I was listening to Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 yesterday. The subject was housework and the gender divide and how this causes much friction between partners. Even now, in families where both men and women work full-time, the woman tends to do the bulk of the housekeeping, particularly the laundry. There are of course men who do their fair share. I will admit I am rather slapdash with a duster but my husband is a phenomenal ironer. We have distributed the work between us over the last 25 years. I do the loos. He does the oven. We both do the washing and take out the bins. He changes the sheets, I hoover (occasionally).
When we lived in London and I was teaching full-time we got a cleaner called Marcia who was a Brazilian marvel. As I gave up teaching to look after our three small kids, we didn’t have the money anymore and our house was always a tip. It still has its moments with three teenagers who leave cups and glasses everywhere and a trail of discarded clothes. They do help sometimes. If directed. And nagged. Or paid. And it helps greatly that my mother loves cleaning and will zoom around our house with a mop and a dustpan and brush.
But I do hanker after my own space sometimes. It would be clean and uncluttered with no piles of papers strewn across the table. There would be no slag heaps of shoes heaped by the back door. Or in the hall. Or at the top of the stairs lying in wait to break someone’s neck. There would be no odd socks, no brim-full bins, no sticky Coke cans lurking on dusty windowsills. It would be a place where I could write without feeling guilty about neglecting the washing machine or unpacking the dishwasher.
I know this is a dream. Life is messy. We all have to pull our weight and share our gifts. Vicky, the heroine of my new novel This Holey Life, is a cleaning fanatic. She does it in order to get some control over her life but it makes her bossy and irritated and unsatisfied as she can never achieve the perfection she hankers after.
Before you get married you should be sent on a course that teaches both men and women how to unblock a sink and how to polish a shoe. There should be a contract that stipulates who does what. And then of course you would have to trust each other to stick to this.