How to survive your wife until she’s survived the change or Wife handling for M4s (middle aged, middle class, married males) by Stuart Woodington © The author asserts and retains all copyright, worldwide on and offline. No part of this work may be reproduced without prior permission of the author. Foreword By now you will have had thrown at you the ‘undeniable argument’ that women no longer need men. And of course, if you’re anything like the in-touchwith-your-feminine-side kind of bloke like me, then you’ll find yourself largely agreeing. The tenet of the argument is that the world would be a better place without men. After all, no woman in history has actually started a major conflict: Helen was only the reason for the Trojan War and Boudicca and Joan of Arc were merely finishing something that the Roman and English male invaders, respectively, had begun. And whilst there are definitely parts of Essex where, on hearing the words “Do you want some?” you have to eyeball (but not too closely, obviously) the questioner to discern its sex, women are for the most part, non-violent. Women don’t have penises either. Therefore they don’t need to compare them, literally or metaphorically: just think, their argument goes, how much more pleasant working or going out would be without testosterone flying around. And if you don’t have something to start with, you don’t need to extend it. So fast cars would be obsolete, instantly eradicating road rage whilst introducing universally cheap motor insurance and a cleaner, healthier planet at a stroke. With only their sisters to cater for women would construct smaller houses, and re-engineer the frontages of civic buildings to accommodate changes in fashion. There would be no urinals, they’d fill in the slits on escalators, banish soft flooring, turn pubs into crèches and amongst many other landscape-altering changes, re-plant sports pitches and golf courses with hardy perennials. Education, emancipation and the evolution of the microchip has meant that there isn’t a job that a man does that can’t be done equally well, if not better, by a woman, so the argument goes. And, fair enough, it’s largely true. “Ah! What about reproduction?” cries the by-now totally emasculated man? “Sperm banks!” Comes back the answer. We are then reminded that it takes but one sperm to fertilise an egg, and that in each ejaculation we produce millions of them. So it wouldn’t take long to build up huge deposits of the stuff. What’s more, the ladies screech with delight, is that they could have the exact ‘father’ they wanted for their children. Cherry-picking the eye colour, physique, sense of humour, intelligence and every other gene-determining characteristic. There would be no need for dating so diets, exercise and make-up would be things of the past. And there would also be no marriage, no sex and no romance. The logical extension of this whole argument would be that if women chose to bring boys into the world, they would have no male role models from whom to pick up bad habits. Alternatively, they could ensure only female foetuses grew beyond a few weeks. All this makes logical sense. But herein lies the problem with the theory: women are not logic systems. They are emotional bundles that, with the exception of lesbians, are genetically programmed to need men. And in most cases this means one particular man at a time. This is why menkind still exist. Deep down, women know that this is an incontrovertible fact as much as they hate it. And it is my contention that at least partly because of this, as well as millennia of suppression at the hands of men, they are demanding more from us. And I don’t just mean in obvious ways like equal opportunity and pay because that wouldn’t on its own be enough. Would it? We are increasingly expected to be less like the men our fathers were and more like someone who has yet to be fully identified. (Have you ever asked your wife what it is she wants, only to be told she’ll know it when she sees it?) The main premise, therefore, of this book is that it is not easy being a man, and, specifically, a husband these days. Most of my friends and colleagues are not Neanderthal thugs; many of them enjoy partaking in activities deemed by society as exploring their feminine sides. But we are getting confusing feedback from women who don’t just want it all for themselves, they want us to be all things to and for them – including, when the mood takes them (although they won’t tell you this) behaving Neanderthallically towards them! John’s genes theory When I shared the basic thinking behind this book with a couple of mates, one of them called John postulated an interesting idea that is relevant here. Namely, that over the millennia, many of man’s achievements – like the Pyramids and putting up that shelf – are the result of prompting by women. (Today, we have a technical term for it: nagging.) He says that this cajolement really can be a force for good, and indeed there is some pleasure to be gained from fixing a bit of wood to the wall with no slant and it remaining there even when placing things on it. However, this nagging was born in a time when we really needed to strive for things that were actually fundamental, like warmth and food and shelter. As opposed to a new 4x4. John reckons over time women have developed a nagging gene that has become a dominant force in the female psyche, and is as active and influential now as it has ever been. The problem of course being that most women actually have those things they used to need to nag their men to strive for; central heating has played a large part in this. The upshot? They can’t stop their need to nag you, but they also can’t explain why or what it is they want you to do. They just know they will recognise it when they see it and that they want it now! (This is already the second time you’ll have read that in this book.) This is not fair but it is life. I have no remedy except to perhaps offer her the chance to chat about it. Over a bottle of cold white wine? (See Chat chapter.) There are plenty of guidebooks on how women can get on, but for the Middle-aged, Middle class, Married Male – ‘mmmandm’ (like Eminem but older and fatter) or M4 for short – of the 21st Century, little if anything exists on how we should conduct ourselves. This then is an attempt to redress that balance. An un-thorough, uncomprehensive, but honest attempt at helping the M4 negotiate his way through the relationship that dominates his life at home, and affects all of the others in his life. Not everything I’ve written will be appropriate for everyone who falls into the M4 category, nor is it meant to be a fix-all solution to the many problems an M4 may encounter (I’m also sure there are many more topics I could have covered) but I believe there are enough men out there, like me, who will recognise a lot of the situations I talk about and if it only helps one of them, whilst occasionally bringing a smile to the rest, it was worth doing. “Son, remember this: there are two types of woman. Those who think they can reason and those who don’t care that they don’t. Women don’t reason because they can’t reason. Both types of women are, more often than not, unreasonable too.” My father, 1986. Without prejudice… The author accepts no responsibility for any unforeseen repercussions, lawsuits or ensuing divorces that may result from readers acting on the contents of this book. It was written with very little recourse to accepted medical fact or psychological theory and practise. In fact, the advice it contains is largely based on a ‘cod’ theory that derives from imagining what life must have been like when things were simpler and we lived in caves. In terms of male-female relations, and even inter-familial relations, the die was very much cast then and is all too recognisable even today. (I’ll add the words in my opinion so as not to risk offence.) In those days, men went off to hunt and women stayed by the cave looking after the kids and washing the loincloths from time to time. The night before the men went off to hunt they’d all gather around the fire and work themselves into a frenzy, exhorting the Gods to favour the next day’s efforts. In the morning, they’d get together to plan their strategy and paint themselves ready for action. Off they’d go, often for up to a week at a time, looking for the perfect kill that would stave off hunger for the cave families for a couple of weeks or so: a few deer or a bison or two would be great, maybe if their plans went really well, a woolly mammoth. They may have dug a hole, or constructed some kind of elaborate vine-rope trap or even deployed ambush or pincer attacks to get their prey. It needed thinking about properly, coordination and total cooperation. In short, what men did was truly a big song, dance and deal. Meanwhile, back at the cave, the women would go about the business of bearing and raising children and keeping everything else together. They’d get their own caves in order, as well as getting together with the neighbours over a bowl of broth to share community chores and bitch about their other halves. If they got hungry, they would chuck a stick, stone or old bone at anything that happened to cross their paths. Sometimes they hit something and they would eat. Sometimes they didn’t, in which case they’d try again. But by and large, they didn’t starve. Naturally, when their husbands returned triumphal with a decomposing carcass, they’d drop everything, slap on some wode and go out to meet them and tell them what a good job they’d done. In short, women did everything but without making a fuss about it. The two approaches to getting food really sum up the sexes. The male approach was long-winded, carefully planned, terribly complicated but, in essence, logical. The female approach was off-the-cuff, uncomplicated, impractical and intuitive. Both ways worked, both had their merits, both suited the way things had to be: men could go hunting for big game because they didn’t have to raise or bear children, women had to stay at home because they did. Society has changed but has it really moved on? Author’s note: At the time I had written nearly 22,000 words on this subject, my next door neighbour kindly informed me about a book written by husband and wife team, Allan and Barbara Pease, entitled “Why men don’t listen and women can’t read maps”. This is a brilliant book and unlike this effort actually, for the most part, based on robust research. It explains why men and women are different and attributes this to millennia of behavioural conditioning; we have lived in caves and hunted (men) and gathered (women) for nearly 99% of the time we have been in existence as a species. The way we live today – the equality of the sexes, the fact that men and women can, and do, with the exception of childbirth, fulfil the same roles – is completely different. Our minds, thought patterns, physical attributes and the hormones that power these bodily functions have been fine tuned to provide food and protect (men) or nurture children and build nests (women). This incontrovertible fact, the root cause of why we are different, lies behind the ‘battle of the sexes’. But now the roles have blurred (another fact that we should all accept) we find we disagree with each other all the time. This is simply because we do not understand each other. I was gratified to find that my cod theory had some basis in fact. I was massively perturbed to discover such an excellent and exhaustive book on a similar subject to mine. I would say however that this is more of a survival guide, with not a little harmless getting our own back thrown in. That said, I’d urge you to read the Pease’s book; it really does explain why so much of the ‘advice’ in M4 is necessary! By the way, within my cave theory you will also find the basis to why there are daddy’s girls and mummy’s boys. In the days when we’d just left the trees and were cave hunting, and before incest had been outlawed, the threat to an Alpha male’s position would always come from a younger male – and more often than not, a son. Males knew this, so just as soon as their boys were walking they were likely to administer the odd beating to keep the boy in his place. The cave boys instinctively knew this so would look to their mums to tell their dads to pick on someone their own size. At the same time, the mums would feel vulnerable the moment their daughters reached puberty and had taken enough care with their nails to be able to scratch eyes out. The daughter sensed this and would soon start to wind their dads around their little fingers. The law may have changed, the behaviour hasn’t! Whilst I’m at it, and whilst Richard Dawkins’ theories are being chattered about amongst all sorts of classes, my Caveman Theory can also explain the existence of God, or lack of it. At risk of offending 90+% of the world’s population, here’s my take on the God thing. Imagine, if you will, you’re one of the boys out on the hunting party. You’re all following the scent of something big and tasty, and the orders of the hardest bloke in your part of the valley. Politics were simple in those days. You followed the man with the meanest reputation – quite possibly the biggest man. If his son was also a bit tasty with a club, he’d probably inherit his father’s mantle, until someone challenged him of course. Everything’s going fine until you and your mates realise that whilst you’ve been stalking meat, you’ve been stalked by a rival tribe who have taken a fancy to your caves, water supply and your wives. You know they’re following you, you know there’s going to be a bit of a riot. But they’re not yet out in the open so you can’t take your lead from your leader. Who do you or he turn to for comfort? The answer is the leader’s right hand man; the guy who’s handier with his brains than he is with his fists. There have been different names for him, with different tribes throughout the world – Witch Doctor, Shaman, Rabbi, High Priest, Archbishop of Canterbury – but essentially his job was always the same: strategy, thinking, guidance all of which was usually ‘Godly’ in its divination. Sometimes, this guy would contact the spirit world via a trance or meditation, sometimes he had a direct line into God or the Gods, others merely interpreted signs like cloud formations and how a man’s entrails would fall out when his gizzard was split. Whatever, it was he who, under the chief’s protection, the tribe looked to in times of darkness. If things went well, the Gods were happy. If you didn’t catch anything to eat or you got beaten up a bit, the Gods were angry in which case a sacrifice usually abated their wrath. Of course, this Number 2 job in the tribe wasn’t without its rewards so it would have been an attractive career. Equally, if other tribes kept getting the upper hand, their Number 2, and his Gods, must be more powerful so it could be risky too; before anything serious happened though, there would have been a bit of a debate about this, of course. We call them wars and, yes, we all know history shows us just how many have been started by opposing faiths. The great thing about being the second Great Thing in any tribe was that your word was often law and as time wore on, it was these guys who developed language and communication skills, so their word literally became the written law. If they didn’t know an answer to something or couldn’t explain natural phenomena, like thunder and lightning for example, they could make up an answer or explanation and make it something attributable to their belief set. So what they thought, or believed in, would always be right and they could never be wrong, or challenged. Could they? Remind you of anyone these days? M4: middle-aged, middle class, married and male. A working definition My secondary education was at a Grammar school for the baby boomer’s babies. None of the boys’ parents were especially wealthy, some like my dad were engineers, or accountants, maybe the odd lawyer or GP but mostly working people who pushed their kids to get a better version of the education they had. Or in many cases, never had. Striving was at the heart of everything we did and very much forms the mindset of the M4 today. In fact, I remember being mildly perturbed to discover I wasn’t strictly speaking middle class – they were people who made money from commerce and were usually owners of businesses. They employed workers and managers who were working and lower middle class. Even if you were professional – an engineer, lawyer or teacher, for example – you were excluded from genuine middle class status because you technically drew a salary or wage rather than took an income from the money you made, as well as dividends from the profits that were left. The Second World War changed all that. Ravaged Britain needed people to get it back on its feet again. And together with the social contract brought in with the new Labour government, opportunity flourished and rewards followed. The sixties were the first time in class-torn British history where working hard could really accelerate you up the ladder. Background still had its say, but money definitely talked louder. M4s, being children of this new age, grew up aspiring. And that in my opinion is at the core of what makes a middle class male now. He wants to work hard, either as an entrepreneur or in a tertiary, service-based industry where his brains and efforts pay dividends. Share ownership is normal, wealth creation acceptable. He wants the good things in life but, unlike his ill-educated distant relation, the Chav, with whom he shares some materialistic aspirations he, at least is not label-obsessed. In fact this last point is as clear a demarcation as any. The M4 likes food, wine, culture and above all, sport. The Chav eats shit, leaves wine alone and the only culture he enjoys is that of the tribal nature of the football terrace. For the purposes of this book, I define middle age as starting at the age when you realise you have to work your nuts off, just to stand still keeping the family in food, clothes and one foreign holiday each year. These days that starts at about 37, about the time your first child first goes to school. Typically, M4 syndrome lasts for the duration of the kids’ education on into, or through, university – unless your wife successfully negotiates her change before this time. In which case you may well still be paying to rear children and indeed still be strictly speaking a relatively young man by any definition, but you will probably have moved on from M4 status; as this life-changing internal force on your wife translates to a more benign, external influence on your life. Bless you. Kids in education, wife in transformation. These two apparently normal influences which are inextricably woven together are what make the M4 years so difficult to negotiate. Married? Male? You can work that out on your own. Your wife may not be going through menopause but she’s certainly heading towards it! If you agree with my overarching definition of M4ness commencing around the time your first child goes to school, it is reasonable to assume that your wife is some way off ‘the change’. She will almost certainly be a long way from the hot flushes, increased PMT-like symptoms and the need for HRT that comes with the menopause. If she is in her late 30s, there is little doubt she will continue to ovulate for the next decade or so and you will be not a little cognisant of this fact every 28 days. However, even though she may not be aware of it herself, her subconscious accepts it is coming and starts preparing for it. It believes that once she is no longer physically capable of reproduction or (worse still to her mind) no longer physically attractive enough, in comparison to a female with plenty of good breeding years left in her, to warrant being given a try, then she will no longer be of any use to you: a male who is more than capable of siring healthy offspring, almost until you die. Of course, this is an entirely irrational, illogical argument because relationships are built on much more than just appearance and the ability to procreate. There’s love, for a start. Or the shared joy of bringing up children. Then again, maybe she has rich parents – an extremely motivational reason to stay together. (Equally, the cost of divorce is compelling enough on its own to not split up.) But, as we M4s already know, women are not rational, logical beings. And their bodies know this, too. So, long before the first teeniest indications of the menopause, women begin to display behaviour that conditions them and, more importantly you, to when the actual time comes. Their nagging faculty and its scope expands. They become much bossier. They may even start doing jobs that historically have been reserved for you, like sorting out servicing the car, mowing the lawn (warning, do not let this happen: see later chapter entitled “Cutting the grass?”) decorating the odd room – please note, they will rarely go as far as putting up a shelf: if she does, she may actually have slightly too high testosterone levels. In the case of M4s, compared to say other classes of marriage, she may decide that she will now take over more of the cooking duties; in addition to the mundane feeding of the kids, she will now assume responsibilities for those occasions hither-to-now she has been happy to let you indulge your belief, and in many cases, genuine capability, to emulate similarly-aged TV chefs. In short, she is attempting to make herself indispensable. Either as your partner/leader in the sense that she takes more decisions for you, so your life is rendered desirably simpler (in her eyes). Or that she is so useful to have around it would be folly to leave her. Author’s note: Under no circumstances confuse these efforts to become more ‘useful’ with a desire to become more ‘domiciled’. Bossing you around, it goes without saying, is nowhere near subservient behaviour. And a desire to cook for you simply betrays the insight, and accepted medical fact, that a man’s heart really is very closely aligned to his stomach. Both strategies are designed, ultimately, to control and maintain her fundamental primordial instinct – to have and to hold one man. You. This is why men have mid-life crises. And that is why I have devoted the next chapter to this phenomenon. Before you read it, however, take on board the following: M-E-N-O-P-A-U-S-E (men-oh-paws). Just say the word slowly to yourself, breaking it up into its constituent parts; stretching out its three syllables. The first part is obvious. MEN! That’s us and it is a direct exhortation to us to pay immediate heed. As in “Oi you, yes you! Listen to what I’m about to say!” It is also conclusive proof that you are, whether you like it or not, an intrinsic part of something that is afflicting her – you’re actually in the word for it, chum – get used to it. “o(h)?” Yes, as in ‘oh dear’, as in something bad looks like it may happen (as indeed it will). And finally, “pause”. This is code for stop, think hard, contemplate what it is you are dealing with – don’t act in haste, don’t react too quickly. Men-o-pause actually translates as: M4! THINGS COULD TURN NASTY. WAIT BEFORE YOU ACT. You have been warned. Why your mid-life crisis (the male menopause) is her fault. I contend there is no such thing as the male menopause, which is typically more often