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Trouble in the kitchen

‘What’ll we have for dinner tonight?’
‘So three or four hours then?’
‘Yeah. Maybe four and a half.’

You have time to catch a movie and wash the dogs, because when this bloke says pasta he means freshly made by him with ten free-range egg yolks, the special Italian flour that costs $15 a packet, and The River Café Cook Book propped open for instructions. It’s the only time men ever willingly read instructions.

Inspired by TV cooking programs, they buy cookbooks that were never meant to leave the top of a coffee table and actually read them. Then they make shopping lists that include squid ink and quinoa, and demand comparative assessments:

‘How’s this one compare with last week’s? Out of ten?’

‘Fabulous, eleven,’ you say, with your mouth full of high-cholesterol gourmet goodies. It’s just as well because you are going to need the energy for the washing up.

We’ve been washing up by hand since the old Vulcan retired hurt. Once having had a dishwasher, you fall into slothful ways; you have got used to shoving used dishes out of sight in the dishwasher till it’s full, so now you stack them artistically around the sink.
And since having had a dishwasher meant that you tended to have more crockery on the go, you don’t do the sensible thing and retire the second set of dishes. You have acquired enough plates and cups for a boarding school and they all get used. You stack them ever higher and quarrel about whose turn it is to do them.

‘How does it get like this so damn quickly?’ I snarl, chipping more enamel off the French casserole that my beloved bought me.

‘She’s doing her washing-up rant,’ says my son, who suddenly remembers a pressing engagement.

‘But it’s always me who gets to clean up the results,’ I whine. ‘How come it takes four pans, the food processor and a bloody jaffle iron to make a cup of coffee?’

Then my husband says something reasonable, the swine, and all hell breaks loose.

When your men cook, a simple steak and two veg will require you to scour a mountain of dirty dishes, sticky spatulas, purulent pots, putrid pans, disgusting double-boilers, filthy fish kettles, rotten roasting tins and … hey, come back here, I’m not finished.

There’s a fascinating British makeover program showing on Foxtel at the moment, but soon to come to Australia—How Clean is Your House? Two middle-aged bossy ladies go to people’s houses and transform them. Not like Changing Rooms: the change is far more radical, because some of the subjects make Casa Hughes look positively pristine. Kim and Aggie, the two ladies, are like interfering aunties of the very best type. It’s essentially quite kind-hearted, compared with the ruthless elimination and objectification of people that you see in game-type reality shows.

Perhaps there should be more education in actually running a household. School home economics curricula tend to focus pretty much exclusively on cooking. Do they also teach stuff like how to keep your shower recess free of mould, or give units in defence against dust-mites? Or is that just the province of interfering aunties and garrulous grannies?

I suppose the schools are so strapped right now that we should be grateful that any kids are able to read, let alone get expanded curricula in home eco. Once upon a time, in the ’70s, we educated everyone at taxpayers’ expense because it was thought to be worth it: you know, the clever country. Duh.

These thoughts passed through my mind as I watched a couple of the previews that the ABC sent me recently, Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby and Bromwell High. Along with the very Dennis Potterish Blackpool, they will be occupying my Wednesday nights if I’m not out or doing a mountain of washing up.

Seven Periods is from New Zealand: I was fascinated by the differences in inflection and gesture before I even took in the plot. A struggling school, bottom of the league table, takes on an eccentric, post-military man to teach one of its worst classes. Mr Gormsby is a hoot: grotty, politically incorrect and very funny. It is shot in video on a very low budget in a way that reminds me of old episodes of Young Doctors.

Bromwell High covers similar ground, but in vastly different form: it is a cartoon of a madly dysfunctional school in South London. It abounds in jokes about multiculturalism without being racist. You will enjoy it, as will your blasé teenager.

And although I don’t like the idea of kids watching telly in the morning, at least the new cartoon King Arthur’s Disasters is bright and funny: better than the usual fare, with Rik Mayall voicing Arthur, and the brilliant Matt Lucas as Merlin. It’s essentially a contemporary drama with the Arthur story as an overlay. In the first episode, Princess Guinevere is a modern parent’s nightmare: she is having drumming lessons. She also finagles a deal with Arthur: he will travel to a magic singing oak tree to get her a branch. It’s loud and funny, good holiday stuff.

In the meantime, Happy Holidays, and don’t forget to switch off the telly a lot.

Juliette Hughes is a freelance writer.


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