When I started secondary school in the convent by the sea in 1873 (sorry, I mean 1973), the Dominican nuns (a gentler order than my previous educators) divided us young teenagers into two groups. There were the girls who did science and there were the girls who did domestic science. The girls who did science eviscerated frogs and learned about atoms and sperm and infinity and stuff, while we in the domestic science cohort barged full whack into rock buns.
We dom-sci girls also dabbled in a bit of sociology, which was taught to us by the same sweetly sceptical nun who taught us sewing. The only sociology lesson I can remember (learned while we were sewing darts into our reversible waistcoats – you’re not dealing with muck here, mate) was one that instructed us young women not to disagree with our husbands in public.
The sociological advice on offer to our young minds was to wait until later to voice our discontent. We were urged to have our petty disagreements in the car or in the privacy of our own homes, to get nice and comfy in our baby-doll pyjamas and fluffy mules before we told the jumped-up misogynistic little turd to get his fingers out of the hostess’s vol-au-vents and stop shagging interrupting when you were trying to talk about the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the disbanding of the Beatles.
Anyway, suffice it to say that I never did quite get my head around the niceties of the subject, and while I now like to cook (rock buns aside), domestic standards in this house do have a tendency to slip under the mucky carpet.
How opportune, then, that a pal should send me the Homekeeper’s Diary 2023, the latest offering from erstwhile lifestyle guru and five-star hotelier Francis Brennan.
I was thrilled to receive it! Finally, after a further half-century of slumming it round the back of the metaphorical bike sheds, I was going to learn how to make a hospital corner, rotate a cuff and pickle my own kumquats.
In my younger, leaner years, I might have scoffed at a man who wrote with such guileless certainty about the right way to do things and the wrong way to do things. But since then, my eyes have opened
What larks, Pip, I thought as I thumbed through my gift, delighting in the elegant pages devoted to explaining washing symbols and phases of the moon and the precise measurement of a cup of sugar. And who knew the things one can do with a fistful of Epsom salts?
Similarly, I found myself fairly riveted by the instructions for removing nasty odours from the dishwasher. I even tried sprinkling the recommended vinegar-and-baking-soda solution over the TV news channels, to see if it would dispel the overwhelming whiff of sycophancy emanating from various royal correspondents, but all I did was enrage the frisky cat who was waiting to pounce on the plumed horses.
Much as I appreciated Mr Brennan’s patient lesson on how to tell if your oyster is up for being eaten (poke it and see if it retreats from your fingers), I did balk at the suggestion that, as with the bold hotelier, my life might be changed by procuring a darning egg. (Unless, that is, I was to shove it down the craw of anyone who expected me to mend their damn socks.)
Look, in my younger, leaner years, when I rolled into my pit at 3am, waking a few hours later with my eyelashes glued together by cheap mascara, I might have scoffed at a man who wrote with such guileless certainty about the right way to do things and the wrong way to do things. But since then, my eyes have opened.
Some of Brennan’s stories and asides in the diary are really quite moving. Here is a man who used to telephone his mother at 10.30 every night to catch up on the day’s events, a man who writes with utmost sincerity about missing her and their scrupulous shared routines. He now offers to his readers a picture of himself going to bed alone, nice and early, with a dullish book and a milky drink, in order to be his best bright-and-breezy self the next day. And I can quite see him, even in my jaundiced mind’s eye, hopping out of his leaba, already fastidiously suited and booted, to greet the Kenmare sun.
Anyway, I certainly don’t scoff at such rectitude any more. Indeed, the allure of slipping between a pair of Egyptian cotton sheets before the sun goes down sounds, at this juncture, positively rock’n’roll.
The Homekeeper’s Diary 2023, published by Gill Books, is available in bookshops, €15.99