29 October 2001
My mother-in-law stayed the other night. She took one look at the Lawyer as he was preparing to go out of the door in the morning and howled "dry cleaning" at the top of her voice. I suddenly saw my husband's suits as others must do: the pockets weighed down by keys and apples, the trousers bagging behind the knees, the chocolate smears - always, for some reason, light fawn, which has always intrigued me. You'd think a Mars Bar would have the decency to leave a dark smear.
The Lawyer escaped to work, but I, alas, had no such bolthole. My mother-in-law had thrown open the wardrobe and was examining all the suits. "Doesn't anyone ever dry clean these?" she asked, proffering an ink-stained sleeve. I sighed and wondered whether to explain to her my theory about the Lawyer being all grown up now and quite capable of cleaning his own suits if he felt it was important to him. But I know that my mother-in-law does not deal in theoretical philosophy.
"How often do you think suits have to be dry cleaned anyway?" asked the Lawyer when he rang that evening, checking that the coast was clear for him to come home.
"I don't know. Every few outings, I suppose," I said, heart sinking. "Isn't that what you do anyway?" Silence on the other end of the line, and I know that a) he probably hasn't been to the dry cleaners since spring, and b) anyone who knew this would think me a Bad Wife.
I do try: I keep the house clean; I give the children handkerchiefs; I never put raw chicken at the top of the fridge. But I remember a neighbour telling me about how nice they were at the local dry cleaners; how she knew them by name and always had a chat when she went in to get the duvets cleaned. "Get the duvets cleaned?" I asked. Just in time I recovered. "The duvets! I go to the one in town." I was both intrigued and appalled that you could clean duvets and were, in fact, expected to. I had always viewed them like Old English Sheepdogs - lovely and cuddly but you wouldn't want to give one a bath (and dogs have their own way of keeping clean). So I took mine along, got a cheery hello and, five hours later, fluffy bedding. I was amazed. I felt a whole new section of society had opened up for me. Perhaps I can blame my mother for not teaching me properly.
On the other hand, I do insist on a clean fridge, and not just when the milk buildup in the door shelf gets too sticky. I washed the whole thing out at the weekend and left all the bits to dry on the drainer. The Lawyer, obviously hurt by the dry cleaning incident, offered to put them all back in again. Three-quarters of an hour later he was left with a double pronged plastic shelf that had no obvious place in the fridge's interior. "Do you have to do this every time?" he asked. "It's just like one of those puzzles you get in a Christmas cracker."
"You've never cleaned the oven either, have you?" I said.
"The oven?" he said, sounding nervous. The Lawyer is very proud of his way with the Sunday roast, and my part of the bargain is making sure that the oven doesn't fill the kitchen with smoke.
"The oven," I said firmly, handing him the Mr Muscle.
"Fridges, ovens, toilets - that's why men have women, not the other way around," he said, but I'd already gone off to dust the picture rails.