AIDA AUSTIN: The odds for mutual parental enjoyment are not looking good

11am, London.
Yesterday, it was my eldest son’s task to find entertainment for his parents.

His effort produced much discussion, many “I dunnos” and encouraging results: to our list of shared interests — under ‘walking’ and ‘eating’ — my husband’s added a third: ‘All Musicals’ which I’ve crossed out and replaced with ‘Just Kinky Boots’.

But we both agree it’s a start.

Today, this task has fallen to my younger son. Right now, we’re on the overground, heading towards the Geffrye Museum, Hoxton.

“I dunno if it’s up your street Dad,” my son says, “it’s all about the history of London homes or something. It’ll be up Mum’s though.”

“I’m game for anything,” my husband says but glancing at him, I consider that if you were to paint his portrait right now, you’d have to call it ‘Crestfallen’.

“But,” my son adds, “there’s a really good Thai restaurant round the corner for after, Dad.”

And it’s lucky my son is looking at my husband for if you were to paint my portrait now you’d call it, ‘Woman Who Hates Fish Sauce’ or else ‘Dismay’.

“Put ‘Thai’ at the end of any sentence and Dad will be happy,” I reassure my son, “it’s like putting ‘flowers’ at the end of any sentence for me.”

“Boom!” my son says, looking pleased, “it said on Google there’s a flower garden at the museum.”

“Boom!” I say, “flowers!”

“Boom!” my husband says, “I’m always up for a good Phat Thai!”

12pm, and we’re in the entrance lobby of the Geffrye, where we discover that we’re about to embark upon ‘an exploration of domestic service in middle-class homes over the last 400 years, giving a glimpse into a world often overlooked by historians’.

My husband’s goes all crestfallen again: the odds for mutual parental enjoyment are not looking good. At this point, I’d estimate them at 33:1 against.

The odds for my own enjoyment in Room 1, however, are excellent. “Dimity fabric!” I say, examining the contents of a display cabinet, “I’m always hearing about dimity curtains and nightcaps.”

“Who from?” Crestfallen says, “because it’s definitely not from anyone I know.”

“Or anyone I know,” says my son.

“They mention it in 19th century novels,” I say, “and look here, where it says, ‘wives used to direct servants in the washing of dirty linen. And on such days, the master always left the house’.”

“So?” says Crestfallen.

“Well there’s a surprise.”

12.20pm. In Room 2, I might learn about the history of a 19th century column-dance called the Gavotte but instead, learn all about a TV programme my son is describing very loudly to Crestfallen, in which a bunch of ‘mad feckers’ tried to make a levitation machine out of vacuum cleaners, which was ‘class’.

1pm. I lost Crestfallen and son 10 minutes ago. I fear they must have left and are discussing levitation machines far away from dimity.

1.05pm. I’ve found them. I just followed the sound of a commotion, which reverberated along the corridors all the way up from Room 4.

My husband is no longer crestfallen.

“Listen to this,” he says, holding out a phone, “it’s all about the 16th century wife.”

“Seriously, Mum,” my son says, “it’s really interesting.”

I take the phone from my husband.

“Recording of a writer called Gervase Markham,” he says, “listen up.”

I listen. Markham informs me that ‘the English housewife must above all things be of upright and sincere religion, giving by her example an incitement to all her family to pursue the same steps’.

“Keep listening,” my husband says.

“Till when?” I say, holding the phone away from my ear, “I’ve heard enough.”

“It gets better,” he says.

Markham instructs me that ‘the English housewife must have great modesty and temperance in her behaviour and carriage to her husband, seeking not to direct but only be directed by her husband, appearing ever under him, pleasant, amiable and delightful’.

“Have you got to the garments bit yet?” my husband says, leaning forward and snapping my bra strap, “that they must be must be comely, cleanly and strong, and above all else, of modest nature.”

He snaps my bra strap again.

“Your bra’s showing,” he says, “that’ll never do.”

“For Christ’s sake...”

“No, no,” he interrupts, “that’s quite enough back-talk. Remember, “you have to be wise in discourse but not frequent therein,” or haven’t you got to that bit yet? Now give me the phone and let’s go. All that laughing has really got my appetite up.”


“Follow me,” he orders, “and remember, when we get to the Thai — amiable and delightful.”


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