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Keeping the Bed Warm

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Karen Miller Karen Miller | 11:38 UK time, Thursday, 25 March 2010

We have a new series on BBC Radio Scotland right now called Keeping the Bed Warm, presented by Clare English. On this week's programme Clare talks to Harriet Gillet about her husband Phil's extended trips to South Georgia to study penguins.

We asked Clare to tell us a little bit more about the series.

It's an every day scene. Your partner closes the door and heads off to work leaving you holding the fort. But what if that long day at the office actually lasts for months at a time? Some careers aren't governed by the laws of 9 to 5 and that brings pressure to bear on the person who's left at home. They become a de facto single parent, taking charge of all domestic arrangements and juggling the finances. They're the ones who have to put up with tantrums and demands from the kids, they pick up the pieces when Dad leaves home for a long spell of work, and they may even have to put their own career aspirations on the back boiler so that they can give their full attention to keeping everything together at home.


To me these are the unsung heroes who are left Keeping the Bed Warm in our new series for BBC Scotland. So far, I've met some wonderful women who seem to be able to keep calm and carry on with little or no support or contact from their partners. There's the funny and feisty submariner's wife based in Helensburgh. He goes off for a few months at a time and her life goes on - she works and looks after two children and does it all with such good grace and humour.

And what about Harriet Gillet based in Cambridge with her own high powered career that's had to wave goodbye to her husband every winter for the past 17 years. He misses Christmas, New Year and his daughter's January birthday because he's off in the frozen lands of South Georgia where he puts all thoughts of domesticity aside to study the behaviour of penguins. Surely this "semi detached" relationship brings its own pressures? How on earth do you cope with the little bug bears and the big decisions if your other half is away and out of contact for much of the time? You don't even have time for a late night natter over a cup of tea!

Harriet Gillett and husband Phil Trathan

I'm not sure I could deal with this kind of life without becoming deeply resentful yet none of the women I met were! Actually they feel that despite the downsides, of which there are many, absence really does make the heart grown fonder. Who'd have thought that this kind of enforced separation can actually inject a bit of va va voom into your love life?

Hear about Harriet Gillet in this week's episode, and we also have more great photographs taken with her husband Phil in South Georgia where he was studying the penguin population in our Keeping the Bed Warm gallery.

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