Thursday, 7 February 2013

Domestic bliss?

Call me domestic?
A few days ago, my ‘common-law sister-in-law’ (to channel her late father; my late father-in-law) noted that she found it strange, reading this blog, to see how enthusiastic I am about cooking.

Having met me when I’ve been in South Africa with The Other Half, she had trouble equating that me with what she thought was a rather more domestic me

‘Domestic?’ I thought, horrified. The mere word appalls.

I am not about to join the WI and make marmalade!


Well, I won’t be joining the WI at any rate.

But why such horror at a mere word? Or to be more precise, what is it that the word ‘domestic’ conveys that would be so horrifying?

A big part of the problem is simply that people seem to consider that ‘domestic’ is somehow the opposite of an individual with independent views, ready to stand toe-to-toe (metaphorically at least) in a debate with a bunch of blokes in a very sexist society, all the while, quaffing beer and wearing a football shirt.

Now I know that Michelle will recognise that particular scenario. And thank goodness she was there that night, because all the other women present were playing a game of sitting around a table, away from the men, drinking nothing, refusing to engage in conversation and looking totally pissed off at the same time.

The Other Half was guest of honour at a braai arranged by some of his old schoolfriends.

From my point of view, it was downright surreal.

But remembering that evening, I can start to see why Michelle finds my passion for cooking to be at odds with the stroppy, gobby bird she saw at times like that.

Because being ‘domestic’ was what those women did, out of duty and cultural circumstance.

However, it’s utterly true that I love cooking – I even love shopping for food. Indeed, the more I get into cooking, the less I mind washing up. Now don’t worry, I’m not saying I actually enjoy it, just that I see it as part of something bigger.

These days, I’m getting almost as passionate about gardening, and given my love of my cats, I have clearly sunk into slightly dotty, domesticated middle age.

But this is still the woman who also loves football and considers Manchester City to be one of the very few tribes that she willing says she’s part of – indeed, losing her voice completely for two days after the biggest scream of her life when they won the title last May.

It’s the same woman who can be elated by listening to Beethoven or Bach or Wagner; who is intrigued by philosophy, who adores the wit of Austen and Wilde, who loves musical theatre (but NOT Andrew Lloyd Webber – I said I loved musicals, right?).

I can be uplifted and inspired by the work of Thomas Mann, and I remain fascinated by history – most particularly, that involving Prussia. After all, The Other Half doesn’t call me “a romantic Prussian’ for nowt. And I warn you, there’ll be more about this in the coming months.

I paint military miniatures and take photographs of architecture (old and modern) and candid snaps of people on the street, and yes, I even do needlepoint.

Does all that represent domesticity? Well, I doubt it.

The key, perhaps – well, in part at least – is the name of this blog.

If voluptuousness has a manifesto, what does that manifesto have to say?

Well, occasional bouts of seriousness aside, live life voluptuously – to the full.

And for me at least, food is a part of that. It is a sensual, earthy experience. There’s a reason that Puritans and their ilk warn against taking ‘too much’ pleasure in food.

As my mother would say: ‘We eat to live. We don’t live to eat.’

I don’t live to eat either – I have many things to live for and food is just one – but since you have to eat, why not make the most of it?

The gardening is partly about that eating too: once you’ve discovered just how good a strawberry or a tomato tastes when eaten straight after picking, you want more.

In other words, it’s an enormously sensual experience.

Get your hands into soil; hold a seedling and marvel at the delicate miracle of the life in your hand, and then be straightforwardly phlegmatic about it.

Stroke your cat – or your dog or the missus, if that’s what rocks your boat – and try not to wonder at how we can build relationships across species. And you didn’t think that the difference between Venus and Mars is a difference between species?

Look at the sky on a clear, crisp night, when Orion sparkles above and you can even see, with a small glass, the hint of the nebula, and tell me, in all seriousness, that you do not feel awe, and that that too does not have a voluptuousness to it; a sensuality, an almost erotic charge.

The Voluptuous Manifesto was a phrase I came up with as I sloughed off the skin of my personal repression. And while there’s nothing wrong with domesticity per se, it’s most certainly not voluptuous.

Making marmalade may be domestic. Reveling in the aromas, the sight, the very process, is not.

Domestic, I suggest, is diametrically opposed to life, and most certainly the antithesis of a sensual, joyous experience of life.


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