Bonding over the bubbles

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The Independent Culture
I LIKE to wash. I like the fresh lemony smell of the detergent, the steam of the hot water, the clatter and clunk of good crockery in the sink. Sometimes I get more of a sense of achievement by doing the dishes than I do cooking the meal. See that shine? I did that. See those stacks of gleaming plates, and rows of glasses? Me.

It is one of the few miracles not in the Bible, the way the crusted and the dirty become clear and sparkling; how besmirched and smeared glasses are restored to their natural state.

Doing the dishes is an act of restoration, and of transformation. It is one of the most positive things we can do in our day. It is giving thanks - for our food, the aromas of which mingle with the lemon as enticingly as a baking cake, and for our worldly goods, which we are washing. Compared to cooking, it is instant gratification, changing a room that looks as if Manchester United has just played a couple of penalties, to a room that makes you want to cook something. Gosh, I had no idea we had a marble bench under all that - how nice.

Even the zoomiest rice cooker will take 20 minutes until you can appreciate the end result. For a cake, it's an hour. For a cassoulet, it's three days. But with washing up it's slosh slosh, rub rub, wipe wipe and it's done.

We all like to think that the table is the great heart of the family, the thing that draws us all together. I tend to think the real stuff happens later, after the table has broken up.

It's as if you're filming someone, and they're acting up for the camera, and they're all very showy and funny, then as soon as you put the camera away they are just themselves, without worrying how they appear. That's what happens at the sink.

Conveniently, the world is divided into those who wash, and those who dry. The washers are the doers, the sleeve-roller-uppers who don't mind getting their hands dirty - or clean. They are task-oriented people who know they have to put their backs into something if they want their life to work.

Dryers, on the other hand, are the finessers, the stylists, the philosphers of the kitchen, with a theory on everything. Each has his or her own formula for how long to leave the dishes in a rack, when to use a fresh towel, or whether to put away as you go, or stack, then store. They like to admire things as they go, arrange them neatly on the shelf, and pause occasionally to enjoy their handiwork.

In the meantime, the washers and the dryers are talking, bonding over the bubbles. I have seen my father- in-law (a washer) go through an entire dinner party without saying a word to my sister-in-law's boyfriend (a dryer). Yet once dinner is over, they like to retire, not for port, but for detergent and rubber gloves, where they stand side by side telling yarns like two old buddies at a regiment reunion.

In spite of all this, I am suspicious of people who feel the need to race out of their dining chairs the second the coffee is drained. Washing up is not meant to break into the communion of the table, but to be a natural extension of it.

Nor am I fond of those who keep putting off the dishes as if they will wash themselves, thus robbing the meal of its natural ending.

Never trust a person who refuses to wash dishes with you. It means they don't want to talk to you or get to know you any better. They are rejecting you. The hostess who insists you don't enter her kitchen, the boyfriend who refuses to let you pick up the rubber gloves, the sister who sneaks out and does the dishes all by herself when you're not looking ... these people have hot and cold running emotional problems.

Perhaps it is time we found a new term to describe the pleasure one can get from doing the dishes. Then we could just pop off for some post-nourishment cleansing and dehydration in the cookware centre wellness day spa, and have the time of our lives.