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Monday 8 October 2007
Deborah Ross: How (not) to be a Domestic Goddess
Cooking dinner, cleaning up, keeping the kids out of mischief. Sometimes it can be hard to be a woman. Or maybe, says Deborah Ross, you're just setting your standards too high. Here's her indispensable guide to domestic bliss
Welcome to the Non-Domestic Goddess Club (GB). This is the largest organisation in the UK for those who have very old lollies embedded in the iced-up walls of their freezer. The Club, founded at some time but no one can say when exactly as the members forgot to write it on the calendar, operates under the slogan: "Nature abhors a vacuum and so do we."
The Club also, by the way, abhors the Dyson. This was decided at the last AGM because the fact that it is funky, and won't lose suction, doesn't make it any better and you can't fool us. Minutes from the last AGM are available on request, but only after they have been lost, found, lost, found, lost and then found again at the bottom of the fruit bowl under the small brown furry thing that may once have been a plum but then again could equally be one of those baby koalas for the tops of pencils. Who's to tell?
The Non-Domestic Goddess Club of Great Britain expects its members to uphold extremely low standards at all times. Anyone nearly up-to-date with the ironing will have to explain themselves in full, while anyone totally up-to-date will be automatically expelled. Anyone who hasn't touched an iron in years and just tries to pass everything off as 100 per cent linen (including their face) will be awarded free life membership. Ditto anyone who makes Nescafé by placing the mug under the hot tap, both when pressed for time and when not, and who prepares bedding between guests by turning the pillow over to its "fresh" side.
The Non-Domestic Goddess Club has this to say about blackened cookware: soak, soak, soak, then throw away when nobody is looking. The Club also suggests never questioning the fact that there is an A to Z in your underwear drawer, as well as a toy knight, some small change (amounting to 87p), a book on houseplants and three Fox's Glacier Fruits. To question can only lead to madness. The Non- Domestic Goddess Club of Great Britain has this to say about socks with holes in: put aside for darning, then throw away when nobody is looking. The Non-Domestic Goddess Club suggests never, ever going right to the bottom of the laundry basket, as anything could be living down there. The Club fully endorses opening the top of the laundry basket, sighing dispiritedly and promptly closing it again.
The Club expects all members to have all of the following items at the back of at least one kitchen cupboard: a tin of golden syrup with the lid half-cocked (treacle is also acceptable); an ancient pot of hundreds and thousands; a spilling bag of decade-old lentils; several bottles of food colouring (all green); a variety of exotic pickles and chutneys which seemed like a good idea at the time; any number of herbal teas with tempting names like Mango Carnival and Tropical Fiesta, which no one drinks because they all taste of pond; sticky jars of stuff that can no longer be identified and have bits of old moth wing, spilled lentils and fairy-cake cases stuck to their sides. The Club has this to say about leftovers: decant carefully into Tupperware, place in fridge, leave for a week, then throw out when nobody is looking.
Alternatively, place in freezer, leave for a decade, then throw out when nobody is looking. Never throw anything away today that you can keep and throw away at a later date.
The Club has sympathy for anyone who has tried to defrost a chicken in the bath or dry a child's swimming costume, just unpacked from last week's lesson, by swinging it round her head. The Club has this to say to anyone who is about 19 years behind with the ironing: gather it all up and throw it away while nobody is looking. Alternatively, bury it at the bottom of the garden, along with the pet goldfish whose bowl was used as an ashtray but died of natural causes all at the same.
We hope you have enjoyed this short introduction to the Non-Domestic Goddess Club of Great Britain and that you will always defend the useless housewife whatever. Some people say that the trouble with useless housewives is that they are lazy and just sit around all day reading Hello!, whereas, in truth, they work really, really hard. It's just that so much of what they do happens when nobody is looking.
Here we offer you the top 10 absolutely certain facts – and no mistake – about children:
1) The more effort you put into a child's packed lunch – especially if it has meant a midnight trip to the all-night garage for supplies – the less chance it will be eaten.
2) A teenage girl will not be fully happy with her attire unless she has caught you wincing.
(Gasping is better, but wincing will do.)
3) A child shown one of your old, treasured Ladybird books will always say, "What, they go and get their feet measured in a shoe shop and that's the story, that's it?"*
*Note: They don't even like the one with the bus. "What, they get to go on a bus and that's it, that's the story?"
4) The school play will always have one child who knows all the lines shouting into the faces of those who don't. (And they call this quality entertainment?)
5) No boy will ever say, "But, Mum, I don't want you wasting your hard-earned money on those expensive football boots. The cheaper ones will do."
6) No child has ever resented its mother for stealing his or her birthday money to pay the milkman, and anyway it's the elves that do it.
7) The more you press an outer garment on a child the more he or she will resist.
