From The Times Online, March 9, 2008:
One day as a perfect 1950s wife
With apron, cocktail dress and coq au vin, our writer takes her husband back to a time when men had everything their own way
Rosie Millard - Housewife
After 14 years of matrimony it is beginning to dawn on me that I’m a bad wife. I’ve done the childbirth thing – very enthusiastically, four times – and I think I’m okay at mothering. I don’t shrink at getting up in the night to sort out a wet bed, I can knock out a Little Woolly Lamb fancy-dress outfit with five minutes’ notice and I can do a mean school project on whatever subject necessary.
I’m a passable adult, too: a lovely dinner party guest, a loyal friend, daughter, sister. But as far as doting wife goes, I think I lack form.
Indeed, only this morning I shouted a bit at Mr Millard before selfishly going for a run, only to return an hour later and shout at him again for not taking the dog out. I think I even called him an idiot.
Of course, I love Mr Millard but do I dote on him? Do I look after him? Do I nurture him when he is ill? I’m not at all sure that I do. Our set-up is based on equality, you see. We were married in the 1990s, not the 1890s. He’s a better cook than I am and has a much better bedside manner.
But does all this equality make him happy? When I murmur to him at 6am that he can probably find the paracetamol himself and could he, by the way, make me some tea, I am doubtless enhancing the female cause of parity in matrimony. But am I enhancing his life?
Do I have supper prepared and a drink ready for him when he arrives back from work? No. Do I ensure that the house is immaculate and the children freshly spruced when he turns up? Not really. Do I even change for supper? Unless you count getting into pyjamas, no. But today I’m going to do my best.
What has brought this on is a survey, published last week, which compared the perfect 1950s housewife with her 2008 counterpart and asked 2,309 men what kind of woman they preferred. The majority seemed to prefer living with feisty modern babes rather than glorified butlers who change for dinner. But can that be right?
Chez Millard, in any case, it is 1955. For one day. And we are about to put the survey to the test. At 3.25pm it dawns on me that if I’m supposed to be living in the 1950s, in the next three hours I must a) have dinner ready, b) tidy up the house, c) light a fire, d) organise the children for inspection and e) tart myself up. I already feel exhausted.
While the children eat baked beans, I start preparing “a favourite dish” for their father. Usually, of course, it’s the other way round. I decide this shall be those 1950s favourites coq au vin and plum pie with cream. Halfway through the exercise I realise I have no plums, so a lightning dash to the Coop must be factored in. With my apron still on.
At the Coop I grab a bottle of tonic for Mr Millard’s G&T. It takes me about 10 minutes to find it. I realise this is because it is about 15 years since I last made one. Well, we usually share a bottle of wine over supper. Drinks before a midweek evening meal seems a totally antiquated custom, rather like dressing for dinner. Yet when I was young I remember my mother changed most nights before we sat down to eat.
Back home I knock out the pastry and do a bit of hasty tidying-up. Of course, the notion of Mr Millard arriving home off the 6.20 from Water-loo, like a 1950s dad, is a myth. Thanks to wi-fi he has been working from home all day and is stationed in the living room reading the paper.
By the time the coq au vin is bubbling nicely, Mr Millard has gone out somewhere. Where? I don’t know. But presumably it’s not for wifey to question his actions.
In the bathroom I light a Natural Magic “tranquillity” candle and freshen up with some “intense mineral destress body polish”. I bet the housewives of Anthony Eden’s Britain never had holistic treatment candles and detoxifying exfoliators. It was Pond’s Cold Cream or nothing.
I open my cupboard and select a G&T-style dress to wear. “Where are you going?” ask the children. “Oh, I’m just changing for supper,” I trill brightly, rootling through my underwear drawer. “What are those straps on your legs for?” says the five-year-old. “Oh, these are just suspenders, darling,” I say vaguely, hoping my unusual lingerie will contribute to the retro mood. Well, you’ve got to do the 1950s thing with aplomb.
Of course, wives have been bombarded with advice on how to conduct themselves for centuries. Amazon lists more than 3,000 titles, including the Daily Guide to a Better Marriage, the Muslim Marriage Guide and A Couple’s Guide to Boosting their Marriage Libido. Last year’s Christmas bestseller, Don’ts for Wives, first came out in 1913 and is full of peerless advice such as: “Don’t expect your husband to be an angel.”
Mostly husbands in these guides tend to be presented as amiable types suffering appallingly boring days, who are in desperate need of a wife not only for an immaculate house and children but also to give love, comfort and solace in sackloads. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s about time for Mr Millard to come home. “Children, line up!” I say to the junior Millards, some of whom are now bored with this game and must be physically manoeuvred away from Cartoon Network. So, when we hear the key in the lock, everyone is lined up, faces shining, hair brushed, arguments abated. “Shut up, everyone,” I cry. “The house has to be a place of peace and tranquillity.”
In he comes. We cluster about him in a spirit of rather unfamiliar welcome. The younger two look wildly around, almost as if they’re expecting the Easter Bunny to come hopping in alongside him. Well, Daddy doesn’t normally turn up with such a hullabaloo. I remove his coat and deftly present him with a G&T. His face brightens. Even though he knows this is a game, it’s still a good moment. “Haven’t had one of these for years,” he murmurs, sitting down on especially plumped-up cushions while I remove his shoes.
From then on it’s rather a breeze. There’s no cooking to do since supper is already prepared. The children are ready for bed. I smell of ylang-ylang and detoxifying grapefruit, plus I’m in a cocktail dress. With stockings. We have a delicious meal at the disconcertingly early hour of 7.30pm.
He talks to me about his work. I shut up about mine. Normally, I’m afraid, it’s the other way round. I allow him to fall asleep in front of Fiona Bruce. And when we venture upstairs, I remember that my duties as a perfect wife are not quite over.
As seen here.