She Who Must Be Obeyed (as John Mortimer’s character, Rumpole of the Bailey would have called his best beloved) is away in Venice for four nights with our daughter; a trip made possible by cheap fares with Aer Lingus and being able to rent a room in a city centre convent (and the odd holiday dates of our children’s school).
This expedition, which demanded great planning and preparation and the reading of numerous novels (my suggestion of Death in Venice wasn’t well received) has left the house strangely quiet. There are no newspapers lying around because none have been bought; the house is very tidy because only a couple of rooms are being used; there are no shoes in the hallway because not everyone feels the need to wear more than one pair of shoes in the day. In fact, there is a rather soulless quality about the place.
It made me reflect on student days in halls of residence. Girls’ rooms were usually full of life and colour and comfort, they would have posters and pot plants and fancy lights. Boys’ rooms, where it was safe to enter at all, tended to be stark and bare and functional. The generalisation didn’t always apply, I remember a guy at Sussex who had a wine rack and cheese plants and Athena posters in his room. (I wondered in later years if the fact that he was gay made a difference to his attitude to his living space, gay people I know always seem to have a strong sense of aesthetics).
Anyway, herself and the daughter are away and everything is being done in a very functional way. I realized this evening that I had simply put knives and forks on the dinner plates instead of setting the dinner table as usually happens. It is the small things that make a difference, that turn a house into a home.
Women are a distinctly civilizing influence. When the Lord says in the book of Genesis that it is not good for a man to be alone, I think he knew how soulless we could become left to our own devices.