Readers of a certain age will no doubt remember when, in an unguarded moment, Margaret Thatcher praised her trusty servant Deputy Prime Minister William Whitelaw with the words ‘every Prime Minister needs a Willie.’
Since my husband was made redundant at the end of January, he doesn’t leave the house every morning for the office: I do – and after three months of role reversal, I can tell you that it’s not an MP named William that I need (just in case you were wondering), but something entirely different…
Forget paying the mortgage or filling up the car (or helping to run the country) what I want is someone who ensures the children get fed and that we don’t run out of soap.
When he was working (very hard), Him Indoors would get up, shower, have breakfast (blissfully alone) and, although he was kind enough to bring me a cuppa and turn Radio 4 on for me (tea in bed with John Humphries being my idea of heaven), that was all he had to worry about. Lunch was a designer sandwich, a chokingly expensive frothy coffee and the newspaper.
Now I’m the one trying to find a clean shirt for the office, checking my emails before I go and rooting around in the bottom of the fridge for lunch to eat at my desk. This is after I’ve shouted up the stairs several times to raise my daughters from their slumber, made toast twice (I burnt the first lot while wiping Rice Krispies off the table) and compiled a ‘to do’ list for my husband, who is, these days, still in his dressing-gown.
Today’s instructions remind him to transfer the washing (which I’ve just put in the machine) into the drier when it’s finished and to turn the oven on at 5pm, with a tiny diagram of how to do it; our oven does not say ‘on’ or ‘off’, but has two little parallel lines to indicate the oven and what looks like a set of dragon’s dentures to denote the grill. I shouldn’t be too hard on him, here; we’ve only had the oven 12 years.
Because I don’t consider spaghetti hoops to have much nutritional value, I’ve taken a lasagne (‘one I made earlier’) out of the freezer for tonight’s supper and I’ve put cauliflower and eggs on the shopping list. I also add ground coffee, as my better half’s efforts to grind coffee beans by pushing the plunger down ‘really hard’, ended in dismal failure and a broken cafétière.
The children’s dental appointments and the logistics of shared lifts to ballet class I’ll sort out from the office (thank goodness for texting), when I also hope to find time to write a quick thank-you to my mother-in-law for the cheque she sent us for our anniversary. Oh, and I’ll make salad dressing when I get home.
Actually, my other half is a fantastic husband (I wouldn’t swap him for the world) and as a househusband, he’s learning fast. He’s terrific at helping the children with their homework, pretty handy with the vacuum cleaner, not bad at ironing (better than I am at all three, in fact)… but he still has some way to go at sorting laundry, as my desperate efforts to squeeze my well upholstered derrière into my daughter’s miniscule knickers one dark morning will testify.
But you know what I’ve discovered from our role swap?
That when I was single and reading self-help books on how to find the perfect husband, I was wrong. Remember The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right or Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus? All those tips about not making demands in case you overstretched a man, or keeping him keen by never returning his calls?
What I want is not an Alpha Male, just someone who remembers to pay the milkman, cleans out the plughole and sews name labels into school uniform. Someone who keeps the bread bin stocked, who can buy pork chops on their own initiative and get them to the table at the same time as the jacket spuds (not 20 minutes earlier) and who doesn’t believe our house has a loo roll fairy.
What I want, in other words, is a wife.
Applications on a postcard please.