characterised as a ‘mid-life’ crisis. Yes, I do. Unlike women, it goes without saying there is no actual biological basis for the argument. Admittedly we get middle age spread that now encompasses Moobs (man-boobs) we go grey or bald and we somehow lose any sense of how to dress appropriately when not going into work. But our bits, all of them, work well enough (and if we exercised properly, would work perfectly). There is no reduction in testosterone or increase in oestrogen, which would have seismic effects on the way we looked and talked. We don’t stop making sperm so we can still reproduce. Our skin doesn’t sag. In fact, some men really do look better as they age; maturity conferring, as it does to a fine wine, a certain distinguished state. (Women know this and don’t like it.) Neither is the so-called male menopause psychological. I know a number of men who are of a similar age and background to me, but are single. They look like M4s and mostly smell like them too – although many M4s after years of marriage slowly lose the need for cologne – but they obviously lack one key aspect of qualification. They don’t have wives or girlfriends. They carry on with their lives throughout their forties and fifties pretty much behaving the same way, without the sudden need to buy a Harley Davidson, start wearing jeans and cowboy boots or, worse still, copping off with a younger woman who is usually someone they work with. No, this kind of behaviour, which we call the symptoms of a mid-life crisis, is peculiar to married men. Only married men display the symptoms of the ‘male menopause’. Because only if you are in a marriage in which your wife has begun her journey into the ‘barren wilderness’, will you feel compelled to act as though your life has reached a crisis point: it hasn’t, there are ways around it, you just need to take stock. This begins with the acceptance that it is your wife’s fault you may feel the urge to re-start wearing cologne (doing so really is an accurate signifier of your state of mind, be warned: smelling more alluring is asking for trouble and you will probably get it). Suddenly wanting to get on a 1000+cc motorbike results not from desperately wanting to feel young again. Growing your hair, dyeing it, getting an earring or a tattoo is not the fading screams of a soon-to-be lost virility. No. It is a reaction, but not to some sense of time speeding up. It is because your wife is going through men-oh-pause, behaving in new, weird and not-so-wonderful ways that you are acting like this. In actual fact, her newly assertive bossing (nagging 2.0, if you will) her desire to take over some of your duties, her unreasonableness as a whole, has driven you to behave like this. Previously you were happy, mowing the lawn, thinking up ways you can earn Brownie Points (all covered in later chapters) but suddenly your place in the order of things has been dislodged. Her forays into territories previously demarcated as yours, in her attempts to convince you that she is indispensable, result in a series of actions she hadn’t foreseen and you hadn’t planned. You are suddenly compelled to find something new. Being an M4, this almost certainly first breaks out as a new hobby, invariably involving something that has essential items of kit at its core; it could be a gentle pastime like fishing or golf, with their associate paraphernalia of clubs, rods and tackle. But is more likely to be something that appeals directly to the nascent adrenalin gene all men have: hence the swooning over magazines containing pictures of used sports cars, or Triumph Bonnevilles and Harley Davidsons. Just as quickly as the fires for this kind of outlet are ignited, Mrs M4 douses them. “Don’t be stupid, we could go on a Safari for that kind of money.” So, what happens next is that men stop drooling over the machinery in their magazines and start noticing the scantily clad models with which they are festooned. This is when M4s’ thoughts start turning inwards; to themselves, their appearance, their toilet. It’s a slippery slope but it is only natural. It’s not sensible and it should be avoided if you want to stay married. I do not advocate it. But it is what it is and it is caused by the female menopause, not men having a midlife crisis – a phrase that, if wasn’t invented by feminists, has certainly been adopted and promulgated by them with profound enthusiasm. Think about it. Think of anyone you know who has ended up divorced because he had “a mid-life crisis”. I’ll bet it wasn’t long ago that he was happily married, or at least, contented with it. How old is the ex-wife in the equation? Exactly. It’s the woman who’s really having the mid-life crisis. Because only women’s bodies, and therefore the way they feel about themselves and life in general, actually alter. It’s called The Change for good reason. How healthy is marriage; how healthy is yours? As I write this, I can honestly say I know of only two recent M4 divorces or indeed any marriages that are on the rocks. Seriously, I’m thinking about everyone at work and everyone I come into contact with at work, mates, mates of mates, people at school, parents at the rugby and other clubs the kids attend.... Of people who are divorced, in most cases it happened a few years ago. Are we making a better fist of marriage than previous generations? Divorce statistics seem to suggest this is the case: 2009 was the fifth consecutive year numbers had dropped, to a figure of 113,049 – a vast reduction on the peak of 153,176 in 2003. Results also revealed that just under 100,000 children saw their parents get divorced, down massively from a decade earlier, when there were 150,129 children in the same situation. You hear a lot of talk about couples getting hitched later in life, after they’ve been through their wild streaks, and therefore they’ve had more time to think about things. Certainly, the age M4 wives are having their first child is rising. This would be a logical explanation (of the currently lower divorce rate along with the increase in immigration from cultures where divorce is discouraged) and certainly one that is both palatable and politically correct to both sexes. But this book is not about political correctness or keeping the status quo; it’s about rocking the boat (making ripples not waves, admittedly). I think the reason M4 divorce rates are down is because things have changed for women and they’re happier with their lot. And this is because we M4s accept they ‘want it all’ and more importantly we’ve let them have it all, too. So, how happy is your marriage? Let me put it another way. Do you think there is a corollary between your wife’s prevailing mood and to what extent you bow to her will or nagging, or the most recent sacrifice you’ve made? Thought so. In real terms, I don’t think marriage is something that, on a day-to-day basis, makes anyone actually happy. (That’s why we invented wine.) I do think your marriage can make you not unhappy; that it can be something that provides comfort, continuity and probably most importantly for M4s, a purpose. You can even love your wife or be in love with her, I do and am very much so. But that’s not what makes a marriage ‘work’. So the real question is: does your marriage work? If as seems increasingly the case amongst M4s, the answer is yes, however emphatically you say it, then I’m prepared to bet it’s because you are ‘happy’ for her to basically be the boss. If you’re not, and you keep acting like you’re the man in the house, you will start to find that your marriage has stopped being something that doesn’t make you unhappy. It will start to get on your tits, a phrase so many of us M4s seem to have adopted without really thinking about it. If you don’t want the pain of a divorce, or its cost, don’t fight her. At least, not obviously. Play a different kind of game... Wives: which type is yours? Before I start dispensing my ‘advice’ for what it’s worth, it is probably fair to deal with the question that women always throw back at me, usually over a dinner table, whenever I bring up the subject of the subjugation of the M4 as male and – if I am allowed enough time to get the words in – the role of the wife in that demise. Even though I add the caveat that we, as a species, are complicit in this erosion of status in our homes, I nearly always get the following ironic response. “Oh yeah? You really think we’re all alike – that’s just so typical of a man to generalise.” Same answer every time. That’s not a generalisation, it’s a fact. You see, for the most part and certainly the purposes of this book, I believe every M4 is married to the same type of woman: controlling always, even if it’s subconscious or covert, but not always knowing what she wants, especially from you. Permit me to expand on the theory, as it is one even some of my friends, when discussing this book, have taken issue with. Initially. That’s because some men actually think they’re in charge of their relationships. And indeed I know quite a few blokes who are sure of it. Usually, they’ll say something like “Mrs X? Oh, she’s good as gold, wonderful woman.” This is because their wives have spoilt them in the past: indulging their idiosyncrasies, encouraging them to go out, see their friends, play golf whenever, letting them do whatever. Why are these wives so relaxed about doing this? Not because they’re liberated, trusting rounded individuals. No, they appear so easy going because in actual fact they’re scared witless of their husbands leaving them. They can’t face life without the man they’ve managed to get hold of, so they behave in the way they think will make their men will like them best – they’ll take an interest in his hobbies, learn the names of the players in his football team, even learn the intricacies of the laws of cricket or the offside rule. She’ll encourage him to have another drinky if he wants, and of course she’ll drive home. And sure enough, he will think she’s the bee’s knees. And he’ll tell anyone that this is the case, including his wife who will lap it up like, well like a lap dog really. Add the odd bunch of flowers, some unnecessarily expensive gifts, especially the de rigeur undies – “actually they’re really a present for me darling!” – and that’s her made up, happy as Larissa. In reality, if he were able to cast a cold eye on their relationships, they would be able to see that their wives, more often than not, are their mothers albeit with legal, frequent and compliant sex thrown in. This works for the first few years of marriage and early parenthood. But then, about the age the kids start going to school, she will become less compliant. She will become less easy-going. Not necessarily difficult, but different. And believe me, Mr Smug-once M4 will know it only after it’s happened, because it happens like osmosis. The little woman, who by now he may well be referring to as “Senior Management” will be behaving more like that other typical M4 wife: the career woman. From the moment she lets you buy her a drink she will make it clear she is in charge of her life and, if you get involved with her, she’ll run things for you too. I don’t need to go into detail about what she’s like, or why her partner may feel life is easier to just go along with things; you’re bound to know one or even be married to one. “I work too, so it’s quite obvious we will have to share the child care, get a nanny, need a cleaner and you will have to do more and you can forget about golf at the weekends as I’ll need some time to do something for me...” Just remember, she may not know it and will never admit it, but she actually needs her husband; she’s designed that way. Her assertiveness is just an accident of gene evolution which has tricked her into believing acting like this will ensure she keeps her mate. (Or her job.) There are some women who don’t appear to be like Geishas or Career Women. My wife is one, neither over or under assertive. She’s just known from the start that I’m going to be crap at lots of things (even if I am not) need constant reminders (which apparently is not the same thing as nagging) and without having to make a big deal about it, will just quietly run the family, often allowing me to think, occasionally, that I am. A combination of modern societal pressures shapes all women into something more or less recognisable as the same – whether or not they went back to work after having children, or stayed at home to bring them up until they went to school and then went back to work, or never re-joined the labour pool at all. By the time a middle class, married female reaches the onset of middle-age, for whatever reason, M4s are no longer directly on their wavelengths. This hits M4s with shock and often where it hurts the most apart from their pride: the groin, through decreasing amounts of sex. It’s not the end of the world, life can be negotiated. However, you now have to play by a new set of rules, one of which is they can change the rules whenever they want. To keep your sanity, your marriage in one piece, survive and even flourish, always remember the paradox you’re living with: her brain tells her that she doesn’t need you any more, at the same time something primordial screams within that she does. You see, the confusing signals you now experience on a daily basis, are a direct result of the confusion she will feel until, well, until she’s negotiated menopause. I hope the following helps you navigate your way through these turbulent straits. And good luck. Where you fit in with your wife. Ready for this? You don’t. You’re a pain in the arse as far as your wife is concerned. You create laundry, you’re untidy, you don’t help out around the house and even if you do you get it wrong, which is worse than not bothering. You can’t be relied on: to get home when you say you will, whether you’re out or even just from work; you forget what she thinks you’ve agreed with her, which is hardly surprising since you don’t listen to what she says anyway; you’ve always got something to do when something she wants doing needs attention; you don’t do your fair share of running the kids around and if she didn’t remind you to do a thing, you wouldn’t be able to do anything. Recognise any of this? You have this knack of always being able to find some obscure sport on TV when there’s something that she wants to watch. (This is also one of the reasons why you never listen to what she’s telling you.) The things you enjoy doing, like golf or going to the football or rugby or whatever, take all day. You eat too much and drink more than you should, so it’s no surprise that you burp, fart and snore, awake as well as asleep. You still don’t know her bra size. And worst of all, you just don’t understand her. Oh, and you pester her for sex. Apart from that, you’re alright. And that’s honestly how she thinks. Now you know this, you can begin to see that being an M4, surviving with your sanity and as a man, is much more difficult than any problem that ever comes up at work. Sure you’ll have faced challenges in your career, but you won’t have had to come home to it, or shop or sleep with it. And you’re on your own with it: you can’t brainstorm the problem, even if you could put your finger on what the problem is, with a bunch of colleagues and a whiteboard, over sandwiches and juice. If only you could just present your wife with a PowerPoint deck featuring some innovative solutions…dream on, that would be way too logical. The moment you’d put up the title page, she’d demand to know why, if you had the time to put this together, you hadn’t had time to put up that shelf. The simple truth of the matter is that as far as your wife is concerned, you’re something to be tolerated. Don’t try arguing with her about it because she’s right about it and you’re wrong; irrespective of what “it” happens to be. Face up to it; accept it and hopefully what follows will help you deal with it. Chat and talking. In order that you have a better than fair chance of surviving the M4 years, it’s important that you understand your wife as much as possible. I left a gap between these sentences because I wanted you to stop and think just how ridiculous a thing it is I have just written. You don’t understand your wife, do you? And if you really think about it, you don’t know how to. That’s because, wait for it, we’re fundamentally different. This can be illustrated perfectly by the act of speaking. For men, speaking is a communication medium in which information is sought and passed on to gain ‘understanding’, as in “Do you fancy another pint?” To which more often than not there is a logical next step in the process. For example, “Love one, mate – cheers.” Occasionally, men will engage in a discussion, for example: “Another pint?” “Great idea, just wondering if we should make it a half, as the wives will be wondering where we got to?” “Fair point mate, but they’ll still be bathing the kids.” “Same again then?” Men will even engage in conversation; “Bag of nuts with that? What do you reckon on United’s new Brazilian?” “Love some. Well, if he can cope with the rigours of the Premiership….” What men do not do is chat. Chat is something only women practise: the whole point of it is that it doesn’t have a point. It is simply the act of saying words to each other that women enjoy. Think about it, when was the last time you rang a mate up ‘for a chat’. He’d say, “Sure thing mate, what did you want to talk about?” He’d rightly immediately assume there’s something you want to say to him. And then, because there isn’t, that there’s something wrong with you or it’s him you’ve decided to come out to. Chat is like a modern equivalent of crochet in the 19th Century; in fact, I’ve recently discovered a workmate’s wife attends sewing classes which they’ve nick-named ‘Stitch and Bitch’. It’s something women could do together as an excuse to chat, only they called it polite conversation in those days. Don’t believe me? Next time your wife meets ‘the girls’ or ‘her girlfriend’, ask her if they had a good chat. Following the guaranteed affirmative with which this enquiry will be greeted, then ask what they ‘talked’ about, which will get you a perplexed frown, followed by eyes rolling heavenwards and then the dismissive: “I’m going to bed, I’m tired.” Hard evidence? Look at the phone bill: look at how often the same numbers keep cropping up and look how many minutes of talk-time sit against them. I guarantee these numbers are her mother’s, her sister(s)’ and her friends’. What on earth or anywhere else, could they find to talk about for all that time? Quite obviously they’re just chatting. Now you understand one of the main reasons that you don’t really understand your wife, it’s important that you learn how to give the impression that you do. This involves acquiring the skill of appearing to be able to do chat. Here’s where being on friendly terms with a gay man can really be an advantage. If your wife thinks you’re chatting to her (despite the fact that you know she’s actually chatting ‘at’ you), she will think you do understand her a little, which is a whole lot more than she thought you did. You won’t, of course, have a clue what she’s on about or even why. But that’s not the point; there is no point, remember. Some handy hints to help you do chat. Women like doing chat over a glass or two of wine. Never, ever pass off this opportunity; always ensure that at least one bottle of crisp, dry white wine is chilling in the fridge. N.B. With white wine, you’ll get a lighter form of chat, with red wine the chat may get heavy, like “You don’t think I’m going too grey, do you?” If you finish the first bottle, go ahead and open another. As you know, alcohol is a great lubricant of the larynx. She will think you’re having a great conversation (really). You will think why is it so important that so and so hasn’t bought a new dress for the Parents Teacher’s Association Annual Dance. She will say, “Oh it’s so good that we can really talk to each other like this.” At this stage, you should, if you haven’t got the telly on in the corner, nod sagely and say how much you like ‘chatting to’ her. Feeling enervated, she might even ask your how work is. Don’t regard this as an invitation to discourse on the vagaries of office politics, she’s just being polite. Simply reply everything’s fine and notice how quickly she’ll carry on. If there is something you actually need to discuss with her, like getting her buy-in to a few beers with your mates, then you’ll need to stop her chat. The tactic required to achieve this is remarkably easy to employ, but should be used only when necessary, otherwise it will lose its efficacy. Simply come out with a compliment, it can be anything like “Have you had your hair done?” or “You look like you’ve lost weight.” Note how these compliments are constructed: they’re not assertions, just in case the opposite’s true, like she’s visiting her ‘stylist’ tomorrow or she’s actually put weight on. Always make sure you pay your compliment in a way that gives you a get-out. “Really, tomorrow? Maybe that’s why it looks different!” or “You’ve put weight on? Well darling, it doesn’t notice at all!” (You don’t want to leave yourself open to a debate about the basis of the compliment, you simply want to get her to be okay with you going down the pub.) A carefully constructed, casually delivered compliment will almost certainly stop her mid sentence: “My hair, do you like it?” At which point take your chance. “It looks lovely darling, by the way I was thinking of nipping out for a swifty with Dave on Friday is that okay with you?” The answer, thanks to the residual effect of the compliment, is usually in the positive. Your victory established, sit back and let her do more chat at you. Whatever you do, don’t push your luck by asking for something else or paying her another compliment. Women have a Rat Radar – they can smell one instantly; an additional favourable comment will set off her warning alerts, followed immediately by a comment like “That’s the second nice thing you’ve said about me this evening, is there something you want (she’ll have forgotten you’ve already negotiated a pub trip) or are you feeling guilty about something?” Note how loaded the final part of that question is – don’t go there, don’t risk it because women subscribe to the guilty-until-proved-innocent kind of justice favoured by the Taliban and Spanish Inquisition. Occasionally, when she’s doing chat and you’re through your first bottle of wine, she may expect you to contribute. Again, these potentially treacherous waters can be easily navigated. Should a lull in the chat occur, or she looks across the table at you quizzically be careful, she may have asked you a direct question although it’s unlikely. Simply smile and nod and then ask her how her day’s been – again be careful that’s not what she’s been chatting at you about. Or for a cast-iron solid banker, simply enquire about how the kids are getting on at school – if the lull was brought about by her asking you a direct question, your apparent interest in doing chat will appease her enough to re-ask you any way, before, without apparently drawing breath, beginning to chat at you about how your son really is one of the brightest in the class, even if his teacher doesn’t seem to recognise it. There is one time when you should avoid any kind of participation in chat. When you’re out with friends, around