AIDA AUSTIN: "It has sound effects and everything! You’re first"

UPSTAIRS in bed at 11pm. My husband says he wants to watch episode 3 of The Bridge on my laptop but this would contravene our no-technology-in-bed-rule. 

Besides, I got first dibs on contravention while he was in the shower and am already engrossed in a programme I found in BBC Radio 4 archives.

“Shhh,” I say, “I’m listening to Chore Wars programme on the division of responsiblities within the home in the 21st century. Fascinating.”

He looks at my laptop as if it is the guillotine.

“I’m trying to find the special interactive online Chore Wars calculator,” I say, typing. “Oh good, found it. Here, have a look.”

Now he gives me that guillotine look. So I read aloud: “This calculator enables couples to find out who does what in the house, how much free time each member of the couple has, and how they compare to the rest of the population: is housework a cause of strife for them or are they a paragon of equality and teamwork?’”

He scuttles over to the edge of the bed and flops into his pillows. “Nunnight,” he says.

“Let’s do it now,” I say.

I type our names into the Chore Wars calculator, whereupon my laptop emits kitchen-utensil and bubbling-water noises.

“Oh!” I say, “we’re straight into the first chore category – ‘Cooking.’ It has sound effects and everything! Look, you’re up first – it wants to know how many hours a week you spend cooking.”

“Put ‘8’,” he says, scuttling back and sitting up.

“What?” I shriek. “Who are you? Ottlenghi?”

And the game is on.

He takes the laptop and clicks ‘6’ into his ‘Cooking’ answer-box. “And that’s a conservative estimate,” he says decisively.

“Look,” I point, “you have to slide the cursor up towards the smiley face emoticon or down towards the grumpy one, according to how much you like the task, and then click.”

“Ok,” he says. “I’m going to give it a smiley face [click]. Now. Your turn. How many hours a week do you spend cooking? Well that [click] would be a ‘1.’”

“Give. Me. My. Laptop,” I say, whisking it back onto my lap. We’ll be doing our own clicks from now on,” I say, banging ‘3’ into my answer box, “not each other’s. I’m giving cooking [click] a grumpy face,” I say, and quickly press ‘Continue.’

When the sound of vacuum-cleaning fills the bedroom, heralding the arrival of the ‘Cleaning,’ category, I’m thrilled; after robust negotiations, he scores himself a “1,” and I give myself a martyred air and an ‘8.’

Next up is ‘Laundry,’ which he dispatches quickly, quite as if it doesn’t count.

With the same bored expression he gets when hanging out the sheets, he clicks himself a ‘1,’ which he’s forced to amend to ‘30 minutes’ and I click myself a solid ‘4.’

We score evenly on ‘D.I.Y’ and now I begin to enjoy myself.

“The ‘Childcare’ category must be coming up soon,” I say, “and what with me being a full-time...”

Unfortunately, I’m interrupted by a voice which keeps repeating, “you are 949th in the queue,” and then something about “being put on hold.”

“What on earth is that about?” I ask.

“ADMIN!” he shouts triumphantly, fist-pumping the air, “but you wouldn’t know anything about being put on hold, 949th in the queue, while some dimwit insurance company tries to connect you.”

And quick as a whippet, he bangs a ‘5’ into his Admin answer-box, with a grumpy-face emoticon and then a ‘0’ straight into mine.

“And a nice smiley-face for you,” he says, sliding the cursor up speedily, “I mean I’d have a smiley face if I didn’t have to do all the bloody admin.”

The atmosphere gets a bit icy in ‘Grocery Shopping,’ and ‘Paid Work,’ but even icier in ‘Childcare,’ when my husband insists that my score “must reflect the current child-care situation, ie an empty nest.”This results in my refusal to engage in any further calculations until he agrees to find a way to factor 28 years of full-time childcare into my score. Or else, I say, the game is off.

Finally, Chore Wars calculations are complete and the guillotine is about to descend; in order to discover whether “housework is a cause of strife” or if we are instead, “a paragon of equality and teamwork,” all we have to do now is wait for ten seconds.

After five, my husband says, “I think it might be strife. What do you think?”

After eight, I say, “I think we should have watched The Bridge.”


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