When we had just one baby, more than a decade ago, a book was published saying – again – that despite the gains of feminism, women were still doing far more cooking and cleaning at home than men. I heard about it on the radio.
I thought about this and when my husband got home I said, as I handed him the baby, ‘Out of us, who does the most housework?’
He said, ‘The nanny.’
Already, this was not going to script. (It was particularly insulting as she only came in one day a week.)
After a frank exchange of views, we decided to try to work out who did what. It turned out I did all the cooking, all the shopping, some vacuuming and some laundry.
My husband said, ‘For example, have you ever cleaned the loo?’
I said, ‘But that’s the amazing thing about the loo that I was going to tell you: I think it’s self-cleaning. It’s always clean when I look at it.’
He looked at me for a long time. For as long as it took me to realise that the loo was not self-cleaning and had not self-cleaned once in the three years we’d been using it.
This is a brilliant example of ‘storying’ (which sounds a lot better than ‘stupidity’).
The loo was always clean. I wasn’t cleaning it and if I wasn’t cleaning it, I couldn’t imagine my husband was. Therefore it must be self-cleaning.
Many people believe that stories began as a way of filling in gaps in human understanding of a complex and difficult world. In earlier societies, changeable weather was ascribed to the caprices of terrible gods. As were fluctuating harvests, difficult pregnancies, illnesses and deaths.
Children still do this instinctively. I once asked a six-year-old how the planets stay up. She said it was sort of the same as how balloons stick to the ceiling after you’ve rubbed them on a woolly jumper. And all children understand that Father Christmas definitely gets to each and every one of them by magic. Otherwise not everyone could get a present. QED.
These days many of us look to science for explanations of the physical world. Literature has turned to the human psyche in search of mysteries that need explaining, and we’re all the richer for that.
But I think my story is the most magical of all. A self-cleaning loo? I still dream.