Although I find it difficult to listen to In The Psychiatrist's Chair because of the constant sense that I could produce a rather more interesting portfolio of obsessions and phobias than most of the celebrity guests, I was sufficiently attentive during a recent interview with Professor John Bayley to catch his description of life with Iris Murdoch. It was, he observed, a relationship that they both "took for granted". Was that, wondered Anthony Clare, a matter for satisfaction? "Oh yes," Bayley replied.
It was a small exchange, which had rather the same effect on me as the sudden realisation during an undergraduate class on the psychology of perception that the textbook picture of an ancient crone might, if one turned the page just so, suddenly become the portrait of an attractive young woman.
For most of my life I've regarded any suggestion that I was taking another person for granted as a damning and largely unanswerable indictment. I've lost count of the occasions when my overwhelming sense of contentment at being seated in front of the television for Match of the Day or Frasier has suddenly been undermined by that dreaded rhetorical question from the other side of the room: "Don't you think you've rather started to take me for granted?"
I've usually put up a token fight. "How do you mean? Take you for granted? How can you say that? What about the time last week when I read you that poem in the London Review of Books or the little note I left by your bedside on Wednesday morning when you decided to stay at home because you thought you had colonic cancer?"
It's a futile effort. Anyone in full possession of a "taken for granted" weapon is virtually unassailable. All they need to do is slowly and relentlessly develop a detailed comparison between your present slumped position and the alert passionate stance that characterised former days in expensive restaurants and four-star Parisian hotels.
Within seconds the sound of a beloved signature tune is drowned out by the fusillade from the other side of the room. "You don't look at me in the way you used to." "You don't notice the clothes I'm wearing." "You don't ruffle my hair and kiss me when we meet." "You don't ask me what I think about anything." "You don't ever hold my hand when we're walking home at night across Russell Square and talk about the stars and the meaning of the universe."
Before John Bayley, there were only two ways out. One could precipitate a row in the hope that this would lead one's partner to walk out of the room before the half-time whistle, or else come up with a dramatic gesture to suggest matters were going to be so different in the future that this temporary preoccupation with a mere football match would be rendered insignificant. "Look, what about you and I taking advantage of that special British Airways offer and having a Christmas shopping trip to Milan next weekend?"
But now I have Bayley. "What do you mean, I'm taking you for granted? Isn't that the most wonderful thing one could say about how our relationship has developed? We've finally learnt how to be mutually indifferent. What was that line of poetry Bayley quoted? 'Closer and closer apart.' Isn't that beautiful?"
I'm even looking forward to the moment when the thesis has become so accepted that I'm able to use it in a pre-emptive fashion. "Listen, darling. I've got this wonderful idea. Why don't we simply stay in this evening and take each other entirely for granted?" Pretty irresistible, wouldn't you say?