marriage. I’ve never been a huge believer in the institution. Coming from a ‘broken home’ as it used to be called, I’d see my friends and their mothers coping with a man in the house; the easy chair for him and the sofa for everyone else.
The newspaper delivered but not to be touched until Dad has seen it. The waiting for him to get home to administer some kind of punishment. And so forth.
It didn’t seem that great from the outside and I honestly believed myself to be temperamentally unsuited.
And I have never been judgmental about other people ending a marriage, far from it. Now it’s me, though, I feel guilty.
It’s so inconvenient, complicated and sad. It drags others down and it feels selfish and weak to not just plod on.
Need to talk about possible divorce settlement, which I will do but I can’t deny that feeling sad kills my creativity. I realise this will sound very precious, but it’s true, and I really do need to earn a living, so the less I talk about the divorce settlement, the more of my novel I get done and the better all round.
Dinner with Debby. Charlie Bigham fish pie. Debby opened a really good bottle of red wine. ‘God! It tastes of old harness,’ said Debby. ‘And cigar butts,’ said I. Got a bit sloshed. V. fun, though.
Debby pleased with herself for buying a new torch with batteries from the market, and some extra batteries. She’s predicting a tough winter.
Debby swore at the torch trying to get the batteries in, and I didn’t have the heart to intervene. ‘F*** it,’ said Debby and slammed it into the drawer and bleakness descended.
‘Maybe it’s time I went home to Cornwall,’ I said.
‘No! Stick it out till the spring,’ she said, sounding like we’re in the Arctic and I should wait for the thaw. ‘No one goes back to the country in the winter.’
‘But it feels as though London doesn’t really want me,’ I told her, ‘and that I’m like some jaded soap star who abandoned the show for panto and to explore opportunities in the West End, but the work dried up and the producers can only offer my character a storyline of spiralling debt and swindling an ex-lover.’
‘Everyone feels like that,’ said Debby. ‘You just get on with it.’
Wondering what I should do for Christmas. Was hoping my mother would have me, but she’s already full. Video call with husband for business talk. At the end we discussed Christmas. I said he could have first dibs with the kids and he said that evoked the wisdom of Solomon. Seems I’m welcome there over the festive period, which might be nice.
Went To London, Took The Dog: A Diary by Nina Stibbe (Pan Macmillan, £16.99) will be published on November 2
Right now, I’m planning to go home to Cornwall for Christmas. Other than booking a Premier Inn, it’s all I’ve got.
I suppose this is the life of a single older woman in casual lodgings.
Email from Admiral car insurance at 12.01 to wish me happy birthday.
Driving to Cornwall for family Christmas with children and mid-divorce husband. Heavy traffic. Bright sunshine but down to 1c and lots of salty spray.
The T-Roc Volkswagen had run out of screenwash. Stopped to buy some and apparently there’s a nationwide shortage. A bloke who heard me asking let me have a bit of his de-icer.
Drove over the moors into the prettiest apricot and sky-blue sunset — flocks of birds swooping, bare tree silhouettes on the horizon, woolly cows, ponies, and iced ponds on the frosty moors. All distracting me from the nervousness about the forthcoming family Xmas. Will it be nice? Or will my wandering about in the vestiges of my life ruin the festive vibe?
The bright frosty weather that felt so fresh and healthy has turned cloudy and damp. Have overdosed on Christmas carols. Having a break.
Called at the Great Cornish Food Store and, in a rash moment, bought four portions of lasagne, thinking I wouldn’t want to cook tonight because the kids will be home and wouldn’t it be nice to go to the pub.
Managed to stop myself buying a pot of green salad because, really, I can chop up a lettuce. Picked up the kids off the Cornish Riviera at 4.30.
The City Inn, Truro. With kids and their friend Jack. We played pool. Kids talking. Jack mentions an acquaintance who has a pet seal.
A delightful hour. Peggy and I left before the others to put the lasagne in the oven to warm up. Smiling to myself in the dark street as we strode along. But going home to heat up lasagne isn’t ever straightforward. It can go dry, or be cold in the middle, or greasy, and it’s not always that nice. And what am I even doing here? I suddenly can’t keep up the not hating myself.
Couldn’t find our potted Christmas tree that usually lives in a shady corner near the shed with some other non-sun-loving plants in pots — then I remember that it ended up at the tip earlier in the year.
Eva and I went off in the T-Roc to the garden centre to get a Christmas tree. Staff seemed surprised to see us. ‘You’ve left it a bit late to get a tree,’ said one bloke. ‘Not really,’ I said, ‘it’s only the 20th,’ and they all laughed.
Gifts. Got Eva and Alf winter coats — as if they were ten years old.
