I knew something was up when I got a rash of texts about dishwashers yesterday late morning. I was working on a speech at the time, so pushed the phone to one side and ignored them.
Then, out on my bike in the afternoon, a fellow cyclist overtaking me in Regent’s Park (an increasingly frequent occurrence I’m afraid) shouted across to me ‘surprised you put up with all that this morning.’ He was gone before I could establish what he was talking about.
Finally, on the way in to the cinema last night, a couple of women greeted Fiona with a quiet, conspiratorial welcome and the words – ‘well done on Women’s Hour.’ Then the penny dropped.
I was being done in by my own partner as part of the publicity drive for ‘The Secret World of the Working Mother’ by (said partner) Fiona Millar.
It started in The Times recently. Fabulous picture of Fiona and the dog (Molly) on the sofa, surrounded by paintings by our kids atop an interview saying what it’s like living with someone who may be a ‘fabulous father’ but is a workaholic, prone to depression and utterly useless around the house.
Allow me to quote from the book, and then judge for yourselves the glee with which the publisher’s spin department will have seized upon this section as they put together a media plan (oh yes, I know how it all works …)
‘Having lived for over 25 years,’ she writes (it’s 30 actually, and as someone said on Mumsnet yesterday, you should consider yourself lucky, but let’s put that to one side) ‘with someone who still can’t start the washing machine, load the dishwasher in any way that could possibly allow the dishes to be cleaned, doesn’t do lightbulbs, fuses, flat tyres and once told me, when I suggested that he might mow the lawn, that if he had wanted to mow the lawn he would have become a gardener, I am fully acquainted with the dual burden.’
I have been trying to hear what she actually said on Women’s Hour but despite my new found attempts to go digital, I don’t appear to be able to work the ‘Listen Again’ thing on the BBC, and Fiona is not around to help me, which as you will guess from the above paragraph is the usual way of things when it comes to anything technical. (Which reminds me, I need a new cartridge in the printer. But she’s busy doing another interview no doubt.)
I assume from yesterday’s texts that she was elaborating on her claims about me not being able to load the dishwasher, and I must say, in forcible terms, that the claim is NOT TRUE. I accept that I cannot start the dishwasher, nor the washing machine. That is a fair cop. I confess that I have never changed a light bulb, nor a fuse, and the only time I ever tried to replace a flat tyre, a passing woman driver took pity on me as she watched my pathetic efforts to put the jack in the right place, and changed it for me.
Equally, I may well have said what Fiona said I said in response to her request to mow the lawn. She may even have toned it down that bit, as I think I had a couple of F words in there. So tha
t part of the charge sheet – all true. Also, all blindingly obvious to her when we first met.
But it is simply not
true to say that I put cups and glasses in the dishwasher the wrong way round. There, I feel better having rebutted that.
In any event, I think this is all part of a very subtle game that women play to have complete power in the home. Though I have always been the main breadwinner, she handles our finances (or, as she boasted to the Times, I don’t know our bank account password. I didn’t know you needed one. Maybe that was the start of the banking crisis. Passwords indeed.)
She makes nearly all the decisions about holidays, major purchases, furnishings and decorations and social engagements.
On the rare occasions I have tried to make the bed, she has immediately re-done it. So what is the point, I ask whenever I look at rumpled sheets, in wasting time making it in the first place when I could be at my desk writing a key scene in the next novel? There, I feel better having justified my non-bedmaking to myself.
Anyone who has read The Blair Years will know that Fiona and I have the occasional right old tear up, sometimes about policy but mainly about me having done a job which required 24/7 intensity and so even less time for washing dishes and plumping up cushions. But with time and patience comes the ability to forgive, and I will forgive her the dishwasher calumny provided she and her spin doctors stop repeating it and limit the charge sheet to washing machines, fuses, lightbulbs and tyres.
I will also recommend her book – and if she is nice to me might even allow it onto my books page. It is a very good analysis of the challenges facing working mothers, research and real people stories running alongside each other. And even though I might be too far gone to change my own outmoded ways, at least after reading it I felt I understood better what she’d been on about all these years. (There you are – stick that on the cover of the next edition, Ebury spin doctors!)
* The Secret World of the Working Mother by Fiona (‘lucky enough to be married to Alastair Campbell’ – Mumsnet) Millar (Ebury Press, £12.99, published March 5)
PS, she’s doing a live webchat on Mumsnet today. I’ll be stacking the dishwasher.