We modern women expect far too much from marriage says Rosamund Pike in the tabloid I'm squinting at over a stranger's left shoulder. We require our spouses to be our lover, mentor, playmate and best friend, whereas our corseted predecessors expected no more than a dress allowance and an annual baby.
I am in complete agreement. There can be no finer husband than the Vicar, but he is not someone I would turn to when I crave a game of aeroplanes on the hearth rug or consult over the latest worrisome sproutings on my chin.
This month marks 15 years since we pledged to be all and everything to each other till death parts us and, 15 years, on there's noone I'd rather sip tea beside in the marital chamber. But those 15 years have taught me that friends are a vital ingredient for a contented marriage. Our relationship would have been sorely taxed without friends to indulge my addiction to mud walks and garden centres. Friends shield the Vicar from my fascination with petrol price comparisons on local forecourts and from the burden of childcare when I'm detained from school pick up.
It's the finding of these friends that's the challenge. When you relocate often, you need to identify soulmates with speed because you never know when you'll need an all-night babysitter after your mother is run over, or a competitor to spit cherry stones with on balmy evenings.
I've learnt not to waste time on small talk. Months you can fritter at the school gate discussing core curriculum without learning whether your fellow mothers are characters you'd want to to be harnessed with up a 30ft sycamore at Go Ape. No, the promotion of new acquaintance from a scrawled phone number on a Post-it note to an indelible inked entry in my address book is an incisive process that my several house moves have honed to an art. And it's an art I feel I should share so that you too can secure kindred spirits in your first week in a new home.
On meeting a likely stranger you start with obvious preliminaries - their name, age and preferred brand of garden compost. Then you cut to the quick with this failsafe test:
Invite them to play Crack the Egg on your trampoline after morning coffee. Do they:
a) Protest that vigorous activity will dislodge their new hair extensions.
b) Recall an imminent appointment with their financial adviser.
c) Hurl themselves through the net and attempt a backward flip.
Suggest an evening gin picnic armed with a waterproof mat from the 99p shop, a thermos of Gordons and a brolly in case it rains. Do they:
a) Declare that they only drink organic prune juice.
b) Insist instead on a bottle of Prosecco in a city wine bar.
c) Don their wellies with gusto and bring an extra tube of Pringles.
Serve them up a squidge (irresistible nourishment usually involving noodles, peanut butter, spinach and poached egg). Do they:
a) Inform you they are on a macrobiotic diet and never touch animal proteins
b) Claim there's been a misunderstanding and they're due at Cafe Nero as soon as they've got their coat on.
c) Plunge their fork in fearlessly and announce that they've never tasted anything like it.
Produce a pack of cards and request a game of Violent Snap to revitalise your spirits. Do they:
a) Declare themselves handicapped by their acrylic nail extensions.
b) Observe that their six-year-old grew out of Snap two summers ago.
c) Slam their hand shriekingly onto a matching pair and beg a second game.
If your new acquaintance scores mainly a) they are self-oriented and high maintenance and you would probably not wish to dangle from killer heights in their company.
If they answer mainly b) they are self-oriented and high maintenance and their contact details can remain on that Post-it note in the kitchen drawer.
If they answer mainly c) you have struck gold. Embrace them rejoicingly. For priceless rarities like that it's even worth figuring how to programme contact details into the mobile phone you'd forgotten you owned.
With appreciation for my friends. How do you identify your kindred spirits?