Accidentally bought clementine juice instead of orange for our Bucks Fizz.
Decided on a whim to bake an old-fashioned apple pie on a plate with pastry top and bottom, apple slices and sugar in the middle. Nothing else. No cinnamon or raisins. And it was honestly the best thing ever, with hot, thin custard.
It’s going OK, Christmas. But if I stop for a moment — well, I try not to stop. Also, I keep weeing myself, which is partly the increased caffeine and alcohol, but mainly menopause.
‘I will be leaving Truro tomorrow morning,’ I reminded the family.
Me: You can leave the decorations up till the sixth or the fifth. Or I can take them down before I go.
Family (uninterested): Take ’em down.
New Year’s Eve dinner and champagne. Went outside at midnight and watched fireworks from the balcony.
January 1, 2023
ON the road again I pondered New Year’s resolutions and came up with:
Strengthen pelvic floor
Cancel standing orders
Give back to the community
Learn to be alone
Appointment with menopause and HRT specialist. Expert explained all about herself and how my appointment would work.
I don’t know how, or why, but I was suddenly crying and, without pausing, she pulled a tissue from a box and handed it to me, smiling.
‘I don’t know why I’m crying,’ I said. ‘People always do,’ she said. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘I think it’s because someone’s listening,’ she replied.
She prescribed daily topical oestrogen gel, Oestrogel, which is ‘body identical’ and made from yams (not horse urine), and a progesterone tablet, to be taken orally.
To order a copy of the book for £15.29 (offer valid to 30/10/2023; UK P&P free on orders over £25) go to www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937
The first night of HRT. Fairly simple: two pumps of the oestrogen gel applied to the inner thigh area. Plus one capsule of progesterone.
Because I don’t take other medication, it seems like a big step. I’ve got to know where this pump and these tablets are every day and wherever I am or wherever I go, I’ve got to take them with me.
Felt a bit nauseous. Hoping it was because I had cheese on toast, but suppose it’s the meds?
I realise to my astonishment that I am no longer chanting, ‘Oh God. Oh God. Oh God,’ quietly under my breath the whole time, which started in April 2022.
I’m just striding along, thinking about a plot point in my work in progress that excites me. This is what it feels like having sufficient oestrogen.
Valentine’s dinner with the kids. A thing that makes me happy is Eva and Alf knowing and loving the London I knew and loved. Even though I don’t love it any more and it doesn’t love me.
They’ve always felt comfortable and inspired because of so much family here or close by, all the cultural stuff, the openness, the wide range of takeaway foods available on Deliveroo.
Interestingly, both know they won’t be able to live here for long. That normal people can’t. What happened to London that an ordinary working teacher or nurse or jobbing writer can’t live in an ordinary place?
Just can’t bring myself to wear my ankle-length puffy coat. I don’t feel like the sort of person who wears one. I see other women in them — they’ve always got trendy trainers on and they don’t mind looking like a great big puffed-up maggot.
Crab and spaghetti dinner with writer India Knight and her agent. Spoke at great length about HRT, etc. They seemed very interested, especially about how it has helped combat my stress incontinence, and then India’s terrier puppy, Lupin, got up after weeing on the cushion next to me and I had to say: ‘I swear that wasn’t me.’
Talking to Debby about my return to Cornwall, which is fairly imminent as my year is up. Good timing because Debby has family who can use the room. Debby is worried about my cultural life back in Cornwall, referencing her friend Bob who is ‘absurdly clever’ but moved to the countryside.
‘You go out there for a weekend and he only wants to talk about fence posts,’ she says.
I pointed out that I’ve been in Cornwall for 20 years.
Coming to the end of my time at Debby’s. Just bought a bar of vegan soap to put in the soap dish I got her that matches her tea set. Also, I have ordered from RSPB a ceramic frog and toad abode.
Quiz with the kids and friends at the Grafton Arms in Kentish Town. Our main objective was to beat Nick Hornby’s team, which we did — by one point. I’ll be away for the next quiz night and back in Cornwall for the following one. I shan’t compete alongside them again for a while, if ever. I’ve loved the quizzing. The fun of it and the flexing and knowing what poison from foxgloves begins with D, when even Hornby didn’t know that.
The beer, the chips, and the winning, which I’ve got used to, and the nearly winning which, to be honest I prefer. It’s ridiculous how wonderful it has been. I’m going to miss my team. Walked home with tears in my eyes.
Debby home and says that’s the thing about life. It gets good just as you’re about to f*** off.
- Went To London, Took The Dog: A Diary by Nina Stibbe (Pan Macmillan, £16.99) to be published November 2. © Nina Stibbe 2023. To order a copy for £15.29 (offer valid to 30/10/2023; UK P&P free on orders over £25) go to www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.