theirs or at yours for dinner, never ever make the mistake of trying to join in whilst the male half is off getting a round or attending to his toilet. Go with him (to the bar not the toilet) or keep shhtum. Any other course of action will result in a withering look from your wife and a polite smile from the friend. If there are two or more of them, they will turn to you, laugh spontaneously and then turn back and carry on. They are probably chatting about you and even if they are not, the words that are coming out of their mouths are vacuous and almost certainly meaningless to you. In these situations do not draw attention to yourself in any way. Don’t burp, don’t fart and don’t try to laugh with them. Just bide your time until reinforcements arrive and topics sporting can be enthusiastically rejoined. To help you navigate through some of the trickier aspects of female discourse, when attempting to partake in a chat session, look out for the following words and phrases that women use and their coded meanings. “I’ve been thinking…” Look out, she has! Not about anything worth thinking about, of course. But be warned, it will involve spending money. As in “I’ve been thinking that cream doesn’t work in here.” Don’t say anything; she’ll ramble on about the carpet/ sofa/curtains/wallpaper/paint for a while, just make sure you’re ready for… “I don’t know, what do you think?” You could be forgiven for thinking that she is actually seeking your opinion on some matter – usually to do with some accoutrement or new soft furnishing for the house. Or, that she is saying she doesn’t know something and that therefore you may have the answer. No, whilst it is true she hasn’t made her mind up about where the shelf or candle should go yet, she will do, soon. Whatever you say will be wrong. Don’t fall for it. Don’t lay yourself open to scorn and ridicule because you’ve made a suggestion. Simply bat the question back with the following inanity: “I don’t know either, what do you think?” Unbelievably, she won’t think you’re a parrot or a moron. She will take this as a genuinely serious, empathetic reply. As though you had uttered words to the effect that she was a doyenne of all things pertaining to the central cause of the original questions; moreover of the two of you, only she could possibly find the answer. “I’ve got nothing to wear.” This does not mean that she has nothing to wear. The immediate and incontestable proof of which starts with the fact that she will be almost certainly be saying this to you while she is fully clothed. And of course the myriad evidence of clothes dotted around the home in at least three separate locations. No, what she is really saying, is that she hasn’t bought anything new to wear for a period of time (which could, believe it or not, be as not long ago in the past as the day before). In other words, she wants to go shopping. Another classic line in this genre, and something to watch out for if you’re practising ‘Chat’ with her, is that she is “…feeling frumpy.” She is not saying she ‘feels’, in some way inside, a little dowdy or not at her best. No, she is stating that she thinks she looks middle aged and dull, grey even – and not just under the hair dye. DO NOT AGREE WITH HER! As quick as you can, say something like “Don’t be silly, you look great!” It won’t stop her from then saying, “I’ve got nothing to wear.” Quickly followed by a trip to the shops, but at least you’ve avoided a monologue in which she berates you for calling her fat and frumpy that can be followed by a period of intense internet expenditure. “Fine.” No it’s not! Women use the word ‘fine’ when they don’t agree with something you’re trying to explain to them. What they really mean is ‘Shut up, there’s no debate, end of argument’. “Nothing.” If she says nothing you can bet your substantial mortgage that she means something. Often it is the sign of a storm brewing – be on your mettle; arguments that begin with ‘nothing’ usually end in ‘fine’. “Go Ahead.” This is a dare, not an invitation to switch channel, have another pint or put the shelf up tomorrow. Don’t Do It! “Loud Sigh.” Don’t mistake this for a loud sigh: it is actually a word, a non-verbal statement that means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about ‘nothing’. “That’s okay.” No it’s not. If she says this to you, watch out. It means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake. “Thanks.” Unbelievably, you may have done something right, she approves of or she’s grateful for – usually deployed after she has nagged you to do something, like put up a shelf. Don’t blow it by saying ‘pardon?’, questioning it in any way or fainting. Just say you’re welcome. “Whatever!” This is a women’s way of saying ‘I’m not listening to what you’re saying or why you’re saying it, I just don’t care’. It’s the same as a man saying ‘Fuck you!’ “Don’t worry I’ll do it.” Oh dear, this means you’ve not done something she asked you to do…so now she’s going to do it herself. This will later result in you asking ‘What’s wrong?’ The reply to which will almost certainly be ‘Nothing!’ “Sorry, I was wrong about that.” No you’re right, I’m joking. Women don’t say that. Why wine’s better than beer (unless you’re gagging for a pint, of course). I’ll take the last part of the chapter heading first. When you really want a drink, like on a hot summer’s day or as the first libation in a long-looked-forward-toevening out, you can’t beat a pint of whatever. And of course, you can’t get a pint at home, around someone’s for dinner, or in a posh restaurant. You have to go to the pub, and that’s part of the ritual. The visiting of the pub and the deciding, watching the pouring and the taking of the pint, are inextricably linked and a pleasure in and of themselves and worth celebrating and keeping and, I’ll stop going on; you get my p(o)int. It’s the occasion, and not necessarily the actual beer which invariably you can buy in bottles or cans at ‘most good supermarkets’. What I mean by why wine’s better than beer is a timing thing; specifically, when you’re at home and you fancy a drink. Unless you’re getting the BBQ ready, I recommend you opt for wine. And really, it’s okay to do so. You’ve probably even had that conversation (usually down the pub with a mate, over a pint or two, ironically) which goes along the lines of “If you had to give up beer or wine which would it be?” In my experience, the typical M4 answer is “I can take or leave white wine, but yeah, I’d probably give up beer if it meant I could still have red wine.” Don’t beat yourself up about this. Red wine has been shown to have some ‘medicinal’ benefits. The enjoyment of wine, any wine – getting to know grapes, climates, regions and vintages – is also something men can share (see next chapter, ‘Why whisky’s better than brandy’) with each other and is seen as an admirable quality. Wine is also more efficient than beer. What’s more, it doesn’t smell ‘beery’ which is important. Apparently. But the real reason why wine is better than beer is because you can drink it with your wife. You see, if you sit down with her, across the table and pour each other a glass of wine, you’re doing something ‘together’: she will think you want to talk to her or share something with her (see chapter entitled Chat and talking). You won’t of course, but that’s not the point. She will be reasonably happy for you to become half cut listening to her or, if you’re lucky enough, whilst watching the box, because she’s taking part too. Now, were you to sit there with a can of lager or bottle of beer, she can’t get involved in the same way: working class men not only understand this they deliberately choose to drink beer to perpetuate this non-social environment, so that their wives can’t or won’t feel involved and can’t and don’t talk to them. M4s on the other hand, have an altogether different contract with their wives and can’t, realistically, pursue this approach unless the path to a messy and expensive divorce is their long term goal. And we all know wine goes better with food than beer. And as eating together is another way you can get your wife onside, it makes sense to positively discriminate for wine. If you’re really smart, you should get involved with the cooking or organisation of mealtimes. Or at least suggest having two courses as often as possible – starter/white wine, main course/red. Why whisky’s better than brandy. …and vodka, gin, rum, port and anything else except wine and beer if you really need a pint, of course. Straightaway I want you to know that this particular chapter has nothing to do with the various merits of the individual drinks listed or even comparing them in any way objectively. That would make for a brilliant subject for a whole book all on its own – just think of the research. The reason why whisky’s better than all the other drinks is because it’s a subject, nay an entire hobby, in and of itself. There are something like 145 working malt whisky distilleries in Scotland alone, and many more malts from now defunct distilleries that can still be hunted down. There are myriad blended whiskies and then there’s the whiskeys produced in Japan, Canada, the States and a growing number of other countries. Every single one of them is different, nearly all have some kind of lore or arcane history attached to them. The point is, whisky is potentially a lifelong journey of never-ending discovery. Of course, it helps if you like the stuff, but I’d urge you to try to and here’s why. In my experience, although I’ve encountered women who genuinely like whisky, I’ve never yet met one who has a mini-collection or wants to talk about it, swap stories, or is desperate that you try the new one she’s just found. I’ve also never talked all sorts of bollocks into the night with a whisky-liking woman. You see, it’s something we can do, as blokes, as M4s, on our own or together that they can’t, won’t or don’t! Provided you’re not off your head on the stuff every night, they even seem to look on it indulgently in the same way as they do your interest in all things wine. Your wife will regard it as a perfectly acceptable man-pursuit. And trust me, it really is brilliant stuff once you can get over your initial dislike of its pungency which, I am reliably informed, your nose and taste buds aren’t ready for until you reach M4 age any way. Stamp collecting, photography and tending an allotment are other things that M4 wives don’t seem to mind us developing as hobbies. But just try bringing those up as subjects worth a banter about with your mates, down the pub or over a dram! The Middle Class Malaise. Recently there has been a significant amount of editorial given over to Britain’s booze culture, particularly binge drinking. So where’s the news in that? The government’s recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption is 21 units a week for men and 14 for women. Most bottles of wine (because let’s be honest, that’s what M4s, their spouses and friends mostly drink) are a minimum of 12.5%abv, with many now topping 14%abv. In other words, a bottle of wine at 13%abv, almost the average these days, has just under 10 units in it. Let’s say it’s Saturday night and you and your beloved are not at a dinner party (a potentially quiet weekend night). The kids have been fed and are now arguing about which banal, American-imported or reality TV programme to watch. As you prepare the ingredients for the latest Gordon Ramsay/Jamie Oliver/ Rick Stein recipe you’re having a go at (or indeed, having goat) it’s time for a pre-dinner livener. So you pop the cork or unscrew a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, now South American viticulturists have brought it back into fashion. Naturally, as it’s the first drink of the day, it goes down quickly so you pour another one each. If, like us, you don’t believe in silly little tulip wine glasses and have receptacles that could quite comfortably accommodate a bunch of daffodils, you will, before you’ve even opened the smoked salmon, have consumed a quarter of your recommended weekly dose (your wife, will have had over a third). Naturally, a bottle of 10 unit Cabernet blend or Shiraz is already breathing ready for the main course. And now, to wash the salmon down, you need to open another. Being sensible, you don’t drink all of this and save it for the drink before the Sunday roast with one of a number of bottle stoppers; Christmas presents you never thought you’d use. This is because you never used to not finish a bottle of wine, and of course made a joke about it when you unwrapped the gift. You now think how good it is that you have just such a tool and delude yourself into thinking you’ve reached an age where you can actually stopper a bottle of wine; conveniently forgetting that in actual fact you’re drinking more! (Not quite half a bottle so let’s just call it four extra units.) By the time you’ve put the brie and stilton away, between the two of you the best part of 35 units will have been despatched, a number which magically adds up to your combined weekly recommended allowance. A whole seven day’s drinking in one night? By that definition, that has to be a binge. Forget what the two of you drank the night before, or that you wake up the next day bright and breezy with no hangover, you must be an alcoholic and that’s what you start to think. This is the Middle Class Malaise. It’s one of the main things the chattering classes chatter about, over a glass or two, of course. “Oh yes, we drink too much don’t we darling? That’s why we go without on Mondays and Tuesdays.” A mate told me his doctor said, “Miss one day a week, one week a month, one month a year.” “Mark always goes on the wagon in January, don’t you hun’? Oh is there a drop left, yes please!” Nearly all M4s do it and we all do too much of it. One of the main symptoms of Middle Class Malaise is ‘opening angst’. What time of day is it okay to open the first bottle of wine? For the M4 wife or partner this is a perennial problem that needs to be sorted out once and for all. If she’s not gainfully employed there’s a very good chance a combination of the kids, their after school clubs, the traffic, someone in a shop, the weather and something you’ve done has wound her up. She’s stressed. Unscrewing, uncorking a bottle of wine would instantly ease the situation – assuming she’s not still at the wheel of the 4x4 that is. The problem she faces is how early is too early to do it; at what time is it socially acceptable and not deemed as being behaviour of a drinker, something to tittle-tattle about at the school gate when she’s next running a tad late and doesn’t appear to be in control? On a standard weekday, the answer is 16:40, precisely one hour after tea is taken on Test Match days, when the rain hasn’t ruined play. Somehow any earlier seems a little louche, any later an unnecessary wait. Go on, think about it: if you heard that one of your mates’ wife regularly cracked open the Chardonnay at 4:30 in the afternoon, or earlier, you’d feel compelled to say something next time you’re on school run duty. ‘Twenty to five’ sounds just right. Doesn’t it? Get on your bike! Whilst we’re on the subject of hobbies, it seems appropriate to mention activities sportive. One of the easiest ways to work out whether you’re an M4 or not, apart from those at the beginning of this book, is to look at how much sport you take part in, versus how much you watch on TV and how much you’d like to spectate at. You may still be in good enough shape to haul your body around a rugby pitch and be able to deal with the knocks well enough to be ready for the next game, but with all the time pressures you’re under can your wife justify letting you play every week? And even if she does, you will probably get the “What if you get hurt?” argument. This is the same line of logic as “No, I don’t think you should start riding a motorbike.” In neither case is she seriously worried about you actually getting injured and being in pain. She simply wants to prevent you actually getting seriously injured and becoming a serious pain to her; a helpless lump that would require ferrying here and there, tender loving care and is of no use to her at all. These criteria rule out any participatory pastime and certainly those that require post-exercise camaraderie. Games that necessitate travel and time, like cricket, you can certainly kiss goodbye to and golf is only a goer if you tee off at the crack of dawn and make sure you’re round in three and a half hours with no attempts at playing the 19th. So, the chances are, you’re not taking part in a lot of sport. You’d almost certainly like to go to the rugby or a footie match more often than you do. But this eats into valuable shopping time, and occasions when you have the opportunity to ‘…spend more time with your children.’ (Notice how they’re only yours when she wants to do something without them?) Heaven forbid you go to the races or the test match for a day. Even if you don’t take annual leave to do it and can legitimately say it’s work-related, you’ll be asked why it’s alright for you to go and enjoy yourself for the day when she can’t and never gets the opportunity – by the way, never make the mistake of inviting her along, even if you can; she’ll either hate every minute, or get bored and then drunk or decide that you should leave early and it’s your turn to drive any way. So you probably get the majority of your sporting fix through the goggle box. The time with which is increasingly rationed by her ability to find things for you to do, broadcast schedulers who plan kids-oriented stuff well into the evening and The Clothes Show or What Not To Wear. This is unhealthy, both for your body – especially if you’ve discovered whisky or you’ve perfected how to do ‘Chat’ – but mostly your karma: she will think you more of a slob than you actually are. She will exaggerate how much TV you watch. She will go out of her way to find other programmes for her or the kids to watch half way through the match. She will, in short, make your harmless little enjoyment less enjoyable. I have a remedy: one that keeps you fit, allows you a regular gear/kit/ gadget fix, gets you out of her hair, allows you to have the odd pint (in my book – and it is my book, not my wife’s – the first, third and fifth pints are all odd ones) and is something you can share with mates, or do on your own and, wait for it, has her approval! Unlike fixating on a wallet-shrinking, crusty hobby like renovating a classic car, getting into cycling also requires no expertise other than remembering not to fall off. There are various different styles you can get into but they basically fall into two categories: on the road or off the beaten track. Some people I know prefer the almost blind terror of going as fast as they can down a hill, on a rock-strewn mud-path, circumnavigating trees and any other natural objects some of which move. I’ve always preferred roads because I like straight-line speed and the thought of being able to increase time in the saddle and miles travelled and, here’s the clincher: it’s cleaner, you don’t have to spend half an hour afterwards getting caked-on mud off. In either case, having spoken at length to ski-heads it’s a similar kind of feeling. Except you don’t have to go to the Alps to get a cycling hit. You can of course, but then you’d be a really good cyclist and be beyond the many benefits of the points I’m about to make. One of which, and perhaps the most important for the M4, and something I’ll come back to in the Cutting the Grass chapter, is that cycling gives you precious ‘me-time’. It’s great cycling with another couple of M4s as you get the opportunity to talk (not chat, you won’t have the breath to speak that much even if you were inclined so to do) about the football, the idiots running rugby, the waiting list for the MCC, interest rates and the new woman at the office with the big breasts and breasts in general. And if your current Brownie Points Account is nearly in the red, this is a really smart way of seeing some people who really do understand you, and getting in some approved-of-by-senior-domestic-management exercise. However, if you can get out on your own, cocooned by the rapidly racing-by countryside and the feeling of the air rushing past – you soon learn that this sound is better than an iPod – you will discover feelings and thoughts you had forgotten about. Remember when you were seven or eight and summers were summers and in the school holidays you’d go off with a bunch of mates down some fields clutching tin foil-wrapped jam sarnies, waving goodbye to your mum who was happy to see you go and not see you again until sundown because paedophiles hadn’t been invented by the tabloids? You will, I promise! And have you ever had that feeling when you go to bed with some kind of stress-inducing problem, either domestic, financial or work related, only to find on waking that the issue is resolved in your head? That’s what an hour or so on a bike can do. The physical effort required to power you and it over 15 to 20 miles becomes relatively easy after just a few jaunts and ceases to be the reason you do it. Of course, this results in a highly desirable side effect because if you do it frequently enough you will be trimmer and fitter and gain all sorts of approval from the wife. But that’s not what it’s really about. When you’re out there on the road, no one can get in your head and that’s where the real journey (trip?) happens. The time is all yours. There are enough distractions – like idiot teenagers driving Fiestas with big exhausts and sound systems and members of the gerontocracy stepping off the kerb – to keep your concentration levels ticking over. But the vast majority of the brain’s processing power is yours to do with as you will. In short, the act of cycling, not the bike itself, is simply a vehicle, a transportation system to happier thoughts lubricated by the cleansing processes, both mental and physical, resulting from the constant revolutions of the pedals. Put even simpler: your wife can’t have any of that time, it’s a pleasure that is all yours. Cutting the grass. If you don’t have a bike, I really would urge you to get one. If you have a wife who doesn’t want you to have a bike, or can see through the simple, slightly selfish pleasure of the in-your-own-head-with-no-one-else-time it offers you, there is an alternative she won’t see through and can’t deny you. If you are a true M4 it is almost certain that you will own or be paying the mortgage company for a patch, no matter how small, of grass. Living in the UK means that it will be subject to intense and prolonged bursts of rainfall, followed by enough sunshine to encourage it to grow phenomenally but not enough to dry out the ground so you can sit on it without an amusing wet blob appearing on your weekend shorts. This means it will need frequent cutting. Do not under any circumstances ever pass off an opportunity to do this. Do not redefine this task as something the little lady can do whilst you do something she can’t – do you actually enjoy putting up shelves? Grass cutting is, in and of itself, a boring pain-in-the-neck chore but embrace it with gusto: if you have a petrol-engine job, switch off the automatic, poweredwalk mode and push your mower over the sward. It will take longer and you can claim that you’re treating the event as exercise. If your mower