Down and Out in London
Don’t say I don’t look after you – says the woman who threw me out of my house
I am reading Kingsley Amis's Memoirs, a guilty pleasure, for it is not a book I am meant to be reviewing or using for other research, except in the most point-stretching, roundabout way. A highly amusing read, and pretty much the only thing today that is capable of distracting me from the imminent demise of Big Brother and the awful, mind-boggling news - the second most popular story on the BBC website - that Charlotte Church had "painful hips" during her second pregnancy. (I'll get to the most popular story later.)
Amis's book is gossipy, if not quite gossipy enough. But it has some splendid moments. One of my favourites is a remark made by Robert Conquest to his wife, Tatiana, overheard by Amis and his wife as they were being given a lift. Tatiana had apparently been "rabbiting on" a bit, so after a while Robert remarked "in a calm, not at all unfriendly tone": "Darling, of course I have no control over what enters your silly head, but I do
wish you'd keep your pissy little comments to yourself."
Harsh, but I can't help thinking that this is a formula or locution that might have served me well in years gone by. Well, it probably wouldn't have helped, as such, but it would certainly have amused me, however counterproductive the amusement might have been. It is, however, too long to bother putting in a text message, which is a bit of a shame, because it might well have done as a reply to the latest one received from the estranged wife, which runs: "I've put the porn video in the box of stuff for you to take away. Don't say I don't look after you."
At which point I ask myself: porn video? Does she mean porn DVD? If the former, does she mean the one that is about as arousing as a column by Boris Johnson? (It's the only one I can think of.) If the latter, is it the similarly anaphrodisiac one that came with a bongo mag, bought, Lord knows how many years ago, on some drunken whim?
That I have managed to live without this indecent item for over two years now does not seem to be relevant to her, but it is. What bothers me really, though, is the line: "Don't say I don't look after you."
At first I indignantly think that throwing someone out of their own home does not strictly fall into the category of what is commonly understood by the term "looking after". But then again . . . well, it has to be said that, as a direct result of being thrown out of the family home, I have put on weight, laughed more, been laid more, found True Love, and done more work.
True, I have not got round to doing any accounts for a while, and in fact all paperwork is as mysterious as a black hole as far as I am concerned, but at least I am not being abused as my friend N- was by his wife. The most spectacular occasion was when she threw a Le Creuset pan at
his head and then - this, I grant, shows a certain amount of style - tried to claim for a new one on the warranty when the handle snapped off as it hit the floor.
(The French, as it turns out, are wise to marital kitchenware damage - see rather a lot of it, I'd imagine - and politely told her not to bother them again in future.)
Which brings me to the top news story on the BBC website - that one in five teenage boys has suffered violence at the hands of his girlfriend, and one in four teenage girls has suffered violence at the hands of her boyfriend. It's not only that these statistics are appalling in themselves, it's that the degree of female-on-male violence is approaching parity with its obverse. I remember the old folk verse "A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree/The
more ye beat them, the better they be". But is there now some contemporary version doing the rounds which suggests that boys could do with a good thump every now and then? For a man to hit a woman is inexcusable. But for a woman to hit a man can, under certain circumstances, contain the possibility of comedy.
It is not a laughing matter, of course. Although I always assumed this was something that was to be expected in marriage, as when Andy Capp would come back sozzled from the pub to find Flo standing in the doorway, waiting to brain him with her rolling pin. Would that be counted as"abuse"? Would Robert Conquest's snapping at his wife count as the same? And how do relationships degrade to the point where such behaviour becomes part of the routine? Is it only about prolonged, close contact?
Perhaps now that Big Brother is going off the air, we can have a successor: we put a man and a woman in the same house, and see how long it is before they start braining each other with frying pans. It will be called Marriage.
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