Today’s blog is unashamedly sexist, dedicated to those millions of stoic women, unsung heroines smiling bravely while bracing themselves for another weekly ordeal in the bedroom…
It’s summertime! The livin’ is easy, the Master of The House is down the pub with his mates, the kids are on a sleepover and the Mistress of the House can kick off her shoes, pour herself a pre-lunch glass of rosé, flop into a deckchair underneath the honeysuckle and start reading the latest Kate Atkinson. Bliss! Forget the decomposing gym kit sitting in a bag in the hallway, the open packet of butter melting on the kitchen counter next to the jam smears, the downstairs loo that’s been declared a Hazmat area by your flouncing thirteen-year-old (is that lipstick she’s wearing?), they can wait! After the week you’ve had you deserve some ME time…
Hang on a minute–the bed!! A panicked glance at the clock, a sprint upstairs with clean sheets, please O Divine Domestica, do not let HIM (Master of the House but also well-trained Modern Man) return just yet!
(Sounds of car pulling up, door banging).
‘Honey, I’m home! Just in time to give you a hand with the quilt cover….’
Read on to see if they do it better on the other side of the Channel. 😉
Sharing their own domestic moment at the Villa Julia are Gérard and Anouk, parents of Claudie, the book’s romantic lead. Anouk, getting ready to celebrate her sixtieth birthday with twin sister Julie, has woken up to a most unusual sight. She tries to ignore a premonitory twinge, warning her to beware of husbands (well, Gérard anyway) bearing trays of coffee and croissants…
‘Why can’t we get Madame Martin to change the bloody sheets? I’ve never got the hang of these damned quilt covers, don’t even know why we need a quilt anyway, it’s far too hot.’
‘Just concentrate, chéri, nearly there.’
Gérard had started the day most unusually by bringing his wife coffee in bed. Then he had promptly spilled it all over the clean bed linen.
Anouk, who had been luxuriating in her unexpected lie-in, had sprung to her feet, repressing a desire to strangle her husband as she rushed into the bathroom for towels to staunch the flood while he stood flapping his hands and swearing.
The previous evening they’d enjoyed a refreshing swim before falling on the wonderful meal prepared by Claudie and her new boyfriend, Pete. It had been late by the time they’d all straggled to bed, reluctant to leave the night garden, its pools of light, its mysterious rustles, its pine-scented fragrance. Figaro, prowling and sniffing under every bush, lifted his head to check on them from time to time, his yellow eyes like miniature headlights amid the shrubbery. As they were finally making their way upstairs, Adam, ever the English gentleman, had caught hold of Gérard’s arm.
‘What say we give our two wonderful ladies breakfast in bed tomorrow, eh Gerry? Let them have a lie-in after the long journey?’
Gérard’s face had been a picture. Anouk and Julie had burst out laughing. Gérard was definitely not a ‘let-me-bring-you-breakfast-in-bed-mon-amour’ kind of person. He had huffed, but he’d put a brave front on it, patting Adam on the arm and muttering ‘good idea’. At eight o’clock this morning Anouk had experienced the once in a lifetime surprise of seeing her husband march into the bedroom bearing a tray of croissants and a pot of coffee. Which he’d then proceeded to pour over the bed.
She could have cried. The coffee had smelled heavenly, the croissants were warm from the oven. She had instantly resolved on a revenge trip. Her husband was going to get his own once in a lifetime experience. He was going to help her change the sheets.
She clamped her lips together and tried to keep a straight face watching him fume as he wrestled with the quilt cover which had miraculously doubled in size. Damn. She should have got Antony to hide behind the armoire and film the sequence to put on YouTube.
‘In any case, Madame Martin has quite enough to do today, chéri. Plus she’s too old to be dealing with sheet-changing.’
This was a downright lie. Madame Martin, whose age was a thing of mystery, was as nimble as a cat. But the spectacle of Gérard’s face getting redder and redder and the sound of his breathing getting huffier and puffier as he fought to wedge the top corner of the quilt into the top corner of the cover was just too delicious.
‘Good, that’s it, now the bottom corner, see it’s not as difficult as you thought, is it? You’ll be able to help me at home.’
Gérard glared and wrenched the quilt out of her hand.
‘Very funny. Stand back while I give it a good shake.’