is mainsfed, perhaps cut it twice – the first time on a higher setting to get it down to a manageable length, and then go over it again to make it manicurially (note how close that word is to maniacally) perfect. This is because cutting the grass, with the concomitant noise that the motor makes, provides you with another chance to be alone with your thoughts. In your head, where she can’t get at you. Even if she does come out to try to talk, you can affect a slightly agonised but apologised look on your face, wave your hand dramatically at the vast green task surrounding you and move on; only stopping and switching the motor off if she gives you that look. I actually talk out loud to myself whilst attempting to create the stripes you see on the ads. Whole conversations, as liberally peppered with as many swear words as you like, can be had. Arguments that you will win; an opportunity to perfect a presentation you may have to make at work, or to her to get permission to go on that lad’s night out. Cutting the grass is me-time, make no mistake. And only now do I truly understand why, when I was a fledgling teen and visiting a couple of mates who were brothers, whose parents were professionally middle class (they were members of the tennis club committee) their father quite so often enquired of his wife in a flat, monotonous tone: “Shall I mow the lawn?” Say it to yourself, as disinterestedly as you can. Practise the saying of it, until you can perfect it sounding like you really don’t want to do it but you just have to. Me and my mates used to think this was so hilarious we actually nicknamed their father “Shall I mow the lawn.” Now, I fail to see the humour in it at all. The Car. (Hers not yours.) Even if you are a one car M4 family, with all the running around the children’s various clubs and activities, it will be the Command Module (thanks for that Ian) who will almost certainly be the main driver. So, though you may refer to the car you share as ‘our car’, as the law says, “Possession is nine tenths...” So, to all intents and purposes, the car will very much become something in the image of she-that-must-be-obeyed. But, and here’s what’s weird: in a different way to how she personalises spaces in the house. When getting into it, possibly to do ‘the shopping’, you may well immediately recognise evidence of her presence. Odour wise, this will take the form of a combination of an ‘everyday’ (but not cheap, of course) perfume, a hint of a mint of some kind, and not new leather – whether or not there’s any on the seats, steering wheel, gear knob, etc. This smell, on its own, is not unpleasant. It’s what you can also detect with your nostrils, which will be linked to the evidence playing out across the rods and cones of your eyeballs, that will cause you dismay and, eventually if you haven’t yet, to get a second car. This is because she sees the inside of the car as though it were a large waste bin. Why I don’t know. But, this person whose whole karma can be displaced if the washing up liquid has been left on the work surface, or one of your day-old whiskers has escaped from your shaver to the en suite sink, or a shoe by the door has strayed from its pair to ten-past-one instead of midday, or a cushion hasn’t been plumped up; this tidiness/cleanliness OCD tour de force system in your house, changes when she gets into the car. I’ve yet to meet an M4 wife who can keep a car tidy, or even see the point of trying to do so. The crisps and crisp packets; the half-drunk mineral water bottles; half-eaten sweets, not quite fully enclosed in their wrappers; the tissues, all used, with only empty boxes; the plastic strips that used to contain Nurofen; the fuck-knows-how-many car park tickets (don’t count them and don’t add up how much she spends on city centre car parks - otherwise you’ll start to think about how much she’s spent in the shops, while the car’s been parked); the number of copper coins on the floor; the amount of stones and road grit, interspersed amongst the mud, coffee and juice stains; the chock-full glove compartment; and the dust on the dash. She’ll try to blame it on the kids. But they’re not in it after the school run, are they? And why should she expect the little darlings to behave any differently and clear it away or clean it up when every day she shouts at them to tidy their bedrooms to no avail? The problem is she’s always in a hurry because she always has to remedy something you or the children have done in the house, so she doesn’t have time to sort it out. No, the inside of a car driven by an M4 wife is a toilet. And if she has her own car, it’s even worse: it can actually start to smell like one. For some reason, as alluded to before, she won’t notice that it does. Maybe the perfume masks any malodour, or she sits too near the steering wheel to see peripherally or either side of her knees? I regard what happens to my wife’s car as something similar to what happens to the portrait in A Picture of Dorian Grey. The house, our home, is just like the titular character; always perfect, never ageing, spotless in fact. Yet all the time, out on the drive, her car like the painting, starts to display evidence of a sordid, dirty ‘unnatural’ state of her mind. Like quite a few chapters in this book, I find myself struggling to offer advice or suggestions how to deal with this. There was a time when I managed to get her to keep a carrier bag in the car, which was for putting in the rubbish and leftovers from whatever the kids had been eating. It got taken out and another replaced it and I thought I had remedied the situation. But the next time I needed the estate, I discovered this particular rubbish bag (from a farm shop we had visited on the way back from Devon, so easily identifiable) had evolved to simply become one of the larger items of rubbish. Like I said, get your own car… I now need to point out something that strikes me as just as odd as the untidy M4 wife’s car, and that’s the fact that the exterior, and especially the cabin, of the typical M4’s wheels are almost always supernaturally tidy. Why is it that we, who are incapable of noticing a sock that’s been on the bedroom floor since the weekend, using a different knife to spread the butter and the jam on a slice of toast, or folding a newspaper we’ve been reading, can keep our cars so surgically clean? Isn’t it amazing that we own, and own up to owning, an array of ‘tools’ and cleaning accoutrements that have identical uses in the house, but we wouldn’t even know their whereabouts once the threshold has been crossed? Think about it. You’d not blink twice at the prospect of jet washing the bodywork, giving the wheels some serious scrubbing and then vacuuming the interior. You may baulk at waxing and polishing, but you’ll ensure the dashboard is gleaming and moteless. Yet, the prospect of running the Dyson over a few square metres of carpet - a considerably easier task than holding the garage vacuum in and out of all the car’s nooks and crannies – or wiping some surfaces down or dusting some furniture fills you with not a little dread. Doesn’t it? My wife hasn’t worked out that I seem perfectly at ease using these implements when it suits me. I shan’t in any way encourage her to make this connection, and nor should you with yours. The other thing about M4 wives and cars is the ability Mrs Menstrual has to ignore the warning signs that, from time to time, appear on the dashboard. “Oh yeah, I know about that brake light. But the other one’s alright, and we’ve got one of those things on the boot lid too.” “It needs a service? But it seems fine to me.” “Oh, that’s the engine warning light is it? It’s been on ages, I didn’t think it was important because it wasn’t flashing.” And my favourite, “the fuel sign always comes when it says it’s still got 50 miles to empty, so I don’t worry about it until it gets really low.” We have had to shell out for two diesel pumps, in just over three years, at nearly £2,000 each because of bits of grit from the bottom of the tank getting into the injection system. I’ve explained this, but it doesn’t go in. I have no hints or helpful thoughts to offer, other than to suggest you just accept this as part of the contract that comes with your wife. Brownie Points (BPs). “Ah!” you’re saying. “I recognise this area of wife-handling.” Well, of course you do and that is where you may be might be going slightly wrong. You know how she’s the only person at a party who can tell that, despite not seeing you since your arrival, you’ve had three drinks instead of the one you’re claiming? Well, she also knows if you’re trying to put some credit in the bank. So when, on the same day you not only offer to make her a bacon sandwich but also to clean up the mess you caused doing it afterwards. And then later on to actually ask if there’s anything around the house she’d like you to do, like “Wasn’t there a shelf you wanted putting up?” she will be on to you. She’ll act all surprised and delight in being able to show you where she wants the shelf erecting. (It is a fact that in middle class households there is always a shelf that needs putting up. Moreover, she will have already worked out which type of shelf is required and, despite not being able to do the job herself, she will have been to IKEA or B&Q, and have successfully managed to pick the right selfassembly kit.) But be warned, she knows there’s something you’re angling for. She knows it’s coming and she will see it as soon as you ask for it: “Dave was wanting to know if a few of us were around to watch the 12:30 kick off between United and the Arse on Saturday at his golf club (note the emphasis you’ll place on Dave actually being ‘allowed’ to have membership of such a bastion of male pleasure). “I knew that’s why you’ve been creeping around me!” she’ll squeal with the same tone of delight as a member of the Gestapo would have done having extracted some meaningless information from a prisoner, having just extracted one of their canines. Usually, the next word is “Right!” as in, you’re right in it mate! She will accede to your wishes. But she will demand another pound or two of flesh first... “Right! Firstly of course I don’t mind you going. I just think it’s funny how you think I work. Just come out and ask me next time you want to do something. (Whatever you do, don’t!) Oh, and by the way, there is actually a corner shelf that needs to be put up in the kids’ playroom, it won’t take you long. Do you mind, darling?” See how your attempts to win favours through the offer of help actually played right into her hands? I’m not for one minute saying you don’t need to build up credit on the BPs front. Just that there’s more subtle ways of getting them. And here are a few road-tested examples... The flower ruse. Obviously not the insipid bunches to be found in the fire buckets at service stations. But your local supermarket should have an ample stock, where you should single out those flowers on remainder because you get a lot more for your money and they will, at first glance, achieve a bigger impact. Spend the extra time having them wrapped in paper, but not the extra quid for the cellophane – she will think that’s prudent. When you hand them to her, don’t be economical with the truth but frame it in something complimentary, for example: “Oh I got them cheaper because they were near their sell-by date. But it’s been a while since I bought you any and you do deserve them.” See how you’ve paid her a compliment but it’s measured; she won’t expect you’re seeking credit in the Brownie Bank, but you’ll get it. Especially if two days later you call into the supermarket again and pick up a much more modest bunch, of an obviously different flower (you don’t have to mug up on the Latin or even English name, just buy different colours from last time) but at full price this time. When you walk through the door hand them to her with a flourish and say, “I was thinking about the ones I bought the other day; you’re worth more than sell-by flowers, so I bought you this bunch as well!” Take it from me, this thought will have crossed her mind too, but she won’t have said anything so as not to appear mean spirited. Now however, she will be over the moon and your stock will be very high. BPs banked with no suspicion! The ‘spontaneous’ purchase ruse. Following on from the Flower Ruse, the trick here is that of course the purchase isn’t spontaneous at all. Neither is it a singular expense – it’s at least two. It, they, are part of a coordinated strategy the goal of which is usually quite a big prize – a week away with the boys golfing, new big toy purchase etc – that requires some meticulous forward thinking. So, for example, a mate says his brother’s finally getting married in six month’s time and, as his best man, he’s thinking about organising a weekend in the Algarve with the golf clubs as a Stag Party. You want to go so you must begin your campaign to amass the necessary amount of BPs immediately. By all means, consider deploying all of the ruses listed here. But if utilising the spontaneous purchase ruse, it will require some proper planning. Firstly, think of something she’s always wanted – pearl necklaces (real ones, purlease!) or silver bangles that sort of thing. Something well over the £100 mark any way. Find the appropriate item and note where it can be bought but don’t buy it outright; unless you have the cash. The main thing is, don’t whatever you do give it to her now. Save its presentation until shortly before you put in your ‘big ask’: your request to cash in a huge amount of BPs on the weekend away. Now you’ve worked out the big ‘spontaneous’ purchase, find something smaller and less expensive but more substantial than flowers. A scarf in the season’s colours (the predominant hue, in a female-focused clothes shop window) from an upmarket fashion chain, like Hobbs, always goes down well. Buy it and casually give it to her, in the nice bag but not giftwrapped, saying something like “I was walking past the shop and it, well it just leapt out at me as something you’d adore! So I just had to buy it – it was the last one too so I’m glad I didn’t wait to ask you.” Kerching! Even if it’s hopelessly wrong for her colouring and skin tone (if you don’t know what I mean, don’t go there!) she will be awestruck and your BP account will receive a hugely positive credit. Manage another transaction like this before the Big Ask day and you almost certainly can’t fail. And by the time you give her that bangle, necklace, Mulberry purse, you will have established a pattern of behaviour. She will be convinced she’s one of those lucky wives whose husband thinks about her regularly and frequently demonstrates this with off-the-cuff, thoughtful gifts. Allow at least 10 days or so before popping the question and, well you’ve given yourself the best chance of a positive outcome on the Algarve Project. The housework ruse. Obviously this goes against the grain a little more because it actually involves a little more effort other than just reaching for your wallet. But the outcome’s really worth it, trust me. The trick with this plan is to do a chore so totally out of your normal horizon of competence that it is the sheer shock that gains you the points. For example, putting a wash load on correctly and hanging it out on the line to dry. Ironing the five shirts you’ll use in the next week never fails. Another good one is sweeping and mopping a floor. Or doing the vacuuming. Changing your bed is a real winner too. And you can even achieve the desired effect by buying her favourite food from the shops; just make clear you’re not going to cook it – that would be going too far. And herein lies the secret. Nonchalance! If you change the bed, sweep, mop, or do the laundry in any way, for heaven’s sake do not tell her that you have done it! Let her discover it herself – believe me she will. She’ll then ask you, in a not unpleasant voice that you will not have heard her use before, if you’ve actually done the deed as in “Darling, am I right in thinking you’ve ironed all your shirts for this week?” When you reply in the affirmative, be sure to say it like this: “Sure, yeah, just thought it would save you the effort for once.” She will be delighted that you’ve thought about her, yet won’t take offence at the last part of your answer which, of course, is practically a legally binding agreement that this was a one-off! N.B. As she always must, she will have to have the last ‘word’ which almost certainly will be something like pretending to faint or stating that she’s going to call a national news station with this startling development. Just ignore it, the points are already in the bag. N.B. Later on there is a chapter given over to the subject of housework, as well as another specifically devoted to ‘changing the bed’. Please read these very carefully if you decide to embark on this particular ruse to gain M4 BPs. The ‘insightful’ comment ruse. You know those silly things she’s apt to say, whenever a politician is on telly confessing their latest misdemeanour? Or the Bank of England’s latest decision on the Base Rate is announced? Instead of pooh-poohing it, look up from whatever you’re doing and casually impart how observant and intelligent a comment that was, before going back to whatever you’re reading. Do not say any more, whatever you do. Do not elaborate. Don’t indulge her, or dupe yourself that this is a clarion call for the beginning of an intelligent, reasoned debate – she’s a woman, remember. But this ruse is a real killer. She will think, whenever you use this ruse – and you should say something complimentary reasonably regularly to her, but always something different from the last time – that you really value her opinion; your account at the Brownie Bank will overflow. The continuous compliment ruse. In the paragraph above I alluded to the profit one can gain from the frequent, but out-of-the-blue, payment of compliments and that these should be mixed up in their content. This is a tried, tested and recommended tactic. However, saying something positive to her, about one subject in which she may well feel particularly ‘unhappy’ about, repeatedly over a period of time (at least two weeks, so you’ll need to perhaps jot this suggestion into whatever electronic aide memoir you currently deploy) can also be a smart strategy towards the reaping of a handsome dividend of the points Brownie. For example, her weight. Or a lack of confidence in the new colour she’s had the living room painted. Or a stance she’s taken with her parents on a certain issue. Yes, I know none of these things seem to be really important, but believe me, they’re life and death to her. You’ll have to use your discretion and sensitivity in your choice of ‘problem’. But the point of the matter is that, through uncharacteristically positive support from you, on a subject she had deemed you had no (apparent) interest in that she was feeling particularly sensitive or negative towards, she now feels better about. Don’t for pity’s sake blow it through a stupid and obvious lie: if she weighs over 12 stone and is only five foot three, whatever you say won’t make her look or feel slim – pick another subject e.g. “I know you had some doubts about the pattern on the new hall carpet clashing with the stripes on the walls, but I think it adds a kind of Bohemian feel to the house.” “The trouble with your mum is that she’s never got her head around you making more of your life than she did.” “No, I don’t think going blonde is too obvious or will make you look tarty.” A WORD OF CAUTION. Make sure you don’t visit the ruse bank too often – she’ll spot them for what they are. The reason why they work is because you make her think about you in a different way; for a short period of time she is convinced that you have been thinking about her (ergo you must really love her and only her – remember the design fault I alluded to at the beginning of the book?). Please note that the big things you need her buy-in for will require cashing in lots of points and therefore your forward planning needs to be word-perfect. Do your homework, practise how you say things on your mates or work colleagues and if, after all that, she throws you a curve ball like “What’s brought all this on? Are you after something or trying to get around me?” (Yup, we’ve all been there.) Then deploy your secret weapon. Immediately reply with a vehement “No!” And then, without overdoing it, mumble the words “I just love you.” Don’t look at her (in case you start smiling) and begin to walk away. I guarantee she will come back with “What did you say?” or some such question seeking further affirmation. Simply sidle off as you throw, casually, over your shoulder the response: “You heard.” Because she did. Shopping. A beginner’s guide. (Incorporating ‘doing the shopping’). No matter what you may believe, compared to your wife you are a complete novice in the shopping stakes. So what you might think constitutes a fair amount of time – let’s say, a couple of hours – spent traipsing around malls, high streets and out-of-town retail parks (are they ‘parks’ because the shops are full of people taking part in an activity that is largely their only form of exercise, signified by the prevalence of shell suits and other sporting apparel?) would be viewed by your wife as just getting started. You’re a rank amateur. Your idea of shopping and your wife’s are completely different. It’s similar to the difference between talking and ‘chat’. On the surface, they appear to be the same things. But a little delve reveals they are nothing of the sort. Whereas men talk to each other to ascertain their future or what the next move in any situation should be, chat to women is a pastime that can just go on and on, over time and at different times, picking up where they “left off” (like knitting) without anything real actually being said, or something tangible agreed upon or decided. Shopping for women has become more than just a simple verb. To us it means going to the shops to get something, or at worst, to look for something we have already decided we want or need and think we know where to find. To them it is an activity in and of itself. Sure, they may say that there is something specific that they intend going to the shops for, like “I need to buy some new pillow cases.” (Note how bland and innocuous the intended purchase, and reason for the venture, sounds: almost as though it’s just something routine she needs to do? Don’t be fooled.) But in reality, she is already a la mode, on autopilot. As she utters these words, she is not thinking about pure white Egyptian cotton, with a single raised drill pattern (guess who’s become adroit at this female sport?) she is already imagining getting to the only example in her size of a particular dress, the moment before another woman equally desperate for the same item. She is dreaming of finding last season’s ‘must-have’ bag at a reduced price, even if she never wanted to have it in the first place. She can smell the perfumes she will sample; see the various hues of facial make-up she will apply to the back of her hand. Fact: she is happy, believe me. The anticipation of her favourite activity is all part of the pleasure. Whatever you do, do not deflate the situation. Even if she says something banal like “It’s a pain, but we’ve had that bed linen for five years now and they’re just