ACCORDING to Greek legend, King Sisyphus upset the gods so much, he was sentenced to a fate worse than death. His punishment was to heave a huge and heavy boulder all the way up a steep hill, and get it to the top, only to be forced to watch it roll back down. Then he had to turn around and start from the bottom again. And again. For all eternity.
Some of us know how Sisyphus must feel, especially when we start a grindingly boring household task, knowing full well that as soon as we think we’re finished, the whole, grim trial will inevitably start all over again. However, Kirstie Allsopp would probably envy him.
Television presenter Kirstie likes her chores. In fact, she loves them. “I’m absolutely convinced that those repetitive tasks that one does every day, organising and regularising one’s home, and keeping it tidy, are enormously therapeutic,” she trilled to an interviewer last week. “I’m not doing the ironing because I have to, but if I get a chance, I find it immensely therapeutic.”
Right. Got it. Drudgery therapy. Enormously and immensely good for one. I’ll remember that next time I’m faced with 8,000 socks to wash, dry and sort. In fact, why don’t I really push the boat out and iron them as well, for the full-fat, 24-carat Sisyphean experience?
OK, that sounded peevish, but unlike some of the many women Kristie has annoyed, I do understand what she’s getting at. A clean, well-kept house is a joy to behold. Ironed clothes look and feel good. I’m not disputing any of this. However, her argument falters a tad when she says: “I’m not doing the ironing because I have to.” Because if you’re doing ironing when you don’t have to, you are certifiably insane.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to create a little domestic bliss. Taking refuge in some mundane work, to free up a tired and cluttered brain, is also totally understandable and I think that this is what Kirstie really means. Unfortunately, by likening what most of us would vote the worst household slog of all to a refreshing break from the norm, she comes over like Marie Antoinette on her play-farm, pretending to be a shepherdess, but without having too much contact with any actual sheep.
She has a point; all she’s forgetting is the element of choice. What makes her enjoy these crushingly dull chores so much is the fact that she doesn’t have to do them. She’s choosing to do them.
On the occasions when she doesn’t “get a chance”, she can afford to employ someone else to do them for her, and that is where she parts company with poor old Sisyphus, and also every woman of my acquaintance.
Take away choice and almost any task turns into toil. Perhaps with the sole exception of knitting, any repetitive action will eventually come to represent a living hell. When you go to zoos and animal parks, you sometimes see creatures pacing up and down, always taking the same path, backwards and forwards. This kind of behaviour is often stress-related.
Now think of an ordinary woman, who has never presented a television programme, embattled behind her ironing board, forever passing the iron backwards and forwards, never escaping the monotony of that same path, back and forth, back and forth.
I challenge anybody to go up to such a female, while she is wielding a large lump of boiling-hot metal, and declare: “How immensely therapeutic!”
I suppose the one good thing about ironing is that you can do it while watching television, but that’s all I can think of to say in its favour. Then again, if Kirstie fancies a little extra therapy, I’ll happily put my feet up and indulge in some channel-hopping, while she does the job for me.
Failing that, perhaps the best I can do is give her some sisterly advice. Remember, if you ever meet someone who has been pushing a mighty boulder up a mountain since what feels like the beginning of time, you should probably think twice before saying: “I like to do a bit of weightlifting myself. Really tones the upper arms, doesn’t it?” Or you might not like where he sticks his rock.