He sucked in his stomach and flexed his muscles. The quilt flew up and down a couple of times then settled across the bed. They both stared at it. On Anouk’s side it was perfectly aligned in its cover; on Gérard’s side a hunched, lumpy mess.
‘I think you’ve put your top corner in your bottom corner.’
Gérard flung up his hands.
‘Nonsense! You saw me put my top corner in my top corner. The thing must have twisted round, this is your side.’
Anouk folded her arms. She thought of the great philosopher, Michel Montaigne: ‘No retort is as biting as scornful silence.’
Her husband gave a strangled roar, drew a deep breath, then launched himself into the air and landed like a dead starfish flat on top of the quilt, arms and legs flung out. He tried beating and kicking the corners into submission.
He raised his head, breathless.
‘This is no job for a man, dealing with these…these female contraptions. We’re wired to judge the width of a car, you lot are wired to put quilts in covers. It’s simple biology.’
Anouk’s arms remained folded.
With a long-suffering sigh he got to his knees, stuck his head inside the cover and burrowed around furiously. Thirty seconds later he emerged, what was left of his hair standing up like a hoopoe’s crest.
There were now two indentations, like little ears, cosying up in the middle of the bed, and a lot of empty cover dangling over the side.
Anouk gave a loud sigh.
‘Sometimes you can be so…medieval, chéri. Let’s start again. ‘Your lot’ will hold her side in place, while ‘Car Man’ sorts out his width problems on the other.’
She could have done the whole job on her own in a matter of seconds. But she wasn’t going to. The battle continued grimly until all four corners were finally in the right place.
‘Thank God for that. Now the damned coffee’s cold. What’s left of it.’
Gérard picked up the cafetière with a scowl.
Anouk righted the overturned cups and shook out the soggy croissants. She put the bundle of damp sheets in a heap in front of the door.
‘You can pop downstairs and put these in the machine, chéri, while you make a fresh pot. Is anyone else up yet?’
‘How the hell should I know? There was nobody in the kitchen except me and Adam, both of us wearing pinnies and preparing breakfast trays.’
‘That was a sweet idea of Adam’s, wasn’t it? I do hope Julie’s not having to change beds and mop up coffee on her nice lie-in.’
Satisfied that she’d made her point, she changed the subject.
‘So anyway, what do you make of Pete’s mother?’
Gérard gave a shrug.
‘Plenty to say for herself. Doesn’t mince her words.’
‘She is a bit ‘full on’, isn’t she? Not like her son. I do like that boy, he’s so polite and attentive as well as a natural charmer.’
‘Yes, well, I don’t know how he puts up with your daughter. God help the poor sod. She’s impossible to live with, look what happened with those others, that chap with the Porsche and the Rolex, he soon gave her her marching orders.’
Anouk’s nostrils flared.
‘It was our daughter who issued the marching orders, may I remind you. She wasn’t ready for marriage and motherhood, she hasn’t even finished her studies yet, and Stéphane was too demanding and self-absorbed. Personally I never took to him. A Porsche and a Rolex aren’t exactly character references.’
‘Too demanding! That’s a good one. She’s like the foutue queen of Sheba, our daughter, bossing people around, insisting she’s right about everything. She doesn’t deserve a nice guy like Pete.’
‘She’s not bossy. She’s feisty. She has strong opinions which she’s not afraid to express but she’s ready to listen to others. She’s independent. And funny.’
Gérard rolled his eyes heavenwards. He picked up the bundle of sheets and opened the door.
Anouk got back into bed.
‘And neither do you.’
‘Neither do I what?’
‘Deserve me. Don’t trip as you’re going downstairs.’
As the door banged, she sank back against the pillows. Her thoughts wandered to her beautiful new party dress, hanging in the wardrobe. Creamy white linen. The colour of honeysuckle petals. It would look stunning against her tanned arms and dark hair. And so would Julie’s gorgeous number in indigo blue silk, the bleu de Lanvin. Sixty? Pah. Sixty was nothing these days. When they were young they’d worn flowers in their hair and followed in the footsteps of their role models, the two brilliant Simones, Simone de Beauvoir and Simone Veil. When they stood side by side on the day of their birthday, ready to greet their guests, they’d look like a million dollars.
And so would her daughter. Her feisty, funny, independent, loving, loveable daughter.
And merde to her antiquated father.