HERE is a natural law of married life you need to memorise: work clothes (that is, the ones you wear for doing messy jobs) are always the ones you’re not wearing.
We will leave, for a moment, the fact that one’s wife never refers to your office clothes as work clothes. She obviously doesn’t think one works at the office. It’s revenge, I think, for the days when husbands used to say, safely, “My wife doesn’t work. She’s a housewife.”
But as far as work clothes go – they’re those others.
Which others? I hear you ask.
Good question, but no one has worked out the answer to that. It’s like new legislation – it’s not yet been tested in the courts.
The problem is that wives (or partners. This is 2005, after all) have yet to define work clothes except as anything you are not wearing when they come across you mowing the lawn or crawling under the car.
“Oh,” they say, in the voice that’s reserved for the cat when it’s pee-ed on the sofa, “aren’t you going to wear your work clothes?”
“But I am wearing my work clothes!”
“Really! I thought you might wear that shirt when we go to the movies tonight. I rather like it.”
“But it’s ancient!”
If we threw things out just because they’re ancient you’d have been gone years ago.”
“What should I wear, then?”
“Oh, I don’t mind. But don’t blame me when you want to go out and everything’s ripped or covered in oil.”
I have clothes from St Vinnies that I am not allowed to wear to empty the grease trap. Or to put it another way: I am allowed to wear them, but only if I want the salad in the oven, the dessert in the dog and my wife in flannelette pyjamas that can only be accessed with a password.
She has very strong views on what I shouldn’t wear but is absolutely no help at all on what I should wear!
I have stood her in front of the wardrobe — dammit, I’ve stood her in front of the ragbox — and said: “For the love of heaven, woman, tell me what I should be wearing to plant the lettuces!”
She sniffed and said; “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re not a child. Surely you’re capable of making a simple decision?”
So I did. And on the way out through the kitchen she said: “Where are you going in those?”
“To plant the lettuces?”
Like most laws, though, there are anomalies. When your spirit is broken and the only way of escaping criticism is to wear the jeans that were eaten by battery acid two years ago and have been doubling as a rat’s nest in a workshop drawer ever since, the conversation will be different.
Where are you going?”
“To paint the front gate. Why?”
“What’s wrong with them? I thought you’d approve.”
“But some of our neighbours have children.”
And you shuffle off to change.
You can learn to live with it so long as you can accept that other universal truth that says There Are No Answers.
Meditation helps. And there’s an ancient Buddhist saying you can chant that offers some comfort. It goes: “If a man speaks in the forest, and there are no women there to hear him, is he still wrong?”