It’s Valentine’s Day. I am gazing at a picture of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex sitting on a lawn somewhere. Shoeless. Sockless. I am confused. Should the Royal family go barefoot in the park?
‘Megan and Harry have been at it again,’ I say to my wife.
‘She’s having a baby. It’s all over the papers.’
My wife is wearing a knitted beanie in bed
I pass my laptop to my wife, who’s sitting next to me in bed, wearing a knitted beanie, the colour of a pale raspberry. She puts aside the cup of tea she’s been staring at blankly and turns to the picture of Megan lying on Harry’s lap in a park somewhere. Seeing the picture, she starts to smile.
‘Oh, sweet aren’t they.’
I’m not so sure. Something Republican inside me starts to revolt.
‘Why isn’t he wearing shoes. Should the Royal family go barefoot in the park?’
‘This picture is putting a smile on the face of half the planet and all you can do is criticize them for not wearing shoes?’
‘Standards matter especially if you’re a member of the Royal family. I think he’s been ill-advised to go barefoot on a photo-shoot on a lawn like that. Look at that grass it’s sharp as needles. He might have cut his feet on the photo-shoot.’
A Royal rant?
‘You’re not going to go off on one of your Royal rants, are you?’ says my wife, the smile slipping from her face.
My daughter walks into our bedroom.
‘Just discussing the symbolism of this picture of the bare foot Duke and Duchess of Sussex,’ says my wife.
‘Awful, isn’t it.’
A little sly smile creeps on my face.
‘How do you mean, darling?’ I ask.
‘Oh, you know. The paternalistic symbolism: the pregnant woman swooning on her manly Royal knight. The weak woman gazing adoringly up at the man. His patronising ruffle of her hair like she’s a pet pussycat.’
‘Good analysis,’ I say.
‘And what about all the subliminal Christian symbolism? Two innocent lovers alone in a lush landscape of palms and long grass. It’s clearly a reference to a prelapsarian Eden in which Megan represents Eve and Harry is Adam.’
Are Harry and Megan, Adam and Eve?
I am not sure what prelapsarian means. But I’m very happy to have her support for my irrational irritation.
‘I noticed the long grass, too,’ I say.
‘I agree. The picture is totally heteronormative,’ says my son chipping in from the doorway.
‘I preferred her back in the day when she wrote articles attacking Trump,’ says my daughter.
‘Enough. I preferred it when you two younger and less critical,’ says my wife. ‘Time for a nice family Valentine’s Day breakfast.’
‘I’ve already put some croissants in the oven,’ says my son. The look on his face suggests he should be awarded the Croix de Guerre.
After breakfast, we agree the house is a tip. All over the house, there are cardboard boxes stacked inside other cardboard boxes, like Russian dolls. Some are filled with household rubbish, others with newspapers.
We are entombed in our own rubbish
Shoes are scattered throughout the house, there are piles clothing in empty rooms, as if people have spontaneously combusted leaving their socks and shirts and underwear behind. There are four crates of empty beer bottles in the kitchen and, in the hallway, an electric piano, two golf clubs, four cardboard boxes of household rubbish and Lilly Allen’s autobiography. Fliers have coagulated at the foot of the letterbox like dry spetum. Getting to the front door without stepping over something is nearly impossible.
‘We’re entombed,’ I say as we survey the task ahead of us.
‘Lockdown has turned us into hoarders,’ says my son.
‘We’ve got sloppy,’ says my wife.
‘We’re facing a major health and safety issue,’ says daughter.
House cleaning on Valentine’s Day is great fun
We all agree that in a perfect world we wouldn’t want to clean the house on Valentine’s Day. It’s not romantic or fun. But this is an emergency. My wife quickly puts together a plan and assigns us tasks.
I am as fluffed as a randy peacock with the task she has assigned me, which is to get all the cardboard boxes around the house downstairs in the shortest time possible. Instead of carrying them downstairs. I drop kick them down the staircase and shout ‘goal’ every time one drops onto the landing below. Eventually the hallway is full of boxes, which my son breaks up and stacks outside near the bins.
Three strenuous hours later, we reconvene for a coffee break in the kitchen.
‘You should be proud of yourselves,’ says my wife.
‘We couldn’t have done it without you, boss,’ I say, imagining I’m still playing footie and my manager is giving me a half time peep talk.
Everyone turns away from me and looks at the floor. After a short while, my daughter breaks the silence and says: ‘It smells better in here.’
‘We must have been nose blind for a while,’ says my son.
‘We’ve all earned our Valentine’s Dinner Day treat,’ says my wife.
Valentine Day’s dinner is on its way
Our Valentine Day’s treat is a slap-up dinner made by a local chef. The food is due for delivery in a few hours. My spirits lift and I start to recite the dishes on the menu, like a Gregorian chant.
‘Truffled beef tartare with brioche cubes.’
The family join in.
‘Tempura vegetables with chimichurri sauce and saffron ailoi,’ says my son.
‘Halibut fillets with a champagne sauce,’ says my daughter.
‘Passion fruit cheesecake,’ says my wife.
We all laugh.
‘We’ve had some great Valentine’s dinners over the years, haven’t we?’ I say looking at my wife.
‘Oh yes,’ replies my wife.
‘Any favourites?’ I ask.
‘Well, there was the one when you fainted into your bowl of stilton soup.’
‘Messy,’ I say.
‘And do you remember that restaurant where the dining tables were off the ground and built onto the wall like a bird’s nest?
‘Yes,’ I say.
One Valentine I spent in A&E
‘You had to climb a ladder to get to your table. But you fell off the ladder and we had to go to A&E instead?’
‘Those were the days,’ I say.
‘But my all-time favourite was when you set fire to me with the fondue set.’
‘The burner for the fondue exploded like a cannon didn’t it?’ I say, smiling.
‘Yes. And shot flames across the table.’
‘Which burnt your eyebrows off.’
‘And my fringe.’
‘And the tablecloth and carpet caught light,’ I sigh.
I look out into the garden. There are three circles of purple crocuses blooming in the cold ground. The rain has stopped. Harry and Megan are having a baby. Dinner is on its way and the fondue set is out of harm’s way in the basement. Things are looking up.
This article first appeared in the Chiswick Calender.