x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Why do men turn into slobs when their wives are away?

Without a woman around the house, it doesn't take long for a husband to revert to his bachelor ways.

"Every society is always just three hot meals away from revolution."

This maxim, variously attributed to a long list of philosophers, is habitually trotted out by political commentators whenever they wish to demonstrate just how thin is the veneer of civilisation.

Well, a mate of mine has come up with a neat domestic twist on this theme. He avers that if left alone, "within three days all men naturally return to a state of bachelorhood".

His bleak prognosis is backed up by a recent report that suggests that even in this enlightened age, women still do the lion's share of the housework in any marriage, despite going out to work themselves in increasing numbers.

Moreover, many men admitted in the survey that they participate in domestic chores simply to maintain marital harmony, rather than because they consider such tasks to be beneficial.

Goodness knows my wife would need no convincing of this gender inequality. Having spent the best years of her life coaxing me out from the primordial swamps of my squalid domestic habits into the sunlit uplands of shiny sinks and polished surfaces, she is only too aware how fragile my enlightenment is.

Under her tutelage I have indeed (albeit reluctantly) become a thoroughly modern man. I've learnt to operate the vacuum cleaner, to hand-wash the odd sweater, and on rare occasions I've even been spotted taking the rubbish out without requiring a standing ovation.

But this week my wife went to see friends in Scotland, a trip that meant she had to leave me in sole charge of the house for a full five days, more than enough time to put my friend's theory to the test.

"If I come home and find this place a tip …" were my wife's parting words. The consequence of any fall from grace was left dangling, but I had little doubt it would be severe. "Hell hath no fury like a woman left to unload the dishwasher," as the saying goes.

At first, my friend's breezy notion about biological stereotypes seemed likely to be confounded. I made the bed promptly every morning, popped garments into the laundry basket rather than leaving them on the floor, and even made my evening meals from fresh ingredients, and with a keen eye for nutritional value.

It was on the evening of day three, just as I thought I was home and dry, that things started to go badly wrong. A couple of mates who'd heard I was alone called round to see if I needed company. Their visit coincided with the World Cup football qualifier between England and Macedonia, live on television.

The match was starting, we were hungry, and it seemed stupid to start cooking a full meal. "Why don't we order a pizza?" I said.

Order a pizza. Three little words I hadn't uttered for many years. They sounded good, especially when I realised it would be hand-delivered, without me even lifting a finger.

Still, I told myself, a certain protocol must be observed. There was no need to revert to savagery.

"Where are you going?" asked one of my mates as I rose from the sofa. "To warm some plates," I explained. "No need," he said, "we'll eat it with our fingers straight out of the box."

The dam had been breached. The next morning I found myself in the hall loading discarded sections of oily cardboard into bin bags and cleaning tomato stains off the upholstery where one of us (possibly me) had wiped his fingers.

It had taken a mere 72 hours for all my wife's good work to unravel, just as my friend had predicted.

Sure enough, within a couple of days I was wearing an old rugby shirt and boxer shorts, watching episodes of the TV series Breaking Bad back-to-back while eating cold baked beans straight from the tin.

At least I think it was only back-to-back episodes, as I fell asleep and woke up at some ungodly hour to discover the screen blank and the lights still blazing. At least I didn't have to mess up the duvet when I climbed into bed, as it was still unmade from that morning.

Fortunately, by hiring a cleaner for a couple of hours on the day of my wife's return I was able to restore our little corner of heaven to its pristine state.

With marital meltdown successfully averted, I can look her squarely in the eye once more, and proudly proclaim my domestic credentials: clean, conscientious and inordinately house-proud - until the next time she goes away, that is.

 

Michael Simkins is an actor and writer based in London