I have never been able to end a relationship by slamming the door behind me, not even now

I have had some excellent rows in my life, and have come up with one or two devastating last lines, but I've not yet mastered the art of slamming the door behind me. At times, I've even allowed myself to think that the somewhat complex emotional life I endured in York for nearly 25 years might well have been more orderly, and considerably less indeterminate, if only my capacity to move from the dyadic claustrophobia of the back kitchen to the relative existential freedom of the hallway hadn't been subverted by the vagaries of a sliding glass door.

The case of Francesca leaps to mind. Over breakfast one Sunday morning back in the late Eighties, I finally managed to engineer the type of argument that I knew could have no other outcome than the severing of our brief but vexatious partnership. "Don't you think that there's something rather depressing about the way in which we've settled so quickly into a routine, after all our romantic chat in the early days about the terrors of conventional domestic life?" I murmured, as I tucked into my full English.

"I haven't really thought about it," she said. I speared the largest of my three sausages and dunked it in the plum tomato sauce. "Then don't you think it's time you did think about it? Haven't you noticed that we're staying in nearly every night of the week and watching television? Aren't you aware that we've not been to the Arts Centre for nearly two months, despite taking out that five-year membership? Hasn't it come to your attention that we've settled into exactly the type of comfortable life that you once said - in that cottage in Brittany - was totally incompatible with the survival of eroticism?" She looked up from her cottage cheese and gave me a perfect example of the disdainful smile that I had confidently anticipated in my mental rehearsals. "If you don't mind awfully," she said, "I'd rather not talk about it at this precise moment."

From then on, it was plain sailing. With a nicely calculated show of self-denial, I pushed away a breakfast plate still boasting a full sausage and a half slice of fried bread, and launched myself into the opening section of my popular first-year lecture on the terrors of the unexamined life. Now for my exit line. "You know what all this brings to mind?" I carefully arranged my hands on the edge of the table so as to ensure maximum leverage, and delivered the coup de grace. "It reminds me of that scene in Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift, when a character says: 'Look, I don't want to interfere in your marriage, but I can't help but notice that you've stopped breathing.'"

I stood up, strode to the sliding glass door and pulled it open. "I'm going out to get some air." With a quick imperious gesture, I closed it firmly behind me. But firmness was not a quality that brought out the best in this particular door. Instead of shutting and staying shut, it hit the stanchion at the far end of its rail and promptly bounced open again to provide a brief glimpse of an alarmed-looking Francesca. In a desperate attempt to retrieve the situation, I gave it another healthy shove. This had no other effect than to set up a manic ricochet. For nearly ten seconds, the door slid wildly backwards and forwards like the lens shutter of an ancient camera, with each successive aperture revealing not only Francesca, but her ever-expanding smile of derision.

It taught me to go quietly. So, although this is my last column for the New Statesman, even if you listen very carefully, you'll hear nothing but a faint click of regret.

Next Article