all washed out. I really can’t put this off any more.” Don’t suggest that, actually, she can do precisely that. Or that you have two other sets of sheets and duvet covers. Or that, since you’ve both decided that having people to stay at the weekend is too much like hard work, no one will see the offending items. In fact, zag. Offer to come with her. Not to help her decide what colour or pattern the new bed linen should be, because you both know that’s not really the reason she’s going. Just simply enquire if she’d like you to accompany her. This may horrify her, or thrill her – she will never be consistent, her response may depend on the weather, how she’s feeling, the time of day or, of course month. But, if she says not to worry, you’ll have earned some BPs for showing interest. And in my experience, she may say something completely out of character to dissuade you, like “No darling, that’s sweet of you to ask. But isn’t there a rugby match on the telly this afternoon?” N.B. If you were having this conversation (it’s not a chat, which proves she can converse when she needs to) in the morning, see how she’s already not–so subtly let you know that she intends to be at it the whole day? If she says that she’d love you to come, grit your teeth. You have a painful few hours ahead of you, but compensations can be had. For a start, you will have banked lots of BPs and if you’re smart and deploy some of the following techniques and tactics, you’ll be able to add to them and maybe even get some more immediate, tangible gains – possibly even some bedroom benefits! Just for clarification, what we are discussing here is not a dedicated trip to the supermarket. Shopping may incorporate, as part of the programme, a brief diversion to a well-known grocers, to buy something essential, but that is not what they mean on announcing they’re “off shopping”. You can tell when they’re alluding to the task of buying the week’s food and other sundries, by the utilisation of the definite article and plural first person pronoun, as in “We need to do the shopping.” Remember, to them ”shopping” is like “hunting”, “working” or “gardening” and, of course, “chatting”. It’s a genuine ‘doing’ word, it doesn’t have to have an aim. In fact, your wife can spend the whole day shopping and not come back with anything she actually wants, needs or potentially might keep. She can’t spend the whole day in high street emporia without spending any money. That would be too much to ask. She will always come away with some form of trophy even if, as she hands the joint credit card over the till, she already knows she will be returning the item being bagged and, not infrequently if it’s clothing, she won’t even have tried it on for size and fit. I’ll discuss ‘the shopping’ later in this chapter. But for now, let’s deal with the tricky stuff. Let’s imagine she has acceded to your request to accompany her on a shopping trip. The first thing you need to work out is why. She doesn’t want you on it because she likes your company or wants to spend some quality time with you – she’s prepared to wait until the kids leave home for unnecessary diversions like that. She wouldn’t waste precious shopping minutes, which is her most valued ‘me-time’ with you unless she had an ulterior motive. Now whilst you’re obviously thinking “Oh she just wants me to come along to pay for things.” That may well not be the case. Believe me, she doesn’t need your help to spend a lot of money fast – just remember what your credit card statement looks like in January. There’s no doubt that some wives are simply happy for their husbands to accompany them in the capacity of ‘bag carrier’. If this is the case, your pain is twice-fold. But so that you can reasonably expect decent BPs or some such payback later in the day; it pays to occasionally moan about the sheer weight you’re carrying around. (A good tip here is to suggest you sit down at a fixed point, maybe having a coffee, and look after the shopping whilst she goes off on her own. This always goes down well.) Then again, the bad news may be that she has actually, for once, got something very specific in mind. Something that really is out of the norm expenditure-wise; definitely north of £250 on a single item. This will usually be a dress of some sort, for some kind of event like a summer ball that you’ve agreed to attend but forgotten about. If this is the case, you can spot the warning signs quite quickly. Upon arriving at the designated town, retail park, or high street she will make a bee-line for a particular shop. She will walk quickly and purposefully. This is in case during the next 5 minutes the item she has envisaged trying on is being bought by another female, who just maybe is going to the same event – honestly, that will have flashed through her mind already; wearing the same outfit as someone else is the most embarrassing thing that can ever happen to a woman, and is far worse than everyone at the school gate knowing your husband has had an affair. Neither will she, once in said shop, dally around absent-mindedly “just looking”. No, she will already have item in her hands. If, however, she doesn’t quickly display this kind of behaviour, there is another reason she wants you on the excursion. It may of course be some kind of punishment, retribution for something you’ve done or, as is more likely, not done: like failing to notice she’s had her hair cut. But it just could be something you’d never ever imagine. There is every chance she is feeling a little insecure about, well, about anything. It doesn’t matter what it is: one of the kids underachieving in maths; a new line on her face; feeling tired all of the time; wishing the holiday would hurry up and come along; the weather; whether ‘they’ are going to build a new Waitrose or not; should house prices be included in the prevailing rate of inflation indexes (alright, that was a joke). The point is she wants to feel good about herself. Ordinarily, she’d go for retail therapy on her own. The fact she’s said you can come means this is no ordinary situation. She’s feeling uber sensitive and you need to proceed with caution, her ulterior motive for you being with her is that you are the one who can make it better. She won’t tell you this or brief you on what you can do to alleviate the situation, of course. Indeed, this may actually not be true at all. She could conceivably, just out of pure whim for once, have thought, “You come along with me? Why not!” But, and here’s the important insight, if you assume she is feeling a little low, and you follow some basic advice, you’ll steer a course through this potentially dangerous situation, get the BPs and anything else she’s prepared to dole out. Here are some rules. They are numbered but please understand they are not in any ranking order. Whilst women display very many similar tendencies, one of their worst peccadilloes is that they’re apt to change what matters to them most in milliseconds. This, they will tell you makes them all different. In my opinion, that is precisely what makes them all the same. Rule 1: Never let her see just how bored you are. In fact, try to pre-empt her looks in your direction and act as though you’re really interested – fingering garments from time to time helps to create the right illusion. Rule 2: Never at any time complain about the amount of time she’s taking – if she’s contemplating a top or skirt, she will firstly be working out what else in her wardrobe it will go with; will she have to buy some new shoes to go with it (she likes the idea of this) and possibly even a bag; has she, most importantly, seen anyone else wearing it? This takes time. You think she’s absentmindedly dawdling, she believes she is going through a set of rigorously scientific thought processes. Do not disturb her. Rule 3: Never moan about what you could be doing instead, like watching the rugby. Whatever you think might be more interesting than shopping just isn’t to her. You’d be speaking a different language, don’t waste your breath. Rule 4: Never be non-committal when asked for your opinion. Always sound decisive. This is a tough one (and make sure you have read the next chapter – ‘Does my bum look big in this?) and of all the ‘learning’ offered in this book, this perhaps requires the most homework, practice and skill. Take a deep breath and go with your gut instinct. If the colour or cut (that’s the way clothing is shaped, which is nearly always a shape your wife isn’t) of the new item she’s trying on makes her look like she could get a job as a Soho night-worker, then quickly tell her with some vehemence that she looks vivacious in it. She will not be used to you using such an adjective. She will recognise this as a compliment, but the combination of your exuberant tone and deployment of a new descriptor will be enough for her to subconsciously carry out the briefest of reality checks. She will look in a mirror and see she looks like a trussed up tart. If the item of clothing is a neutral beige or ‘taupe’ colour, or a conventional shape, say the opposite. “It looks great on you, but what about something with a little more colour/a more seasonal cut?” She will almost certainly ignore your ‘advice’ and go ahead and buy the item, thinking your suggestion as illinformed but, trust me, she will be happy that you have an opinion. If the item is black, you can’t go wrong. Not only is it ‘slimming’ but it will ‘go’ with everything in her wardrobe, and she won’t need to buy shoes and a bag so you’ll save some cash and maybe even get home quicker. “Wow, yeah! That is so you!” Just make sure she isn’t buying something for a funeral for a recently deceased aunt who you met once when you were first dating. If she’s asking your opinion about anything other than clothing, like a new set of bed linen, you’re home free. There is only one answer you need for any and every potential new enhancement to your home: “Darling, don’t ask me. You’re the one with the sense of style and design in this relationship. I’ll leave it entirely up to your better judgment.” BPs banked! To help facilitate the answer to the above here’s a couple of tips that can engender great results through what I call ‘Active shopping management techniques’. ‘Taking the initiative’. This is a killer. In the car journey to the shops, subtly extricate from her what she is actually looking for that day. If she really isn’t going with something specific in mind, she’ll let you know – usually a withering look with raised eyebrows. If it’s that dress, try to find out what kind of that dress: short, long, flowing, plain or patterned, one colour or more? Ascertain its intended role. Bank the information until you’re in a shop where you utilise it as best you can – admittedly, this is not easy. But if you can bear sitting through the vacuum that is TV clothes shows (you’ll need to watch at least two different ones, but only half way through each, you’ll get the picture) you’ll feel the way you do when the one or two subjects you bothered to revise for an exam, are the subjects that come up. Walk off to different parts of the store where they are displaying items that fit the general category. Anything at all that come close to the brief, pick it up and, like a Labrador chasing a ball in the park faithfully bring it back to her. Trust me, you may just get a pat on the head, possibly even a ‘bone’ later on! One word of caution: whatever you do, ensure the item is not one or any size too large – she’ll assume you think she’s fat. A smaller size is fine, she’ll think you sweet for believing she’s ‘that skinny’. And this point leads on to the next hint. ‘Being in the know’. As soon as you can in any serious relationship, way before you get married, find out what sizes she is: shoe, waist, dress and, most importantly of all, bust. Bras are sized by two measurements: the numeric, first part (usually in the 30s) is the measurement from under her breasts all the way around her back to where you started. This will depend on her physique, body shape and height. The second measurement is in letters of the alphabet, this is the cup size or indicator as to the actual size of her mammalian protuberances. It starts with A – pullet eggs – and goes down (or up) to, well, the ever expanding limits of surgery. But in terms of forming a not unpleasant picture, a C cup is a good handful, whilst a D cup can genuinely be regarded as serious fun-bags. Sometimes the letters in a cup size are doubled up, like a 34DD. I’m afraid don’t know what this means. But what’s really important is that you know what size your wife’s are if you intend buying her lingerie or underwear, which you should do at least once a year – birthday or Christmas – for your own good standing. You should also periodically check that they haven’t changed size. There are two ways of doing this. One is to place both hands on them and literally weigh them up, much as one would if you were choosing a Honeydew melon to go with some Parma ham, and trust to the feel; the memory of the last time you did this. The far safer alternative is to sneak a look in her underwear draw when she’s out shopping. 'The stupid suggestion'. This active shopping management technique is the easiest of all to master. You simply suggest that she tries on or looks at something completely unsuited to her, like a very revealing dress or an incredibly expensive, impractical and garishly coloured handbag. Pick something by a designer you have heard of that is stupidly expensive (and it will be, trust me). She will look at you quizzically. Look back at her earnestly. If she says “Do you know how much that costs?” look innocent and shake your head, before looking at the label. If you somehow pick something that she can ‘see herself in’ or having, don’t panic. Restate that you think it is her too. And then as naively as possible, say “It’s not expensive is it?” She will be pleased you’ve picked out something by a designer. She will be flattered that you thought of her in something only a film star would have the nerve to wear, or have the money to buy. She will think you sweet that, either way, you innocently didn’t realise it cost more than a monthly mortgage payment. Okay, enough about ‘shopping’. Rightly so, it is one of the largest chapters in this book as it is the one area where any self respecting M4 needs more guidance. But, like the thing itself, you can have too much of it. I’m even bored about writing about it. (By the way, you would be mad to not read, in conjunction with this, the chapter ‘Shoes’. And, like anything that sounds too unbelievable to be true, to do so at least twice.) However, before we leave it completely, we need to cover off ‘doing the shopping’, which as I suggested earlier is a different sport. And one, for all sorts of good reasons, you should be or become reasonably proficient in. “Doing the shopping” means going to the supermarket to get the groceries. Of course, no self-respecting M4 should start out wanting to perform this chore, but there are compensations to be had, especially if you come to ‘the sport’ late. For a start, you will get some Brownie Points and acknowledged kudos from your wife – this is her saying something nice about you, in front of you, in company. If you’re doing the shopping you can’t be around to do something you don’t want to, like putting up a shelf or, worse still, cleaning of some sort. And whilst you’re helping the ‘major multiples’ to even more profits, she can get on with another of her chores – like vacuuming – so this division of labour pleases her too. What’s more, because you’re a bloke, it stands to reason that you’re not going to be as good at doing the shopping as she, so it’s going to take you longer. Milk this. If it takes her about one and a half hours as a round trip, take at least two hours. She’ll get used to this and plan the other activities she needs to do accordingly. These might all not necessarily entail housework; she may even have plans “to do something for herself.” This can often mean some kind of self-pampering, like manicuring her toenails; why she thinks this isn’t something she wouldn’t do for herself in any case I don’t know, that’s women for you. Never miss the opportunity, when volunteering to do the shopping (always offer to do it!) to say, whilst you’re out, that she should ‘grab some me-time’ and do something for herself. This will truly endear you to her and gain you some BPs. (Just don’t get carried away and actually suggest what that something she could do for herself might be. Or it will come out wrong or, at least, be misinterpreted, for example: “Perhaps you might want to shave your legs?”) One of the other main reasons for doing the shopping is that you get to have a huge influence on what you consume. Always buy the things she has put on her list. Not doing so, even if you think the alternative you have selected has merit, simply means you are not following instructions which will annoy her (you have to understand, she thinks she is investing a lot of trust in letting you do the shopping; and you should respect this). But that doesn’t mean you can’t add to it, that’s different. So if she’s omitted to list puddings, cheese or anything else you like, that she had decided isn’t good for you, simply put them in the trolley. When it comes to the booze, you’ll really start to see the point of doing the shopping. You can get the imported beers you like, the ones she never buys you because she can’t be bothered to listen to you properly when you’re saying why you like them. And of course you can actually get the wine you want, as opposed to the wine on offer, or the wine she thinks you might like. There are downsides to doing the shopping. One of which is that you could be doing something else, like mowing the lawn or watching the test match on telly. Aha! I say. Why do the shopping at the weekend, when everyone else is there? (By the way, never ever go to a supermarket on a Sunday, unless you’ve decided on an impromptu barbecue, or you especially want to observe a type of person for whom being there on that day is the highlight of their week; when their ‘family’ do the one thing that they do together, sometimes after a couple of hours in the pub.) Go instead during the week on your way home from work – you can get her to email you the list. But if it is has to be a Saturday why not, for extra BPs, offer to take the kids? Maybe even turning it into an event by combining it with a trip to McDonald’s? She’ll be ecstatic; she won’t show it, but inside she’ll think “Wow! That’s thoughtful, I can get the insert description of housework/chore done, maybe even do a little shopping on the internet with a coffee, and still have some time to do something for myself, like having a bath (and “shaving my legs”). Just don’t do it two weeks running. She’ll start to smell a rat, and that thing you’re saving your BPs for will look less like happening. Shoes. If you ever wanted incontrovertible evidence that your wife, or any other female, is unable to reason as opposed to just being unreasonable, look no further than their feet. Or, more precisely, take a good look in their wardrobe. Then look in yours, the kids’, the attic, and various other places around the house, possibly even the garage. You will, without doubt, find shoes and shoeboxes you didn’t know she had (and, to be fair, she probably doesn’t either) or she has forgotten about as well as a whole infantry division’s worth of shoes you vaguely recall her wearing, once or twice, but thought were long gone. I personally guarantee that not one pair is anywhere near worn out – in fact, some pairs have never been worn out of the house at all. And I’m not just talking about the little, flat suede or brightly coloured leather ones that “…go well with trousers for when we’ve got people around.” Some pairs will still have their prices on; easily spotted as these prices are usually daubed with red, ascribing to the fact that they were purchased “…as a bargain” in “…the sale!” Your wife will have worked out that the saving was substantial and, had she wanted these shoes originally, this was a really good deal. The problem is, she had never noticed them before or, at best, had dismissed them as “…not for her” until now. When, because of the reduction in the price, they suddenly become far more relevant. The truth is, she can’t bear the thought that someone else will “…snap them up.” So she buys them, struts around the bedroom in them, when she gets home, then secretes them away and forgets about them. Of course, there are lots of shoes she does get “…good wear out of.” You will find many heeled shoes that don’t have the prices on and evidence that they may have seen tarmac or gravel. At least once or twice. There will, in addition to the many pairs of ‘heels’, be ‘wedges’, ‘mules’, ‘pumps’, ‘flats’, ‘loafers’. You will have no idea what they all mean. She will have no idea how many pairs she actually owns. Count them one day, divide by two and take off 10 and that will be the approximation she will come to. Shoes bring out the denial gene in women. You could actually line all the pairs up, and ask her how many are there and I promise she won’t get anywhere near the actual number. N.B. I haven’t mentioned boots yet – ankle, mid-calf, below knee, thigh-length. My wife has 21 pairs (she thinks she had “…Maybe six?” The black long ones are almost indeterminable, yet she says they are “… totally different.” Or “…completely un-wearable as they’re so out of fashion.” Each and every pair is pristine, they look like they have had almost no wear at all. This is because they have had almost no wear at all. Shoes make women utterly irrational. Boots turn them into obscene liars. I have no advice to give on this subject, I am sorry to admit. I am unable to pass on any hints or methods to help you get over your incomprehension of the subject. It’s a black hole, don’t go there. I simply refer you to the many ‘single quote snippets of speech’ contained in this chapter and recommend that, if you hear any of them, you run a mile or at least to where you keep the whisky. My final words on the subject of apparel, clothing and shopping are to be extremely alert. If like me, you are occasionally in receipt of the moan, “We never go out.” Be very, very careful. She may not actually want to go out with you socially at all. Oh dear me no. It could be a trap. She could be hoping her exhortation to seeking entertainment provokes you into a suggestion as to where you could go, or with whom. Do not, necessarily, suggest either because if you do she may well retort with the far, too-readily prepared response, “But I haven’t got anything to wear!” You know, she knows, we all know, this is not a fact. That doesn’t mean in her head it isn’t true. Shopping, shoes…shit! Does my bum look big in this? Having established why ‘shopping’ is so important, you must master the sophistry required to deal with the question titling this next chapter. Or you’re toast. The answer is “No!” And always “No!”