8) A child's interest in tractors and dinosaurs will persist long after your interest has waned, assuming you had any interest in the first place, which is unlikely.
9) Swimming goggles will always leak or be too tight and it will somehow always be your fault.
10) A child's school bag will always contain, along with the rotting organic matter of unknown origin, four out-of-date letters saying how important it is that you come to the meeting that was two months ago as well as a note saying a child in the class has nits and we're not saying it's your child exactly, but do you get our drift?
On teenage boys
Here is what the Club knows to be true about boys who have just started secondary school: The boy will plead, constantly and without mercy, for a mobile phone, while the mother resists, not only because there is every chance he will be duffed up and "jacked" by older boys on the bus, but because his telephone skills have yet to prove especially deserving.
The phone will ring at home. "It's for you," the mother will say. The boy will pick up. "Yeah, bye," he will say, and hang up.
"Who was that?" the mother will ask.
"Freddie," the boy will say.
"What did he want?"
"He wanted to know if I was busy this afternoon."
The mother is reassured that, should she acquiesce on the mobile front – as she will as there is only so much a mother can take – the bill will be on the smallish side. The mother does not know, yet, that when he does get a mobile phone there is no guarantee he will ever answer it. In the unlikely instance he will return one of the mother's calls he will say, "Mum, what do you want?"
"This is costing me." The mother may then say. "Costing you? Costing you? OK, where to start? For brevity's sake – and because I respect you will have to pay for this out of your own money which is the same money your father and I give you every month – let's skip babyhood and go straight to first shoes, then second shoes, third, fourth, fifth... and summer shoes and winter shoes and football boots for soft ground (studs) and hard ground (pimples) and cricket spikes and tennis trainers and trendy shoes that have to be replaced by trendier shoes because the initial shoes are no longer trendy because no one's into Etnies anymore, Mum, the skate look is so over, where have you been...?" The mother may find that the line goes dead promptly.
The boy will lose everything. Already, he will be on his third locker key, fourth set of house keys and sixth lunch card. There is still an entire PE kit, seven jumpers, two coats and a tennis racket circling north London on the W7. The loss of these items will not be the boy's fault because, "It's not my fault." When the mother has to go down the Tube station to get him his 35th London Transport photocard of the term, the nice woman in the office, whom mother now greets by name, laughs when she fills in the 2008 expiry date.
The boy will come home from school, tie hanging out of pocket, shirt untucked, PE kit left on the bus, kick off a shoe, peel off a sock – better to get at whatever fungal infection he happens to have on the go – and sprawl on the sofa in the hope of an undisturbed tellyfest and toe-scratch until the middle of the following week. The mother will annoy him a great deal by attacking him with foot powder while enquiring about his day.
"What did you do at school?" she will ask. "Nuffin," he will say. "Any homework?" she will ask. "Nah," he will say.
The next morning, at 7.10am, the boy will be spotted writing. The mother will ask if this is the homework he doesn't have. He will say, "Go away." This will be the general pattern until, one evening, he will suddenly announce that the project on Nelson Mandela he was given a month ago is due in tomorrow. If the mother is a good mother she will know all there is to know about Nelson Mandela by 4am and will be hoping for an A.
If the mother is a bad mother, and a drinker, the project will make no sense, be riddled with spelling mistakes and the pictures will all be skew-whiff. The mother will get a D3 and will never be relied upon to do the boy's homework again. The mother may find it hard to feel heartbroken.
Here, at long last, all the facts and figures you will ever need to know about teenagers collected in one slim volume, and published by NDGC Publishing Ltd (£79.99, but hell it's good). This is the first collection of its kind and provides final proof, if it were needed, that teenagers are horrible until they want something from you, in which case they can be nice for a bit. The figures are based on all the teenagers that would have been polled if only they could have got out of bed, but it's all true.
* 12 out of every 10 teenagers – that's a whopping 120 per cent! – say they will put their plate in the dishwasher later.
* Number of teenagers for whom "later" means "never": that same whopping 120 per cent!
* Most common response of teenager when told that "later" means "never" and you're not having it, and you're fed up with doing everything round here so DO IT NOW: "Ruin my life, why don't you?"
* Number of teenagers who equate being requested to perform a household chore – just the one – with having their life ruined: that same whopping 120 per cent.
* Number of towels in bathroom at beginning of week: six.
* Number of towels in family bathroom at end of week: 0.
* Number of towels in teenager's bedroom at end of week: six.
* Percentage of teenagers who say they will return the towels to the bathroom later: that same whopping 120 per cent!
