Domesticity and in praise of ex-wives (May 2010)

Picture the scene: a lovely late spring evening in semi-rural Essex.  A householder ventures forth into his garden, armed only with a newish mower and intent on cutting the grass in his idyllic cottage garden.  In hindsight, that was arguably a mistake given a predication to suffering hay fever attacks and eczema on such evenings in late May, but it’s all down to the pride in house ownership and doing the job properly, as if being handed the keys instills in your heart an urge to maintain and improve. Except of course that when you live alone you have to do the whole job, not just those bits that were traditionally yours in a previous domestic existence.

Traditionally, my ex was the gardener, by inclination and skill.  She has a diploma from the RHS, no less, not to mention a qualification in floristry that may come in useful some day, albeit not en route to her first million.  But I digress… she would be the one who designed the garden, chose the plants, dug the ground (other than the occasion in our previous house when after demolishing a rotten shed I was awarded the role of grunt labourer to dig through several feet of solid clay, add topsoil and turn an infertile wasteland into a passable vegetable plot), weeded the plots and gained the plaudits.

My skills generally lay elsewhere, so I did what suited me best and avoided getting hands dirty (did not agree with my eczema).  She was also better than me at decorating, baking, event management and interior design, though I tended to excel at other cookery, computing, finance, arguing the toss with suppliers and shopping.  We shared cleaning jobs (though admittedly I did less, given my responsibilities as primary breadwinner) and neither of us felt terribly confident when it came to anything but the simplest electrics or plumbing tasks.  In fact, as our wealth grew I became ever less inclined to attack any job with any degree of risk of injury, destroying property or ruining the appearance of chez nous, so increasingly we chose to employ professionals to do the job.

Hay fever notwithstanding, cutting the lawn was one of my jobs in the marital home.  Admittedly, that was with a petrol mower in recognition of the wide open spaces to be mown, so the prudent choice of a rotary electric mower is somewhat inconvenient when you tie yourself in knots. But that was a job I felt comfortable with, it was mine and I could do it well.

Fast forward to the new chez moi, shared as it is with two cats and no people.  Suddenly all chores are mine to worry about.  I look at the garden and think: those edges need strimming; must weed those flower beds; got to get that tree cut down; must sort that dead and overgrown stuff; what veg should I plant, and when does it go in? Tempting to call my ex, though she is currently on holiday with the kids.  And that’s only the garden.  Indoors it’s about: when should I repaint my bedroom to get rid of that ghastly shade of yellow? What do I put in that inglenook fireplace to make a feature – a dried flower arrangement, possibly? How about a wall-mounted TV to get rid of that messy table in the corner with dangling cables? Still got cables hanging out of the wall there – must do something about it… and so on.

Not that I’m stridently macho, but it is noticeable that my feminine side is coming to the fore, to the extent that I now worry about soft furnishings and even bought some cut flowers to display in a vase for my recent party!!  But it’s all worth it – to have a place to call your own makes it worthwhile learning again from scratch how to do a whole variety of jobs.  You notice things more, you tackle those chores more readily, you ask friends and gain advice, you research on the net, you solve those problems.  Needs must, but this is a challenge to be met with enthusiasm!

As for Jean, must invite her round for a BBQ later in the summer – sure she will have lots of helpful suggestions to improve my garden ;).

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