. Her bum, however colossal, never looks too big in anything. It may actually be too large for the item of clothing that’s covering or stretched across it, but it doesn’t “look” that way. To ensure the rest of your married life is not a war zone, you must say something that sounds like the complete opposite to what’s staring you in the face. Yes, ignore the gorilla in the room. You see, she knows her bum is actually too big in whatever ‘this’ is, let alone looking that way. But she’s tried it on and she’s shown it to you. So if you now add insult (answering in the positive to the question) to the injury (of trying on something that it turns out is patently two sizes too small, at least) she can convert her embarrassment into anger and then lob the lot of it on to you. So immediately say ‘No’. That’s the easy bit. Because, as we know, she knows it does look too big. And what’s worse, she knows you know it does. She may even know that you know she knows you think it does. So, immediately after you say ‘No’ you have to follow it with something that puts her off guard. This is not easy and you may have to trust to your gut instincts. But here are a couple of things that might just pull off the necessary optical illusion. In a thoughtful tone of voice “No. I just think that the length/cut/colour/style isn’t really you.” Use your judgment here. It is recommended that you only deploy this technique if you have ‘previous’ in this department; specifically, that in her eyes, you have attained a modicum of competence in the subject e.g. you have bought her a bra that was her size and cup grade. If you haven’t, she will know you are using a word you heard on a fatuous TV programme and are, therefore, bullshitting. When she smells bullshit, she smells a rat and we all know that vermin are nowhere near her cuddly, furry animals top ten list. In a slightly vague voice “No. I always think you look lovely in whatever you wear – have you asked the assistant?” Don’t worry, that’s the last thing on her mind. In a bored tone “No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Next question?” If you really can’t bring yourself to say no, diffuse the situation by deceiving and in a different way. In a startled whisper, with accompanying bemused facial expression, and your ear angled towards her, gesticulate with a hooked thumb, pointing in some indeterminate direction “What did you say darling? I was looking at a really fat woman trying on some leggings.” Do not place any emphasis on the “really” or the “fat”, as in both cases she will think it is code for saying “Like you”. Instead, stress the “leggings”; she will then visualise a larger woman struggling with an entirely unsuitable piece of hosiery and, presto, be side-tracked and you’re off the hook. Whatever you say, the outcome has to be that under no circumstances does she go ahead, ignore you and actually buy the offending item. Because it is a fact nay, a law of the universe, that if her bum looks too big in it in the shop, it will also look too big in it at home. And should the skirt, dress, trousers, jeans etc make it there, then the fact that it seems to have suddenly shrunk will be your fault: because you didn’t say it looked too big in the shop. You were not honest with her. Geddit? This, in her eyes is a cardinal sin. It’s like having an affair and not admitting it until it comes out much later. (She is hurt that you had the affair but she is mortified that you didn’t ‘fess up!) So if she looks like she really wants to buy it (maybe it is only one size too small, maybe she’s about “go on a diet” – honestly, that’s how they think) sometimes, what follows after the ‘No’ has to be quite dramatic, or even something that will precipitate a completely different course of action; perhaps involving getting her out of there altogether. For example, “Shit is that the time already? Why don’t we go grab a coffee and go to that expensive shop you really like after?” Or, “Wow! I think I just saw that girl from the office I was telling you about!” Careful with this one! It will take her mind right off her bum, of course it can get her thinking that you had someone else’s bum in mind. So, as she emerges quicker than usual from the changing room, still adjusting her dress, with a “Right what’s all this about?” look on her face, disarm her with a simple “I knew that would get you out of here, now can I buy you some lunch somewhere nice?” The bank of dad. (For mums too.) Most of the advice in this book is meant to be gently helpful, to be used only if relevant to your individual circumstances and, chiefly, to lighten your burden – possibly even while you’re lightening your load, so to speak. But when it comes to money, I feel compelled to impart some information that I genuinely believe can make a difference to a marriage. I believe that couples who don’t have a joint bank account, into which a more than fair (but less more than fair for you) proportion of each partner’s income goes to pay for all the common bills, are heading for trouble. Over the years I have come across relationships in which the partners have never felt the need for a joint account. He will pay the mortgage, she will get the shopping and council tax etc. Neither party thinks a joint account, with all common expenses shared proportionately, necessary or even a good idea. Fact: not one of these couples is still a couple. This suggests to me that their own money is too important to them and is part of how they define themselves; as individuals first, couples second. My own personal view is that they really didn’t buy into the truth behind their wedding vows. Don’t get me wrong, there are disagreements about money in our home, which I will expand on imminently. But they are not fundamental differences; there is an acceptance that what is my money is her money and what is her money is her money too. Yes, it’s a cliché. But as anyone from the world of football knows, when it comes to cliché’s, you’ve got to take them one cliché at a time. Or, as I like to think, it can’t be a cliché unless there’s truth behind it. And the truth is, that is what she thinks. Right now, the Ericsson household is currently functioning with a single income, so all of my money goes into our joint account so technically all of my money is all of our money and therefore all of her money anyway. But why split his and hairs? Some of my money comes back out of our joint account into my personal current account, so I can buy her Christmas and birthday presents. Of course, this isn’t at all logical, as all I’m doing is moving money from one place to another. But it creates a necessary illusion and serves the purpose of her not being able to see what I have spent. Of course, she already knows what I have spent because she can work out how much each of the things I have bought her have cost. And that’s because I have done my homework into what she wants. This constitutes actually listening, for periods of time, when she’d be doing ‘chat’; you will, if you concentrate, pick up little hints in the months preceding her birthday and Christmas. For example “So and So got the new Mulberry bag du jour the other day.” No it’s not subtle. Yes, she has ignored the fact that So and So’s husband had been caught with his member up another friend’s wife and this was the down payment on a life of heavy marital re-investments. But by paying from my own account, the transaction feels more special; the money unsullied, by not coming from an account that the window cleaner’s bill comes out of. Now just because she can work out, to the nearest penny, what you’ve spent on her gifts, does not mean she can deploy the same processing power to comprehend what she has spent on something, or a number of things herself. You will note, each time of the month you’re brave enough to look at your account details, in addition to the plethora of High Street clothing emporia and other brand names you recognise, a raft of items ranging from £14.53 to £87.36, from retailers with strange names like Crumpton and Bagehot (I made that one up, but you wouldn’t have known that, would you?). Typically, these amounts will be in exchange for goods from purveyors of things decorative like picture frames, glassware, tableware, soft furnishings such as cushions and, of course, candle makers. She does not deem these goods as luxury items, in the way we would use the word i.e. things that are nice to have but not essential. Apart from the mortgage, the bills, school fees if you pay them, petrol and supermarkets, this is one of the main reasons why you don’t have any cash left at the end of each month. Or, at least, the frequent purchase of such frippery and paraphernalia is something you, quite rightly, cannot and do not, take into account when mentally totting up whereabouts you are in terms of your cash position – something you will do, for example, when a mate calls to say he has Test Match tickets at face value and wants to know if you’ll be taking one up. (At the same time, you will also be running the numbers over your Brownie Points balance.) The other reasons you never have any money are the arbitrary and unforeseen expenses incurred by her whilst driving around – for example, she would never notice if the tyre pressures on her car were low, which in addition to lowering the mpg will also hasten the need for replacement. Plus, of course, the little angels… My children are now old enough to be making regular demands on me for pocket money, cash to go to the cinema, shopping etc. In another couple of years I know it will get worse. However, The Bank Of Dad is an apt title for this chapter because that is where the money comes from, to pay for all the things your wife has signed them up to do, together with the kit they need to be able to partake in these extra-curricular activities. It is these quiet and hidden costs that really eat away at your bank balance. Singing lessons, music lessons, martial arts, drama classes, horse riding lessons, swimming clubs, diving clubs, pottery, tennis lessons, ballet. And this on top of sensible recreational activities, like rugby and cricket. Of course, the kids have to be ferried to where these clubs take place, often in wildly different locations, on the same night, at never quite dovetailing times. All of which is more diesel. To make matters worse, on those odd evenings when you’re around to “Help out with the kids” and you end up driving one or both of them to one of these clubs, they invariably moan about not wanting to go, or that mum is making them attend. Warning: Like the nagging gene alluded to in a previous chapter, your wife is hardwired to spend cash. (I’m sure one of the celebratory TV scientists could prove that this shows just how fast the female species has evolved over a relatively short time; as we have only been using money as a medium of exchange for a few millennia.) Now I know you know this. That’s not the warning. If things are tight at a given moment, and you have somehow managed to convince your wife that Crumpton and Bagehot’s fine, hand-made, tallow and loganberry candles are, in actual fact, not necessary for the best interests of the family’s immediate future, and she has apparently acceded to your wish to rein things in a tad, do not confuse that behaviour with the fact she still has the overwhelming compunction and desire to spend. To understand what she’s going through, think of it as like going without a drink for a time. You know it makes sense; you feel the benefits in that you sleep better, feel better, feel sharper at work (you may possibly even find the thought of going to work slightly less onerous) perhaps you’ve lost a kilo or two. Then the sun comes out and someone in the office suggests a pint at lunch in that pub with the beer garden. Tough isn’t it? She feels the same when she’s denying her need to buy candles. Then, all of a sudden, she sees something that could “look nice” on one of the children, or “be nice” for one of them. Here’s the warning: ignore the fact that the child, him or herself, doesn’t actually want the item (and may even dislike it). She’s not actually buying it for them; she’s buying it for her. She’s buying it because she needs to buy something she doesn’t need. She’s indulging her Spend Gene and using one or both of the kids as camouflage. Not unlike the way some image-conscious Hollywood actors take a ‘beard’ to put off the observer’s detection of a homosexual tendency. Do not chastise her for it. Smile weakly when she shows you the purchase – she will do this to seek approval. And say something that, on dissection, could only be regarded at worst as non-committal, yet serves to flag that you know that she knows she didn’t need to buy it. For example: “It’s a really sweet thought, honey. I hope name of child appreciates it.” You never know, she might feel a little silly and take the item back (these days, she will probably have bought it online so invariably she’ll be able to get your credit card credited.) Housework – avoiding it or, at worst, making a little look like a lot. If she has decided that she doesn’t need to do “something for herself” and is quite happy to do the shopping at the weekend (are you having a dinner party; they find it hard to trust us to get ‘extras’ like candles or the right coloured napkins?) then be prepared: she might ask you to do something called housework. Do not be confused by the apparently homely tone of the title which, although accurate in that it describes tasks and jobs that need to be done around the house, it is actually a blanket term for a plethora of things that will confuse and frustrate you. Even the seemingly simplest of tasks can appear like the kind of lateral thinking-cum-physical challenges ‘managers’ are put through to build bonds on corporate training away-days, albeit without the rope, wooden staves and a large, empty plastic container. For example: “Whilst I’m doing the shopping, could you change the bed?” Firstly, like answering any examination question, you need to define its terms: ‘changing the bed’ does not mean going out to a large warehouse called Sleepeazee or Dreamz and buying a replacement bed. (She’d never ever trust you to do something that important on your own.) She is asking you to remove the linen currently on the bed; the sheet, the duvet cover and the pillow cases, and replacing them with fresh versions that will be neatly folded away in an item of furniture you vaguely remember her saying you had to buy as it was such a bargain. Getting the dirty linen off the bed is far easier than getting the clean on. Once you’ve removed the slept-in duvet cover, sheet and pillow cases, start with the clean sheet; that’s the less heavy of the two big items. These days it will usually have elasticised corners that you need to pull over each corner of the mattress which, may or may not have a protective sheet on it. If it doesn’t, check that there isn’t one to put on – it will be thicker than the bed sheet but not as thick as the duvet cover. If a mattress protector is already in place, or there isn’t one to put on, lift up a corner of the mattress with one hand and pull the bed sheet over it with the other. Repeat the process for the remaining three corners, smoothing the sheet as you go by pulling the sheet hard down the sides of the mattress. The ease with which you create the desired flat, crease-free surface depends on the depth of the mattress and the quality of the bed linen (cf ‘Shopping’ chapter). If you have a flat bedspread or divan this will be easier too. If you have a ‘sleigh’ bed, especially one with metal sides, this will prove to be a nightmare and you will almost certainly suffer some kind of bruising to your fingers and hands. There are two other types of sheet; the old fashioned rectangular version which will be longer and wider than the elasticised version. This needs careful folding under the mattress; a practise best learned by watching a 40s, 50s or 60s film involving some kind of hospital scene, and something that is beyond me! The other type of sheet is called a Valance sheet – these are almost always elasticated but have an additional ‘skirt’ which trails all around the bed, except for the head-end; they should not be used for ‘sleigh’ beds. Next you need to put the duvet cover on. The degree of difficulty of doing this depends to some extent on the time of year; because most M4 wives tend to opt for the winter/summer duvet option. This involves a thing called Togs, which are a rating system. So, in the colder months, you might combine a 9 Tog duvet with a 4.5 Tog lighter-weight version. In spring in the UK, she will probably just have the 9 Tog, in summer just the 4.5 Tog. Then again, women feel the cold easier as they get older (as well as getting hot flushes) so they may just stick to the full 13.5 Tog all year round. Whatever, you have to work out which side of the duvet cover is up and align the ends correctly; with the buttons or poppers at the feet end of the bed. Then fold it back on itself towards the head end. Now place the duvet itself on the bed at the feet end, folded in half with the top part facing backwards. Standing on the right hand side of the bed take the nearest folded corner of the duvet in your left hand and the nearest part of the duvet cover with your right. Now insert the duvet into the cover, keeping hold of the duvet as you pull the cover down over it with your right hand until your left hand reaches the inside of the top right and corner. Pull it tightly snug. Now walk around to the other side of the bed and repeat the process in reverse. You now need to go to the bottom of the bed and pull the cover over the duvet as evenly as you can. Next you need to take hold of the foot of the cover and duvet at the same time, about 20 centimetres in from each corner and then, with your arms ramrod straight, lift up the linen and give it a violent snap through your wrists, as though trying to create a kind of Mexican Wave-thing going towards the head of the bed. You can do this once or twice (it’s almost therapeutic) until you have evenly distributed whatever the insulatory material is in the duvet – this means she will not be able to moan that only one half of her is warm. You now have to ‘do up’ the duvet cover. If it has poppers, that’s easy so long as you line up the top ones with their corresponding mate on the bottom. If it has buttons, then simply slip them through the corresponding button hole. Warning: she won’t do it this way, she will button up the thing so you don’t see the buttons in some kind of counter-intuitive way (you may have noticed this when taking the dirty cover off). Don’t even bother to try to emulate this procedure; you’ll get it wrong and it will frustrate you, making you even hotter and more bothered. Pull the duvet and cover slightly back from the head end. Now you just have to put the pillow cases on. This is a similar process to doing the duvet cover but in miniature; grab the end of the pillow with your right hand whilst pulling the pillow case over it with your left. When you have pulled it almost completely snug, you need to tuck the pillow into the pocket inside the case and then smooth it out. Repeat until all the pillows are covered then ‘plump them up’ – this is like gently slapping and squeezing them into a comely shape; imagine heavily fondling parts of a buxom wench if it helps. Then place them at the top of the bed before neatly pulling the duvet over them until you have created a perfectly creaseless rectangle. Now gently arrange whatever paraphernalia she likes to adorn the bed with – usually some kind of Arabic looking material over impracticably hard cushions and the job is done. Fucking hell, how boring did that sound? I was really bored just writing it. But herein lies the point; there is no quick way of ‘changing the bed’ – if you want to do it the right way. (I have learned to do it because it’s one of the things that my wife doesn’t enjoy doing – the duvet bit particularly, so it’s a good source of low-value BPs.) However, if you rush the job, it won’t look that great and certainly won’t be as comfortable as it could be to sleep in. This will annoy her. Don’t be fazed, smile as sweetly and as innocently as you can and, in a not-too-pathetic voice, say “I’m sorry, I did my best.” She will, despite herself, forgive you your valiant effort. More importantly, she will not ask you to do it again. This does not mean you shouldn’t have another go at it – should you be looking for that surprise factor or you need some easy extra BPs. Mother’s Day would be a great occasion; simply rush the job with the kids and she won’t have the heart to get cross or moan that it’s an even worse job than last time. Remember this chapter’s heading: it’s about making a little effort appear like a lot. Unless you want to damage your relationship with your wife (in which case why are you reading this?) you are going to have to face up to doing something around the home. If you can master ‘doing the shopping’, the list of those additional tasks doesn’t have to be too long. You should ensure there are a couple of things you do on a frequent basis, as well as putting the bins out (not already doing that? I’ve covered it later in this chapter) and not counting mowing the lawn as housework: it isn’t as discussed previously. Being able to whizz the vacuum cleaner over any bits of carpet you might have, every so often, is one example; you probably need to offer to do that once a month. And when you do it, make sure you use the long, thin, pipe attachment thing to go along the edge of the carpet and the wall. This is where your wife will look if she’s looking to ‘catch you out’, to have the opportunity to say how useless you are, to vent her spleen because her ovaries are giving her gyp. Another really important tip with the vacuuming is to ensure you leave clear evidence of having done it. It is better to vacuum against the grain of the threads, leaving what looks like Dyson-induced skid marks, so an onlooker can clearly see the job has been done; apparently, to the female psyche, this is more desirable. Offering to put the washing out, assuming the weather is ever clement enough when you’re at home, never goes down badly. But here’s how to get away with only ever being trusted to put the washing on once. I don’t know about your wife and your household, but in ours the washing machine is never off. We have a new one more often than the denizens of Romford buy a new TV. ‘The washing’ is a big deal. My wife “doesn’t know where it all comes from!” I’ve even changed the way I dress to alleviate the situation; I’ve stopped wearing any trousers other than those that come with a suit jacket. I now wear shorts on an almost daily basis into work. Shorts, for some reason, don’t get as dirty as long trousers so you can keep them going longer, provided you have enough pairs to rotate to ensure the fashion police don’t have something to latch on to. (I also buy shorts made for cycling which scrunch up easily, taking up less room in the washing basket and the washing machine, and which drip-dry without the need for ironing.) It either has to be minus seven, or I have a meeting with someone who could possibly take offence, for me to cover my legs. If so, I will wear a suit. I have a number of these to rotate as well. That way, even if I have five consecutive days of meetings with new people, my maximum weekly workly contribution to ‘the washing’ is just five shirts, and five pairs of underpants and socks. If I wore long trousers I would need to change them, shirts and jumpers on a daily basis, thus making more washing. Dressing this way, means that I’m the only person I know who doesn’t wear jeans. In fact, I just don’t like wearing any long trousers at all other than tolerating suit trousers; as soon as I get home I change into shorts any way. This seems normal to me. Until I re-read what I have just written. But think about it like this: finding ways of making less washing is helping with the housework, kind of. Now, back to avoiding having to put the washing on. Do not fall victim to the putting-a-coloured-sock-in-with-the-whites-by-mistake ruse. She will immediately assume you have done it deliberately. She will not think that you have carelessly, by accident, picked up the sock by mistake. She will assume you have watched the same crap on TV that she has, where this is an all too common theme in badly written sit-coms and dramas. She will actually think you are stupid, which is not completely unfair. She will be livid with you. She will not forgive you, because you will no doubt have ruined something that is ‘one of her favourites’ (face it, even if you were deliberately set on this risky course of sabotage, you would not be able to spot any of ‘her favourite things’ in order to exclude them.) She will be so annoyed, she may even decide to spend some time showing you how to use the washing machine properly – the nightmare scenario. Instead, you need to use a more subtle form of subterfuge to be excused this chore. Here’s some ways of convincing her you’re not to be trusted with putting ‘the washing’ on. On their own, they are all innocuous, but by making a different mistake on each of those rare occasions you ‘give it a go’ will provide your wife with yet more evidence of just how useless, despite your undoubted good intentions, you are: 1. Forget to put in fabric conditioner, or put it in the wrong place, like straight on to the washing instead of its special little dispensary slot. 2. Forget to use any washing powder or liquid at all. 3. If she uses powder instead of liquid, you could put this on the washing directly, instead of its slot in the ‘drawer’ at the top. Just claim you saw an ad for a well known brand in which they did this (omitting the part about it actually being for a liquid and that you need a little round ball thing). 