MY wife is a newspaperwoman.
This is nothing to do with me being a newspaperman for the past 47 years.
It’s because in our house she has stockpiled the world’s entire supply of used newsprint.
Open a cupboard in our house and the last thing that will flash before your eyes will not be your past, or thoughts of your mother. It will be the Townsville Bulletin shouting: MAFEKING RELIEVED!
Or WHITLAM RESIGNS!
Of course, I am culpable. I bring the damn things home because part of my job is to read them. But at least I read today’s or yesterday’s.
My wife will read whatever falls out when she reaches in for the cornflakes.
I caught her last week knitting socks for Our Boys Over There. She read it in The Age.
While she was gardening.
My wife cares, you see. About everything, but especially about the environment. So we recycle stuff, especially newspapers.
Which are handy for mopping up the cat’s widdle, or as a slide when you’ve just mopped the laundry floor and want to kill someone, or cleaning windows – or mulching the garden.
Except that my wife’s idea of mulching the garden is to take a pile of newspapers, kneel down by a dug flower bed, spread out a newspaper – and read it.
It’s the same with mopping the laundry floor.
When I get home from the late shift she’s still there – frozen to the spot in the darkness, squinting at a headline about the Queen’s coronation.
And the newspapers are winning.
At the rate she lays them in the garden we’ve got no chance. It’s possible to get from the back gate to the front gate by stepping on newspapers all the way.
We have worms that are experts on newspapers and on recent Australian history but still it’s not humanly possible to use up newspapers faster than we store them.
My wife says we’re recycling them, but we’re not! We are nothing more than a newspaper dump!
The council is rezoning my home as landfill!
What is it about old newspapers that makes them more attractive than new ones?
In the newspaper industry they say yesterday’s newspaper is a fish and chips wrapper but if it were my wife’s fish and chips wrapper she’d starve to death with a chip frozen halfway to her mouth and her eyes locked on the greasy newsprint.
I can’t take much more of this. I have considered surreptitiously burying them in the garden a few at a time, but there isn’t room.
And the obvious solution is to do what real people would do, and call for a fleet of recycling trucks to take them away.
But there’s my wife to think of — what’s going to happen to her state of mind when she is forced to join the 21st century and she discovers men have walked on the Moon, that Elvis is dead that disk and byte are not misprints.
I could, of course, just dig one hole big enough for her.
Compatibility in bed (as Romeo and Juliet would confirm if they were still alive) will get a young couple through anything.
Almost anything. Bugger religion, if you’ll pardon the expression. Bugger politics.
But if you use a brush to do the washing up, and she uses a cloth – you’re doomed.
If he hums while he’s driving, she’ll kill him one day.
If he pulls the hair off the comb and drops it on the floor, he’ll be found one day with his head stove in by the vacuum cleaner and the hose end hidden painfully from view.
These things are the stuff of divorce. Trust me on this.
My wife has thrown away the washing-up brush. In its place there is a limp, sad cloth, festooned with little nodules of porridge, like barnacles. It smells vaguely of the sullage tank.
And she expects me to wash up with it.
“Where’s the brush?”
“I threw it away. The bristles had gone soft and there were bits in it.”
“I can’t wash up with a cloth. And definitely not this cloth. I wouldn’t use this cloth to wipe my bum!”
“Oh, don’t be so… childish.”
The other thing about a porridge-encrusted washing-up cloth is that you can’t kill anyone with it.
But you could be charged with manslaughter, wiping the crockery with a cloth like this. Anyone who eats off the plates afterwards is going to die.
And there’s another thing – if you use a cloth you can’t use hot water; because if you do you can’t get your hands in it. With a brush you don’t have to. You can scald the crockery to a state of sterility and then hook it out with the brush.
If it happens that your wife comes up beside you and rinses out one of her grotty cloths to wipe the table with, and melts the skin off her hands in the process, that is not your problem.
People should know better. Stay out of my water! I am washing up!
And if I hum while I’m driving that is a Good Thing. It helps me concentrate.
“You do it at the bloody traffic lights, when nothing’s moving!”
“So… we haven’t had an accident yet, have we?”
“No, but you’re heading for one, sunshine!”
These are the things people fight about.
When the parents sit the happy couple down for the Serious Chat, they don’t need to be asking whether a Buddhist-Mormon marriage is wise.
They need to ask: how do you hold your knife and fork?
Do you fold your lavatory paper or scrunch it into a ball?
Where do you drop your underwear when you’ve taken it off?
Do you leave slivers of toenail littering the carpet by the bed?
It makes the inevitable separation less painful to know these things in advance.
It’s one thing to weep in a tower over the loss of a loved one because he has the wrong religion. It’s another thing entirely to maintain the pain of separation when you know that somewhere in a far distant land he’s standing in front of a mirror, pulling the hairs out of his nose.