A Room of One’s Own

Personally, I blame Master Chef. It’s not Mistress Chef which could be a whole other kind of show, but it means that blokes have reclaimed the kitchen – which I’m all in favour of if it didn’t mean that one of the last bastions of female territory has been well and truly stormed. There was a time when women could retreat to the kitchen and know – that no matter how badly they cooked the blokes would never follow them in there. I still have memories of Mum’s one trip away when we were kids and Dad throwing a tanty over how useless the Edmond’s cook book was. There was a lot of impotent drawer slamming and general recipe book throwing. Turned out that he was looking for the instructions to boil an egg. Seriously. Even at the age of 10 I realised that this was a set routine of learned and carefully contrived moronism designed to prevent the need to ever actually get any culinary skills, therefore allowing the abdication of any responsibility for having to make a meal. I was an excellent student and applied the same technique to ironing; carefully ironing enormous singe marks into every shirt the signifying other threw at me to iron the first week we lived together. Following ridiculous amounts of shouting, he extracted a promise from moi that I would never get within a 10 mile radius of his clothing with an iron ever again. Job done.

At one point in our feminine history – I remember that kitchens were where women retreated when the social territory got rough or some kind of coup needed to be discussed with the other women in the household. Tierra sagrada. Not now. Gen X and Y blokes are very handy in the kitchen and have now infiltrated the ranks to bring such things as blow torches into the culinary toolbox to deal to the crème whatsit. Whose grandma ever had a blow torch sitting alongside the rolling pin? The real problem is that there is no realm of the feminine left in the modern house which is a no go zone for the blokes. In Argentina I befriended a group of women in their fifties who owned small ‘campos’ high up in the hills of Cordoba. They were relatively wealthy business women who had bought these farmlets with their stone huts and streams and all kinds of fauna as ‘business investments.’ The only trouble was that you could only get to them on horse back and the ride was at least eight hours. Only what you could fit in a saddle bag could be carried up there. One night, after an excellent bottle or two of red, I asked what had possessed them to buy these beautiful if completely marginal farms which they then seemed to plough money into with no obvious return and to which none of their husbands could ever visit, loathing as they all did, the horse trek to get there. ‘Just say the last sentence again.’ One of them said, flippantly. And it dawned on me. These were no ‘business investments’ these were metaphorical fishing boats and we were on the equivalent of a boys fishing trip. So smart. Men get sheds where they can go and pretend to tinker with random bits of unidentifiable stuff for the simple reason that no woman will ever bother to bother them at it but I’m wondering what the Kiwi female’s version of the shed could be now? I had a brief Virginia Woolf moment at one stage in a futile bid for a room of my own. I set up a study complete with interesting beach flotsam and some fetching tapa cloth. The dog ate the seahorse and the tapa cloth and the entire family moved into the study so that they could contribute (loudly) to what I was working on. Serious boundary issues. I’m thinking of setting up a business for frazzled women who need time out – small studio space in cabins in the territory between North and South Korea flanked on both sides by nuclear weapons. Serious no man’s land.

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