4. Put whites on at a 40 degree wash, which will get them clean but not as white as on the ads. 5. Adjust the spin speed down. This is a really good one as it combines maximum irritation value, in that she’ll take all the washing out of the machine at the end of its cycle only to then realise it has dripped all over the floor and needs to be re-spun, with maximum defendable reason for doing so: “I thought it better to turn the spin speed down because 1600 revolutions a minute sounded like it might damage the clothes, darling. I’m really sorry, I was just trying to do what you always say and think about it for once.” 6. Overload it – don’t worry, the washing machine won’t blow up, but it won’t clean the clothes properly and neither will it spin as effectively. 7. Actually do everything right, including setting the correct programme, but forget to actually turn it on so when she comes to dry something you’ve washed in order that she can wear it, she can’t because it’s still dirty and, well, dry. 8. ‘Accidentally’ leave one part of an outfit in the washing basket, like the top half of a tracksuit. 9. If you do any of these things then never, ever give her a hard time about not being able to use a computer programme, operate anything to do with the TV, or getting rid of messages on the answer-phone. (Calling you up to say the car won’t work, because she left the automatic gear shift in anything other than ‘Park’, is different; you can justifiably give her both barrels for that.) Sweeping the kitchen floor on one of the occasions it apparently needs doing each day will also earn you some BPs. But be warned: you may think you’ve swept up the all the detritus on the floor, but that may not be all the dirt on view; at least not to her. This is an opportunity for one of those periodically frequent and irritating times when she acts as though she has the eyesight of a superhero; she will swear she can see things you can’t. (Strangely, she will be able to do this even if she is not wearing her glasses or contact lenses.) However well you’ve run the broom over the tiles, boards or laminate, as convinced as you can possibly be that every last bit of dirt or dog hair is now in the dustpan, trust me she will spot a speck you’ve missed. She can do this in bathrooms and toilets, should you ever be silly enough to volunteer to clean them (or be so in the doghouse you’ve been told to do so). Don’t ever volunteer to do The Dusting, and not just because you will inevitably miss a mote or two and be in line for the Laser-vision treatment. Do not be lulled into picking up the cloth and polish, by the apparently little effort required to do the job. She may make the action of wiping along different surfaces whilst lifting up various porcelain paraphernalia, and the photographs of the kids when they were babies, look effortless. But let’s be frank: firstly, after a few minutes you won’t bother to lift things up, will you? You will have failed, miserably and will be told so. And even if you were doing the job properly, inevitably you will knock over an ornament. You don’t even have to break it for her to begin the “clumsy oaf” speech she wheels out – usually when you’re reaching for the wine bottle to top up your glass while she chats at you. No, if you’re looking for a regular housework ‘chore’ that you can be good at, go for emptying the bins. Note the plural form. This job means going around every room in the house and ridding each bin (yes, first time I did the job I was amazed to learn each room had one!) of its contents; locate the largest bin first and take that with you as a receptacle for the detritus in the others. Don’t forget the bathrooms – you’ll be shocked at the amount of packaging that she throws away there. When you’ve collected all the week’s crap, take it out to the big bin outside which, these days, is almost certainly of the wheelie variety. Do this on the day before the ‘bin-men’ come. Next morning, before you go to work, wheel it out the front and, whatever you do, don’t overfill it or give the impression it is brimming over because they won’t take it. Instead compress it down so the lid sits snugly. This is a frequent problem in our house, despite us recycling as much as we can. The solution is simple: we just need to have a third child. Families of five or more can have two wheelie bins, but one less and you’re down to one. Of course it doesn’t work the other way. Couples or singles don’t have half-size bins, nor is their rubbish only collected every other week. Sex. Such a small word, so big an issue. But according to her, it doesn’t need to be just so long as you don’t feel you need to do it. See how the last part of that sentence is constructed? The emphasis is all on you, not her. And you doing it, not you wanting to enjoy it with her. Quite obviously she doesn’t want to do it with you. Don’t take this personally, unless your milkman is exceptionally handsome (and who gets their milk delivered these days, anyway?) she won’t want to do it with anyone else either. This is mostly because she is tired. Either through working or because she does all the running around with the children and the housework that, for the most part, I‘ve already explained how you can avoid. Besides, beds are for sleeping in. And as she spends so much time making the bed and changing it “nicely”, she doesn’t want it sullied any more than necessary with your bodily fluids. It’s a thorny subject so that’s why I’ve left this chapter deliberately short. Sex (again). Alright, I haven’t left it alone because we can’t leave it alone. Can we? So here’s some suggestions for those of you who’d like to have more. (For those of you who are currently happy with your sex life, don’t tell your wife, or anyone else, about the other woman.) 1. She won’t have sex with you if she feels ‘frumpy’. This means you have to make her feel less old and fat than she actually is. You can do this with gentle, sustained cajolement over time (see some of the hints in the chapter ‘Does my bum look big in this?’) and hope when you make an advance to her she has believed your little fibs. Or you can get her drunk and just lie to her. “God you look gorgeous, I can’t keep my hands off you.” By which time, of course, you’ve caught her off guard and, indeed, your hands are actually all over her, so it’s de facto, true. As it were. 2. Re-visit the Brownie Points chapter. 3. Offer to do more housework. (Seriously.) 4. Take her shopping. You see a pattern emerging here? The rest of the crap in this book is starting to make real sense to you now you want something, isn’t it? Do all of the above things, following an occasion when you’ve let her do some chat on you...absolutely make sure you’re well into the second bottle of wine before you interrupt her. You need to take her hand and look deeply into her eyes before saying. “Darling, I really am impressed that you managed to get the money back on that half-price dress at the pre-sale price, but there’s something really important I need to say to you.” Pause. I guarantee she will have stopped speaking – her lips might still be moving but there will be no sound emanating from her mouth (unless she feels compelled to gulp some wine down in disbelief). Take a deep breath and say, “I’ve got a confession to make.” Now cast your eyes down, you don’t need to look at her. Trust me, you will have her full focus. Pause, take another breath and say, “This isn’t easy but I want you to know I really do love you.” Stop again, she will now be on tenterhooks and won’t know what’s coming next. Let the tension build. Then drop the bombshell. “And I still really, really fancy you. And I can’t help wanting and needing you. I hope you don’t mind.” She won’t, honest. Especially if all the time you’re saying this, you’re stroking her hand and wrist reassuringly. Now look deeply into her eyes and launch straight back in. “I promise to help you more around the house, and do more with the children, and I’ll stop burping and farting, I just need to know you still want me, you know, in bed.” By now her nerves will be shot to pieces. This last part will make her think, to some extent, that the reason you don’t currently help enough, or emit unpleasant noises and smells, is because you think she doesn’t care (a word of warning here, she may not). Because of your manner, tone and choice of words she will have been preparing herself for something worse – it will already have rushed through her head how she was going to deal with telling her best friends that you’ve been cheating on her. She won’t even hesitate, she’ll blurt out that of course she does. Now for the masterstroke. Do not ram your point home (figuratively and God forbid, not physically). Instead, immediately switch the conversation back to ‘chat’ mode. “So, what did you say to the till assistant to convince them to give you the full price?” She will again look at you in shock, for a second, before immediately launching into the explanation. Now your long-game starts. Everything you read in the Brownie Points chapter you can begin to deploy, especially the Flower Ruse. Simply remember, every time you score a point or two, to remind her “Of our little chat.” Adding words along the lines of “I’m just showing you I meant every word I said.” You may at these particular times be able to assume the role of Neanderthal and grab her, not too roughly, and ‘try your luck’. N.B. If the children are anywhere in the vicinity or likely to return imminently, forget it. Dealing with the nagging. I live in a fairly rural part of Wiltshire where it’s fairly normal to have a shotgun for rabbits, pigeons and other game. Provided you don’t have a criminal record, and you can persuade an upstanding member of society, like your doctor or a priest to admit knowing you, gaining a shotgun licence is reasonably straightforward (a firearms licence, rightly so, is a different matter). One of the few conditions of permission being granted is how and where the gun is stored, which will need to be verified by a policeman. In short, when the gun is not being used, it must be kept locked in a gun-safe, cupboard or room, with the key being stored somewhere else. There is only one reason for this. It’s so you don’t blow your wife to kingdom come. Well, at least not in total hot blood. The most common murder in this country is where the parties are related; the crime usually one of passion. So, the theory goes, one night after another row about why you haven’t put up that shelf, or whose turn it is to possess the remote control, she viciously blurts out how much more useless you are than some other bloke, who through a relatively quick interchange she admits to sleeping with once, you might go for the gun. As you stride to the safe-place, you remember the key to it is upstairs, taped to the inside of your underwear draw. Your fetid blood runs a little cooler, as you imagine the scene in prison years later trying to explain to your children why you splattered their mother’s brains across your wedding pictures. Of course, like a lot of theories, it’s not fool-proof; there are plenty of other ways to bump the missus off. But you’re reading this book to find ways through the marriage maelstrom, I hope. As mentioned in the opening pages of this guide, I am of the firm opinion my friend John’s theory about women having a nagging ‘gene’ is a cast iron fact. Even if medical science one day disproves this notion, it is my unwavering advice that you assume not only your wife has one, but it is fully functional and remains so until she has undergone menopause, at which time her body knows it no longer has any genealogical use for you any more (I know, as far as you’re concerned that actually happened 15 years ago!) This is because – and forgive me, John, for ‘building’ on your idea – I believe nagging is a form of contraception. If you’ve recently suffered a nagging bout, you’re less likely to find your good lady as attractive as when she’s congratulating you on doing something right (yes, stop and think just how rarely that happens). Maybe deep down in her subconscious she knows this? Maybe her body has worked out it’s less likely to be nine months overweight and spotty if she nags; maybe nagging is a ‘natural’ form of contraception? Let’s assume so. Then one can start to view it and her in a different light, making dealing with it an easier proposition. For example: “No, I’ll do it on Sunday. And no, I don’t want or need sex with you right now!” This will almost certainly puncture a swelling nagging gene that has just prompted a question about whether you’re going to put up that shelf. You see, it’s so left field it stops her in her tracks. She thinks she’s seeking simple, straightforward information. Instead your non-sequitur of an answer cuts straight through to her weak spot. Logically, she should ask you what the hell you’re talking about. Instead, she thinks you’re saying you don’t find her attractive. The shelf and whatever she had planned to place on it has disappeared from her horizon. Now she’s desperate to know why you’re not sexually interested in her. Don’t get your hopes up, she’s not interested in having sex with you. She just can’t bear the thought of being rejected But lo! She will immediately stop nagging, you will feel justified and an inner calm that the pathetic, unscientifically-based psychology you’ve just read can be so powerful. Be warned, however, whatever the female equivalent of her gander will be up! The shelf is no longer the object of her angst, she is. Or put plainly, you will need to explain what you have said. Fortunately, this is easy to do. Simply say something like, “Aha! Just having a laugh.” Wait a second or two – by now, she really will be at a total loss, and then throw in the following back-handed complement and conversation stopper “Then again, don’t suppose there is a chance of a quick...” There won’t be, I promise. But to ensure the now totally astonished, mouth-wide-open look on her face doesn’t set permanently, immediately add a rejoinder like, “Thought not, how about I make you a cup of tea then?” Don’t wait for an answer, head straight for the kitchen basking, but not too obviously, in the knowledge her nagging will have to wait. Other techniques for dealing with nagging. 1. Ignore the subject of the nag. Counter, as though you haven’t heard what she actually said, with something that could possibly engender ‘chat’, like “Did you end up meeting name of friend goes here for a coffee the other day, what did she have to say for herself?” 2. Agree with her, but with a spin... “Didn’t we agree I’d do that after I’ve mowed the lawn?” (See earlier chapter.) Depending on your current Brownie Point balance, you may need to up the ante on this one e.g. “Didn’t we agree that the shelf kit I bought needs to go back and get a better one?” Displaying a desire in improving the aesthetic of the home never goes down badly. 3. Disagree with her. “Honey, you know how crap I am at putting up shelves. I thought we’d get someone in to do it properly, and at the same time maybe look at creating a bit of storage in the kids’ bedrooms?” Bingo, you’ve hit the house aesthetic jackpot! At the same time you’ve implicitly promised something that will expose your wallet to cost and further, but not personalised, nagging. She will remember this ‘bargain’ you have struck; she will nag you about it; the beauty is you only have to sort out getting someone in, as opposed to doing it yourself. The problem, of course, is you’ve massively upped the ante and while you will buy some time, and possibly an unforeseen ‘chat’ about what kind of storage the kids might need, she will ultimately want to cash in on this one– it is only a short term solution and is only to be recommended if you have something bigger, down the pipeline, to sell her on. Like a surprise holiday. (See chapter on holidays and why booking one will eventually trigger her visiting Boots to buy up a load of stuff you already have half-full bottles of.) 4. Adopt a slightly aggressive approach. Don’t answer straightaway. Effect a hurt look while you trawl your memory banks to locate which wife of your mates she likes least. Then say, in a crestfallen tone, “Darling you sound like mate’s wife’s name here. He’s always going on about how much she nags him and can’t believe I’m so lucky to be married to you.” This will either result in her demanding you open the Sauvignon Blanc (for a good chat) or she will see you for the bare-faced chancer you are. If she gives you the ‘I wasn’t born yesterday look’ squeal “It’s true!” She may waver. But if she doesn’t, profess tiredness and go for your last resort. “How about we have a nice chat and I’ll tell you exactly what he said over a bottle of cold wine?” (Painful thought, I know. You may have to practise this tactic in front of the mirror well beforehand and often enough so, if you ever do need to deploy it, she doesn’t see the angst it causes you.) Holidays. The real cost shares your bed! Apparently, although men must never say this, women’s bodies trick their minds about pregnancy and childbirth; the former is only remembered for the happier ‘maternal-instinct’ moments, the latter is not banked in the “Warning! This causes horrific pain!” section of the memory. Otherwise, so the theory goes, no woman would ever have more than one child. Holidays for M4s are a bit like this. Each year, you meticulously start planning it – usually around the time the budget airlines issue their routes, times and prices which, in turn, is usually around the time the school holiday start and end times are announced – so beginning the annual cycle of massive over-expectation. You kid yourself you’ve got a good deal on the flights and villa, or well-offthe-track-trodden-by-people-who-delight-in-proclaiming-their-Englishnesswhen abroad package. You share your intended itinerary with your work colleagues who reciprocate and you all say “Can’t wait!” when in truth, you can. You see, you’ve forgotten the scramble to get to the airport; the hours wasted checking-in; the ridiculous time and accompanying rigmarole it takes to get through security queues (don’t they appreciate that anyone with a modicum of technological knowledge has worked out any self-respecting suicide bomber has planted plastic explosive in his suitcase, which is in the hold, and triggered by an electronic device disguised as a travel alarm clock, set off by a mobile phone call?); and the Jobsworth’s pushing you along, at every juncture of the journey. Your memory has inconveniently decided to not remind you about the hire car hassle – you know, actually getting the keys to the car you have already paid for and booked online without having to go through the entire procedure again? And you have completely overlooked my biggest bugbear of all, the hidden expense: the wife’s trip to Boot’s and various other High Street emporia? For some reason, your wife becomes partially blind in the weeks leading up to a holiday. You know that there is a cupboard somewhere in the house that is crammed full of seven types of different factor sun creams and lotions; after sun creams and lip balms. You’ve seen the siege-worth’s stockpile of shower gels, shampoos, conditioners, toothpaste and deodorants that are added to with each weekly visit to the supermarket. But, for some reason, she hasn’t. She, who knows where everything is at any time, as she is so fond of reminding you, she who can actually see the butter in the fridge, or that pair of socks in your draw that you cannot, has apparently not noticed any of this. Suddenly shopping bags, full to the brim, appear all around the house – funny how any other time she would construe this as mess, but with a holiday looming it becomes part of the necessary logistical planning. Her nesting instinct has re-emerged, even if it is only for a week in someone else’s home or a room that who-knows-who last slept in. And that’s why she has also bought air fresheners, industrial strength insect killer, mosquito paraphernalia, the handbag-sized anti-bacterial gel, reams of tissues, yet another electrical adapter and a travel pack of laundry cleaner, just in case. Then there’s the obligatory new swim suit and bikini, which are not the same thing apparently: the ‘wrap’ cloth which goes around her body when she is walking twixt room and pool; the shoes – at least two new pairs – plus flipflops; a couple of new outfits for going out; the sun dress; towels and hats. Then there are the new clothes for the kids and she will even have bought you a couple of T shirts and another pair of swimming trunks, not necessarily because you have put on weight, but because “You need two.” Of course, this ultimately means another pre-trip fiasco: the packing and closing of the suitcases that each year get heavier despite the fact you no longer need to take cans of beans away for the children. Worst of all? Hardly any of the new clothes are worn, hardly any of the clothes you take are necessary (except that fleece or jumper). Plus nearly all the creams and unguents (except the sun lotions which might come in useful, just in case the UK has a summer) are left behind, even though they are often more than half full. The real problem, the one you won’t find in a carrier bag, is the