My married, forty-something friend Emily says that she has had to buy condoms and there was a problem. I'm not sure that I want to hear of this problem over toad-in the-hole, but she continues. The condoms, she explains, came in packs of five or packs of twelve. Emily is a thrifty girl. She always buys eggs and loo rolls by the dozen, but this twelve-pack confounded her. The problem was the use-by date: 2013. 'Am I realistically going to get through twelve condoms in two years?' she mused to herself in the middle of Family Planning. Reason prevailed and she saved £3.30 on the five.
I am interested in this because I've read in the papers that couples in their forties have more vigorous relationships than those twenty years younger. Then I notice that our companion, Serena, is silent. Serena is also forty-something and she is also married. I ask her roguishly whether she'd have bought a dirty dozen. She says that her money would be more usefully spent on a set of replacement Hoover bags.
Now I am intrigued. I decide to quiz a couple more middle-aged friends, and, under the pretext of mentioning the church roof appeal, slip in a question about their conjugal routines. One replies that her husband finds his fulfilment in Delia Smith. Another has a husband with needs that are not culinary and that tend to interfere with Saturday Live. And so they've reached a polite compromise. 'Go on, then!' she sighs patiently, 'if you'll make me a cuppa after.'
A third friend mentions Downton Abbey. When the credits roll and the National Grid surges with the boiling of nine million kettles, she and her husband generate their own electricity on flattened sofa cushions. 'After every episode?' I ask incredulously.
Downton Abbey keeps me up twenty minutes after my usual bedtime. When it's over I barely have energy to squeeze the toothpaste. Then I am enlightened. That ravenous couple began their breeding early. They now have teenagers who hibernate for most of the weekend in their bedrooms, while the rest of us are wiping toddler tantrums off the living room walls. I realise that this is, in a way, good news and I resolve to tell Emily that in 2013, when her eight-pack has expired and her kids are grown, she'll be splurging on bumper boxes again.