Most Common Teenage Sayings
You've ruined my life. Get out my face. Alex's mum lets him stay out until 1am. I would have called but I didn't have any credit. I do have credit but I didn't want to waste it on you. Yes, I know I said I was going to Molly's but now I'm at Katie's. That's so, like, not fair. It's not my fault. I'm not lying! I can go out looking like this. I'm not a child any more. It wasn't me. You're such a nag. Oh, whoopee, Grandma's on a Saturday night (must be said with a great deal of sarcasm). I would have been home in time but Alice wasn't feeling well, so I had to sit with her for several days. Why do I have to go to Grandma's? But if I miss the party my life might as well be over. Sorry, I forgot. I hate you. Shut up. So what if we haven't seen Grandma for ages? I might as well be in prison. I have turned the sound down. You're so mean. Mummy, love you, love you, love you, can you pick me up/lend me a tenner/take me into town? Daddy, love you, love you, love you, can you pick me up/lend me a tenner/take me into town? Later – I'll do it later.
* Percentage of teenage girls who must – must – stay home from school because their hair won't go right: 100.
* Typical response of girl whose mother says, "You look fine to me" – "What do you know? Your hair hasn't looked right since 1963, and even then it was weird."
* Best description of a teenage girl's ability to go into Topshop on Tuesday and come out a week on Thursday, having bought a top that is exactly like all her other tops: absolutely phenomenal.
* Average number of times a day that the teenage boy checks for hair in places he didn't have it before but should have by now because he imagines everybody else does: 7,896.
* Number of years teenage boy will use Lynx (Africa) before realising his mother was right to gag all these years – it is vile: four (age 13 to 17 years).
The top 10 teen excuses for performing badly at school are:
1) Who cares about physics anyway? It's just so gay.
2) It's only because Miss Bradley picks on me.
3) I can't revise because I left the book in school.
4) I don't care if I'm a drop-out. Maybe I want to work in Comet so I can answer "Dunno" to queries while yawning.
5) I brought the book home, but it's the wrong one.
6) I only got a detention because Mr Roper hates me. All the others were doing much worse stuff and he didn't do anything to them.
7) I wasn't there when the work was set.
8) What letter from the year head? He didn't give it to me. I know you just found it all crumpled up in my wastepaper bin, but I'm as mystified as you are.
9) Yes, I know it appears that all I'm doing is looking at naked girls on the internet, but it is important homework of the kind that might take me until 3am. Schools have changed since your day, Mum.
10) Mum, you know that Nelson Mandela project you stayed up all night to do for me because I only remembered at 11pm the night before it was due in and you said someone had to do it because otherwise I'd end up a loser working in Comet? Well, you got a D. Cheers, Mum. Thanks a lot.
Every now and then the schools will close and will not re-open until a specified time, no matter how hard you pound on the doors or rap on the windows. We at the Club understand this but would still like to say: "These periods can last from one week through to six, which is unbelievable considering how dumb children are and, therefore, how much schooling they need. In fact, it would make a lot more sense to keep children in school at all times with the option of a half-day on Christmas Day should the parents feel up to it, which is by no means a given." Alternatively, it is wise to kick off any school holiday with some good ground rules. This may involve putting posters up around the house with the following slogans:
Do Not Ask for Credit as Refusal Often Offends
I am Not a Taxi
The Specials Today are "Take It" or "Leave It"
I am Not an ATM
Don't Use That Tone with Me
The Specials Tomorrow will be "Take It" or "Leave It"
What Part of "No" Didn't You Understand?
The Specials will be "Take It" or "Leave It" into Perpetuity, so There is No Point in Even Asking.
Then again, there are all those "activities" you could ferry them to and from if you were a taxi, but you're not. Honestly, the trouble with today's kids is that they expect judo and swimming and football and guitar and going to Tom's house and, therefore, do not stay in watching TV and playing on the PlayStation enough. What do you think we bought the TV and the PlayStation for? To gather dust? You may be seduced into a trip out to any of the following places, but don't say you haven't been warned.
Who doesn't worry about their work-life balance? It is an extremely important thing to hang on to. Indeed, just the other week, ladies, I lost my work-life balance in Waitrose and had to hold on to a chiller cabinet to steady myself. "Are you OK?" asked another shopper. I said that I'd just lost my work-life balance for a moment, but was already feeling less giddy. I hate to think what would happen if, say, I lost my work-life balance at the wheel of a car. It doesn't bear thinking about. As it is, a friend of mine lost hers at the top of the stairs one day and ended up in A&E. The doctors were not that sympathetic. "If you only stopped fretting about this work-life nonsense," they said, "and just got on with it, muddling through as people have done for generations, you wouldn't have this trouble." My friend was horrified at being treated like a neurotic ninny with a self-indulgent malady, and is now complaining through the relevant channels. As she says, until the medical profession takes work-life imbalances seriously, there'll be many more accidents such as hers.