stress all this causes her, which naturally has to be transmuted to you. It’s somehow all your fault (what it is that is your fault, she can’t articulate) and “You’re just not helping!” As if you could possibly know what ‘wrap’ to buy or why, even, last year’s flip-flops are “No longer right.” All this ruins any pre-holiday excitement you may have hoped for and the constant emergence of these hidden purchases, throughout the holiday, serves as reminder to your frustration so, ipso facto, you don’t enjoy yourself. Even when you try to ‘participate’ it can and usually will backfire. For example, whilst away you accede to her wishes to not barbecue again and agree to go out for dinner (despite the restaurant hell the children might make for you). Naturally she “Hasn’t got anything to wear!” So you gently ignore this and proffer up something helpful like, “What about one of those outfits?” (N.B. Don’t use the word ‘new’ as it will guarantee she will think you’re having a go.) Dismissively, she will reply that “they’re not right,” or some such inanity. You can’t win. So don’t fight. Believe me, I wish I could suggest some way of dealing with this traumatic, often-bi-annual debacle. Bearing in mind, the whole point of this book is to provide help for M4s, I fully accept this is an abject failure on my part. I apologise and simply suggest if you can’t beat them, join them. On the way out through Duty Free, treat yourself to one of those more eclectic and expensive whiskies I referred to in an earlier chapter. Then, whenever that holiday-blues feeling emerges, simply pour your angst away. The toilet. Men and women have different relationships with the toilet, or rather, the act of going to and using it. This is hardly surprising, as men see far more of the WC than women. From what I can gather most men regularly ‘perform’ twice a day, and it is not uncommon for some to visit three times. Apart from the explanation my wife cites for this – that men are full of crap – there are both biological and psychological reasons for this. Firstly, we eat more so we need to go more. Secondly, we drink more, so we need to go more. And thirdly, the toilet is invariably a snug environment. It often has a radiator or towel rail, so it is warm. It has seating and lighting too, so if you have reading matter in there, the real matter for the visit ceases to be the fecal point. In fact, once you have locked the door, you‘ve effectively shut out the outside world. You can’t hear the kids moaning about whose turn it is to choose the TV channel. And even the most hard-arsed wife won’t nag you to put up a shelf whilst you’re on this other job. Thus, for many men, whilst being occasioned by their bowels to visit the crapper somewhat frequently, the prospect is made more attractive by the brief cognitive, almost meditative, getaway-from-it-all-for-a few-moments opportunity it affords. In short, as and when the need or urge arises, the prospect of the imminent taking of a dump will be something a man finds not unattractive. Women don’t get this. If you were to utter the word ‘toilet’ during a word association exercise, the image they would conjure up would not be one of a toasty, reading-conducive environment. Their first thought would be that of a cold, plastic toilet seat. They recall quickly how, as so often it does, the need takes them when they are not at home or where they feel comfortable. They will say they are creatures of habit (usually morning visitors) and that if they miss their appointed slot, they will wait until the same time next day (men find this amazing, but it’s nothing really when you think about how long they’re pregnant for). This recognises the fact that if the urge comes upon them later in the day, or at least when they are not near to a toilet with which they have an affinity or certain knowledge, they would rather wait. This of course is the insight behind those awful tv ads about constipation – the thief of time, as my dad used to say (he also said, “diarrhoea waits for no man”) – which, have you noticed, never feature men? Now, women feel like this because to them going to the toilet is a chore, something to be endured rather than the potential downtime opportunity men see it as. Therefore, they want the chore to pass off with the least distraction or cause for discomfort as possible. That’s why, unlike men who will for the most part use any reasonably presentable toilet, women prefer to go where they know. This is not the same mental ‘partnering’ a man might make with his preferred, or ‘home’ toilet. For a woman it is one of the very, very rare occasions that they think rationally… And why, uniquely, does the thought of going to the toilet make them so briefly logical? Because of men, of course! You see “Men go to toilets too. And men are not like women!” (can you hear your wife uttering exactly this kind of vapid explanation?). Men pee everywhere. Not necessarily consciously, although too many of us do not bother lifting the seat when out and about. The trouble is we spray. Not deliberately. Almost imperceptibly for the most part, although I think the field widens and intensifies with age. We emit, as part of our golden cataracts, a fine mist that, well, gets in lots of places other than on the vertical porcelain slopes. This not only leads to an unpleasant smell but, if it comes into contact with skin, can cause all manner of undesired germ-based nastiness. Women know this and loathe this and base their argument for not using unfamiliar toilets on this precise topic. Or, if they’re caught short, this is why they hover over the toilet; with no part of their anatomy coming into contact with it. They know you spray too, but at least “You’re family”. That doesn’t stop them feeling the revulsion of touching any toilet seat that you may have previously used. But you can at least see why they implore you to always put it down after use. Besides, they comfort themselves with the knowledge that they, at least, clean their toilets on a regular basis. To gain some easy BPs, for toilets at home follow these basic rules of engagement: • Sit down every time you go – for both number 2s and Number 1s. Odd at first, but more relaxing. This almost eradicates spray damage – provided one’s member is hanging and pointing appropriately downward. Those cavaliers amongst us should also prime Percy – something we do subconsciously when extracting him from our fly – otherwise a worse than disastrous outpour could erupt all over the underside of the seat, and flow over and down the porcelain: manageable, but unpleasant, with ceramic floors; a nightmare on carpet. • Always look behind you. Just because you’ve cracked one out that “Didn’t touch the sides”, doesn’t mean it didn’t touch the sides of the porcelain leaving indisputable, brown-hued evidence of the fact. After flushing, check the toilet to see if it has acquired any striping or skid marks – easily remedied with a few vigorous scrubs with the brush usually found standing to the left or right rear of the u-bend (yes, that is what it is for, in case you’ve been wondering all these years, as a friend of mine did.) N.B. This brush is often sitting in some-such disinfectant or cleaning fluid: when removing it, give it a friendly shake to loosen any droplets back into its receptacle. To deploy, lift the toilet seat and administer to the offending fecality. Once eradicated, the following manoeuvre is essential: before removing it from the vestibule, flush the toilet and shake it under the torrent; cleaning any lingering offending turdlets. Then shake the brush, and remove it from the toilet replacing it in its home, remembering to put down the toilet seat. Failure to spot and deal with evidence of your visit can result in a serious loss of BPs. Dealing with it and redistributing excretia, or getting cleaning fluid and toilet water over the floor and walls, can be just as damaging. • Administer cleaning fluid. One sure-fire way to incrementally increase your standing with the good lady, over time, is the regular and frequent squirting of the cleaner, found next to the brush, around the toilet. This actually does clean it. And through its pine-forest, ocean-spray or whatever bouquet du jour, it enhances the overall ambience of the smallest room. But most importantly, it will convince her that at least sometimes you listen to her. Even if your toilet does not actually need cleaning, don’t be shy with the stuff. Although it does slowly sink into the water below, over time, there’s a good chance she will visit before that happens and your Brownie Points bank balance will have just grown. • Make sure the toilet seat is always down after your visit. This means she doesn’t have to touch it before she goes, which makes it easier for her to go: no mental blockage about hygiene means less chance of a colonic clot. Shutting the lid is optional and usually sensible if you’ve just laid an Armageddon-length of vile smelling cable. (See section on air fresheners and candles below.) • Remove offending odours. If your ordure has made the toilet a less than hospitable place, take action to eradicate the miasmic evidence: open a window and waft the fresh air in until the balance has been regained, then close it again – N.B. leaving a window open, especially in winter, can make the toilet a cold place and result in negative thoughts towards you. Obviously, in late spring and summer this can be positively desirable, especially if it allows birdsong and pollinating plant’ scents to permeate through. And deploy the air freshener that is there – most commonly an aerosol, sometimes a small clear bottle filled with stuff that looks like perfume and a push down top. These substances do not eliminate the smell (it has to disappear in its own time) but do mask it with something more pleasantly pungent. However, evidence of this apparently acceptable replacement means you needed to use it so, bit of a catch 22. • Dealing with making a smell is all about understanding that you need to set aside more time to your ablutions in the first place. In case your bombshell turns out to be a real humdinger, you will then have enough minutes to let the combination of window (or extractor fan) and smell replacement system do their job. • Of course, if she or anyone else likely to take umbrage is not likely to visit for a while, then just leave nature to take its course. • If your wife has acquired a candle habit – little round tins containing smelly coloured wax, found on various window sills, ledges and other nooks and crannies – there’s a good chance she may have located one in the toilet. And if your preferred rectal receptacle happens to be downstairs, there’s a better than even chance this scented waxwork will have already been lit on a number of occasions; most probably when you have been entertaining dinner guests. So don’t be shy in lighting it from time to time to earn more BPs as she’ll think your feminine side is coming through. If you’re in a toilet with a candle that hasn’t been lit, then light it any way. She will be initially annoyed with you, “I was saving that candle!” – absolutely do not ask her what she was saving it for, or when even, she just wants to register some control. Because she will quickly attest to her taste by saying how nice it smells and she was glad she bought it. Besides, she will again think that it is sweet you wanted the candle on in the first place whilst, at the same time, visualising another satisfying trip to the candle emporium. Like a lot of the suggestions in this book, don’t over-egg the burning of candles. If it becomes something you seem to do too regularly – and not just in the toilet – she will smell a rat, or at least think you are trying to cover up farts, even if neither of these undesirables are actually present. • Washing your hands and drying them properly. The following advice has little or nothing to do with the Nanny state dictats we seem to see everywhere about how to wash your hands, with soap or an alcohol-based liquid. I’m going to assume that it is something you have competency in. No, what I am talking about is washing and drying your hands so that it doesn’t annoy Mrs Menstrual. Firstly, if your hands really need washing, perhaps having attracted some oily residue after topping up her screen wash or doing something for her in the garden, she’d rather you didn’t use her sink in her toilet. (If you’re already anywhere near the bathroom, you’ll be in deep doodoo as that will mean your soiled hands have penetrated deep into the inner sanctum of the home.) If you have a utility room with a sink, that’s fine for industrial scale dirt or, better still, you can wash them using an outside tap. But even if you’re just being hygienic after going to the toilet, she wants you to be careful. Being rigorous or being vigorous, with washing your hands, could mean splashed water – which is impossible to see with the naked human male eye, but all too obvious to the female of the species. This really winds her up. After you’ve washed your hands, just wipe with the cloth that inevitably will be under or next to the sink – that’s what it’s for, if you ever wondered whilst trying to despatch a ‘Cling-on’. Equally, using the soap, or hand cream, and not putting it back in the right place will not make you popular. Perhaps this last transgression is less of a crime and more of a misdemeanour, but successive offending will get you negative BPs. When it comes to the toilet, come to think of it as being called the trap for very good reason! Miscellany – various other ways to avoid losing (but not necessarily gaining) BPs. Doors, drawers, cupboards and cabinets. Don’t leave them open or ajar. Committing this apparently innocent ‘crime’ sends her loopy. I’m increasingly guilty of it; something to do with ageing, no doubt. But it is also symptomatic of the way our brains work, and women’s don’t i.e. in a logical, linear fashion. Imagine the following scenario, resulting from finally agreeing to put up a shelf. Your drill is in the garage, so you go to get it and locate it easily because it’s where you left it. You leave the garage door open – to save you opening and closing it again, when you’ve finished – and come back into the house, via the front door which, as it’s not a freezing cold day, you don’t think to close for the same reasons as the garage door. You head to the utility room, to pick up the IKEA self-assembly shelf that’s been collecting dust there for a couple of months, and because it’s where your screwdriver is normally located. Your screwdriver is not in its usual drawer is, so you open the next one down hoping it’s there. It is, with your spirit level – good news, you’ll need that too. You shut the second drawer but leave the first – you may have ‘moved on’ from it, or forgotten it or you may even subconsciously be saying to yourself to leave it open to remind you to put the screwdriver and spirit level back where they come from. You the look around for the shelf pack: on the shelves you put up two years ago; on the floor; in the cupboards, the last one of which you leave ajar as you call to your wife, wanting to know the shelf’s location. (She will have removed it to within close proximity of its intended final resting place. And it seems strange to her that you wouldn’t know this.) By the time you’ve got your pencil out to mark up where the shelf should go, you feel ready for the task, as your procession to get to this point has been an exercise, with just the occasional diversion, of logical sequences. It feels ‘right’ to you. Until you’re reminded that you’ve left three doors, two cupboards and at least one draw open. You know this incontrovertibly, because your wife will go around the house slamming them shut, but not necessarily sequentially. Moral? Avoid putting up shelves. Be careful, too, in the kitchen, when you’ve agreed to cook, or she’s let you do so. You will be happily ensconced, glass of Sauvignon Blanc to hand, perhaps your latest i-Pod docking station playing quietly (yes, long ago, you’ll have given up the argument that every so often, when the music you like takes its turn on the computerised jukebox, it just sounds louder than it is – albeit the volume level hasn’t moved) with your favourite chef’s knife working through the ingredients you’ve selected carefully to make a fine repast. Suddenly, your reverie will be smashed as she announces her arrival, empty glass in hand, by slamming a kitchen cabinet door shut. Looking up, you will notice that there is at least one other cupboard door open, maybe a drawer or two and, worst of all, you didn’t actually manage to shut the fridge door properly. She will make hay and you have just reinforced her belief that you never listen to her and that you actually don’t care. Forget the fact you are cooking her dinner, with love. Take comfort from the knowledge that the kitchen surfaces are tidy and you’ve not spread vegetable peelings out over each and every one, like she does. Just don’t tell her so. Put up with the grunts and ‘staggeringly bewildered’ look on her face as she shuts the offending draws and doors; she’ll have her second glass poured and will soon be back in front of the telly watching What not to wear or Face up to it luv, everything’s going south! (okay, that was unnecessarily cruel). The bathroom also has plenty of potential pitfalls, over and above the ones already detailed in the chapter devoted to the WC. If you have one of those old fashioned push-in-roller toilet holders, then it’s your job to notice when the toilet roll will need changing. You should re-arrange towels in a nice orderly fashion on the towel rail. There’s a trick to doing this: hold the towel by its top left and right corners so it makes a long portrait shape; now fold it over itself – effectively bisecting it half way down; now fold it in on itself down its length and then drape over the towel rail. If you have matching hand towels (about a 90% racing certainty) you need to replicate the first stage but when folding in, from side to side, you should do it in thirds over itself – imagine turning an A4 letter ninety degrees before creasing it. The mat, that’s there to absorb excess moisture when stepping from either the bath or shower? Don’t get it wet and don’t leave it on the floor (confusing, isn’t it?). After use, put it on the side of the bath or over the top of the shower door, to dry out. If it’s on the floor when you come in, don’t point this out, she doesn’t like you to be “clever”. You know how the toothpaste collects around its nozzle? That’s your fault too; keep it clean. And remember to put its cap back on. This goes for everything else too – especially your shaving cream, which also tends to get a bit hangdog around the nozzle. After wet-shaving rinse the scum away – I know you already do that, but you don’t do it properly. Do it thoroughly, otherwise she’ll store up the fact and use it as a verbal bullet when you least expect it. For example you could, over your evening meal, be gently reminding her (as you all too frequently need to do) to not let the fuel tank on her car run too low, so the bits of crap at the bottom of it don’t get into the injection system, or to keep an eye on her tyre pressures. She will, of course, say that she doesn’t normally let this happen before moaning about how little time she has. The conversation will subside and you may perhaps ask her to pass the black pepper. As she does so, BANG! “Oh, and can you please remember to clean the basin after you’ve shaved. I’m fed up with coming into a disgusting sink when I just want to brush my teeth.” Cotton buds are another subject. She’ll be adamant about you not flushing them (N.B. never pass comment on anything she has thrown in the toilet) which means disposal has to be via the bin. Don’t just throw your little eardrumsticks into it; carefully wrap them in a couple of sheets of the toilet roll you’ve recently replenished before inserting in the bin, so she cannot see the offending items when into it she places her daily half-kilo of cotton wool. The End (which is rarely in sight). I was trying to think of a suitable way to finish this aide de M4 but there isn’t really an obvious one. When you’re in the middle of the M4 years – usually around the time your youngest child hits double figures and you’re in your mid-to-late forties – she may well be getting close to the Change or even have begun going through it. But because of today’s over-emphasis on the children, and the fact that you’ll have University fees etc looming, you could still be 10 years away from any kind of peace and calm at home. That’s because she will have become re-programmed to focus on the kids’ needs, not yours and the relationship. Whilst she physically may have shrugged off those twin competing inner forces – her desire to highlight to you just how big a pain in the arse you are to her, at the same time as wanting to make sure you don’t run off with a younger model - her nagging has now evolved to become child-centric. But don’t be fooled. The underlying behaviour is still the same. For example, from time to time, you will be inveigled to apparently join forces: “Will you have a word with your daughter about picking up her dirty clothes?” So you do, quite firmly, mistakenly thinking she has resorted to you as Pack Leader and you have her backing. In a trice, the hormonal 15 year old is in tears. Even quicker, she has rounded on you to demand why you have upset her daughter. Recognise that? The other reason I can’t find a straightforward way to end the book is because it never ends; it never ever comes to a conclusion. The best examples are arguments and interior decorating or improvements. With regards to the former, you know she always has to have the last word, and even when you’ve let her have it, she’s quite capable of dredging it up a week later. In respect of the latter, how many times have you finished a job, like painting one of the kids’ bedrooms but, as you’re readying yourself to clean the brushes and fold away the dust sheets, she chooses to announce that she’s “Not sure about the colour…” Another stunning example was provided by another mate. They moved from a large, open-plan modern home to a rustic, higgledy-piggledy period property. For some time the sofas that used to sit, like islands in a sea of neutral carpet, in the ‘old’ house, had been languishing in the garage. Then one weekend his wife thought it would be good to put them in one of their ‘new’ reception rooms. He looked at them, measured them and said he thought they would end up looking too big. But she wanted to see them in there for real. And then, it being Saturday, she went to the therapists to get her nails done and enjoy some metime. My mate quickly realised that neither of the pair would get through the doorway, without damaging them or the upholstery. So he painstakingly unpicked every staple holding the material to the wood and then disassembled the frame and moved them into the room. He then re-assembled them finishing four hours later, just as she walked back through the front door. She popped her head into where he was now sitting down exhausted, took one look and, as she went back out again, casually threw over her shoulder the following words: “Well, you were right for once, they’re way too big.” You see, it never ends.
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