London - Surprisingly few cross words get spoken in our house (the surprise being among friends familiar with my shortcomings), yet some were exchanged last week.
My wife, Penny, exclaimed in exasperation: "You’ve become a kitchen pest!" This outburst, and my aggrieved response, were prompted by a dispute about the dishwasher.
The dishwasher? Yes, we squabble over it with dismaying frequency.
I cannot bear to go to bed leaving a plate "unBosched" or saucepan unscrubbed, to reproach us at breakfast time.
Penny says that it is a criminal waste of electricity and detergent, to start the machine before it is full. And anyway, it is rude to stack it while she is still eating.
I mutter: "But you take so long." And so the marital ping-pong goes on.
Those who knew me 40 years ago will read the above with disbelief, because in those days I was forever under indictment for failure to do anything like my share of the domestic round, not to mention childcare. Doubts were expressed about whether I knew why Brillo pads existed.
Today, by contrast, among the manifestations of dottiness inseparable from getting older is a morbid fascination with household affairs, such as few wage slaves had time for in the last century.
I used to suppose that a new-found enthusiasm for the chores would enhance my popularity in the home, but am discovering that this ain’t necessarily so.
A glamorous female bolter once explained to me why she evicted her first husband, a decent enough fellow who had sufficient cash not to work: "He was always hanging about the place, poking his head in the fridge and demanding to know why there was not more butter."
All she wanted from this hapless man was that he should absent himself from home through most of the daylight hours. And since he had nowhere to go except the golf course or his club, she dumped him.
Somebody asked me the other day whether I do my writing in a shed in the garden. No, I said: in a study in the house. I did not add that Penny, though a woman of saintly disposition, has offered to pay herself for such a shed to be constructed, to improve her own quality of life.
Remember the old wife’s marriage prayer, "for richer, for poorer, but please God not for lunch!"
Speaking of lunch, now that I am in attendance almost every day, I take a lively interest in the food shopping, frequently cantering down to Tesco myself, returning laden with special offer loo rolls, five years’ supply of toothpaste, crates of fruit and veg.
It is a hollow joke that TV cookery programmes are so popular, because in the average middle-class household one is far more likely to see Michelin-starred food on a screen than for anybody to have the energy to try to emulate it in their own kitchen.
Penny is a brilliant cook, which helps to explain why she wants to shoo me out of her kitchen. I still argue defiantly that among the range of vices available to errant husbands, cleaning the place up compares favourably with infesting the pub, betting shop or go-go bar.
She disagrees. Her favourite cry of exasperation is: "Why don’t you go off and write another book?" She proposes this as an alternative to interfering with the management of the household, wherein I am deemed an infernal nuisance.
By now every sensible reader is thinking: how can the Hastings household be reduced to such a pitch of silliness that they argue about what sized saucepan to cook the peas in?
My point, however, is that many people find themselves in our predicament as they get older, because we are learning to live with leisure, such as we never possessed in the past.Daily Mail