It's hard to tell where this work-life business comes from exactly, but it appears to come wrapped in what is now called the "science of happiness", a serious enterprise that has led to books, TV shows, professors of happiness and even an academic periodical, the Journal of Happiness Studies. Certainly, happiness as a science is something everyone should take most seriously, as I do. I'm even hoping that one day I'll be awarded a Chair of Happiness at a major university, and that I will not only be allowed to choose the Chair – an Eames lounger would make me happy, I think – but will also be able to lounge on it whenever I fancy, not just when my work-life balance is disturbed and I need a sit down. I may even be allowed to lounge on it while fondling an expensive handbag, which would be perfect happiness. Indeed, little makes a woman happier than fingering an expensive handbag while lounging on her Chair of Happiness, unless it is finding herself in the same room as someone fatter than her. This is shallow and disgusting, but such a happy event all the same. In fact, after a lifetime of reading Cosmo and Vogue, and now Heat and Grazia, I would add that, for much of the Western world, the following highly scientific formula covers it when it comes to happiness.
Beauty is only skin deep, which is a great shame if, say, you have ravishing kidneys and the most divine thyroid gland. "My kidneys are ravishing and my thyroid gland is simply divine," you may tell those people at Storm or Elite or Models One, but will they care? No, they will not. Although everyone says it is what is inside that truly counts, what is outside truly counts for a lot, lot more, if it isn't everything. How to attain that skin-deep beauty, though? Simple.
Creams, creams and more creams – blow the budget!
But if you don't want to end up disappointed, and feeling as if you've wasted your money, you may wish to try the Non-Domestic Goddess Club's own range, Oil of Cliché. It is very, very good and actually does everything it says it will.
Smoking is a thing that smokers do time after time during the day – and sometimes in the night, if they get up for a pee, as why waste the opportunity? – because they like it so much. Sometimes smokers think they shouldn't smoke because they don't want to die of that cancer which means you have to have an oxygen tank in the hall, even though you are dying on the sofa in the other room or upstairs in bed. Every New Year – New Year, New You! – smokers try to stop smoking but it is hard because smoking has become a kind of punctuation: life's full stops and commas and colons. Without it, everything gets all jumbled up, just as a language would without grammar, and you can go quite mad and get totally furious about everything. The fury may even be the defining thing. Ask smokers how the not smoking is going and they will say something like this:
"Oh... fine, thank you, if you don't count these queasy feelings I get about the rest of my life stretching before me in an utterly empty and meaningless way and the fizzing fury. Actually, it's not that bad. The only things that make me really furious are pizza leaflets and minicab cards and people who spit in the street and the dirty dishes stacked by the dishwasher (would it kill you to put them in?) and hard-boiled eggs that won't give up their shells without a fight and clean dishes never unstacked from the dishwasher (would it kill you to take them out?) and God (what did he invent tobacco for?) and packaging you have to open with your teeth and the person ahead of you in the supermarket who looks surprised at being asked to pay and spends forever rummaging in her handbag for her purse and litter-droppers and people who go on about "cool camping" when there is nothing "cool" about camping and the council who makes us fastidiously separate everything for recycling and then throws it all in the back of the same truck and TV dramas in which everyone is smoking and so you want to suck the screen... Do I seem irritable to you?"
While women's magazines and suchlike always devote acres of space to advice on pepping up a long-standing marriage or relationship, little attention is ever given to those relationships that have limped on fractiously for years and years and years and will, in all likelihood, continue to do so until the end of time. Just how do you pull that kind of relationship off? This is what people are always asking us. "NDGs," they will say, "how have you kept your relationship limping along fractiously for all these years?" Well, here are our top tips:
Always go to bed on an argument. That way, you can resume hostilities first thing without wasting any valuable time.
Say you'll learn the skills to be more loving, but not until you've kicked him in the shin first.
Set aside time to talk but then think, naturally enough, "To hell with it, the all-new ER starts tonight." Arrange a night out for just the two of you somewhere nice where he will feel relaxed and comfortable, like a Women's Aid meeting.
Wear a large badge saying, "If you think elves stack and unstack the dishwasher in the middle of the night, you are very much mistaken." You may even want to write it on your forehead. Better still, write it on his.
Listen to his needs and then ignore them. Doesn't he realise you have enough needs of your own to think about?
Always ask him to do something while he is doing something else.
Say you are prepared to compromise, and go along with it a bit before revealing: "I was only joking!" Try to understand that you are never really arguing about the "surface" problem, even though it is fun all the same.
Always go to bed on an argument while wearing a very greasy face cream and a bath cap. This way, you can resume hostilities first thing without wasting valuable time and without having to have sex.
This is an edited extract from Always go to Bed on an Argument, And Other Useful Advice From the Non-Domestic Goddess, by Deborah Ross (£9.99), published by Profile Books Ltd on Thursday. To order a copy, (with free P&P), call Independent Books Direct on 0870 079 8897, or visit www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk; www.nondomesticgoddess.co.uk
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