Marriage And The Secret To A Good Rake

English: A pink metal leaf rake; apparently a ...
English: A pink metal leaf rake; apparently a smaller variant of this classic gardening hand tool, commonly used for raking between plants (or by children as a toy rake) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


‘I’ve been raking all my life,’ was the old man’s pathetic justification as we fought physically, tooth and nail,  over the garden rake last Saturday.

Selling your house can do that. It has the power to trigger marital warfare and make a couple regress back to the behaviour of two toddlers in a ballpark.

Selling your house is apparently one of the most stressful events in marriage; or even life.

We’d been calling it ‘teamwork’, before last Saturday.

For in the relentless pursuit to make our house look as appealing as those properties in makeover shows at our weekly open for inspections, we spend EVERY WEEKEND fluffing and titifying. Last Saturday, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and for a moment we forgot that we were the A team.

The ‘straw’ was probably the rain, but then again it might equally have been the hangover.

Then there were the leaves.

It has rained every weekend since the house went on the market, (in spite of reaching the high twenties Monday to Friday), so getting up at 7am to drive the hour to the old house to ‘fluff’, is not really the best start to the weekend.

The old man is certainly no Jamie Durie and I don’t have the brown-nosing ability to be his Assistant. (The Definition of Lazy)

Even so, generally we’re a good team on these trips, quickly slotting into our house and gardening responsibilities as soon as we get there. We share the raking and leaf collection and the old man cleans the pool while I beautify the interiors; removing any tell-tale signs of mould, cockroaches and rising damp. We work together like one of those go-getting teams off The Block, perhaps a bit older, a little slower, unarguably less enthusiastic and certainly more intolerant of each other.

Deadlines are never good for stress.

Of course, if the house wasn’t located in its own Arctic micro-climate and wind tunnel, I think that our weekly makeover would be a breeze. But the combination of special climactic conditions, and the forest of deciduous trees that inhabit both gardens, creates more raking than Fall in Central Park.

The leaves have been a key factor in our decision to sell the house. We have spent more money on upgrading leaf blowers than all the renovations put together and there have been several occasions in our local DIY store where I have had to tell the old man to, ‘PUT THE ELECTRIC SAW AND NIGHT GOGGLES DOWN, NOW!’. If you illegally cut a tree down in our area, you can be fined up to $20,000. At times, we have considered that the crime might actually be worth the fine.

So what bought about that little outburst this morning? Why did the old man finally reach his ‘leaf’ tipping point?

Rain affects the old man.

This is a man who has moved half way around the world in search of sunshine, and spends Monday to Friday in a constricting suit and air conditioning.

So when we arrived at the ‘property from hell’ to be greeted by a bed of leaves the height of Kilimanjaro AND it was pissing down, the ‘team’ floundered. There were so many f*cking leaves, you couldn’t see the lawn, let alone the intricate sandstone landscaping. It was the fallout from yet another freaky cyclonic weather pattern sent down from Zeus up north.

And we were late. And we had a deadline.

The ADHDer had dropped the bombshell on us at breakfast that morning that he was intending to go to his first ‘proper’ (drink and drugs) party that night and I had wasted far too much time trying to convince him not to; resorting to lengthy scaremongering tactics about mixing drinks with his medication, dangerous Sydney suburbs, date rape and loose women. I then spent the hour drive to Armagheddon hyperventilating in the car.

By 10 O’block, the pressure to dress the house in time (and con some poor buyer that by some miraculous trick of nature, our deciduous trees do not shed their leaves), was really on.

It was pouring, and the old man had won the paper, rock, and scissor competition on the way to wear the only raincoat we own. This was no shower either.  Rain was pouring down the back of my trousers via the crack of my ass and seeping into my undies as I raked and collected, raked and collected; while the old man, snug as a bug in his raincoat was farting around with the connections on the hose.

I asked him politely what he was doing. ‘What the f*ck are YOU doing exactly?’ I squealed like a Banshee, as he stood watching me pour my millionth armful of soggy, decaying leaves into the garden bag.

He picked up on my questioning tone, immediately. ‘Why don’t I rake the front?’ he suggested, attempting to dampen my anger, (like I wasn’t damp enough already), while trying to extricate the precious rake out of my red, calloused hands.

He pulled; I pulled.

‘I’M raking,’ I argued, pushing him away. ‘I’m a much better raker than you. You rake the same space over and over again, wasting time. I’m much more accurate than you.’ I went on, realising just how lame and petty I was beginning to sound.

But he persevered childishly, a look of grim determination on his dry face, forcefully trying to prise the rake out of my hands, pulling each of my fingers off the shaft one at a time, while I clamped them back forcefully on the handle even more tightly, refusing to let go.

‘For f*ck’s sake, Lou, just grow up, will  you?’ he dared. ‘LET GO OF THE BLOODY RAKE. (wait for it) You know I’VE been raking my whole life….’

How proud he must be.

I suppose you could call it a seminal moment in our marriage.

The Definition of Lazy

Now I would never classify myself as a lazy person, but when it comes to mundane domestic chores, I will be the first to admit that I always look for ways to cut corners.

Gardening falls into that category, as one of those mind-numbingly dull jobs that leaves me completely cold, and in the past I have tended to allocate that area of the domestic task pane to ‘men who can’, preferably of the hired, toned variety.

In my opinion, my abstinence from wielding potentially dangerous tools or risking the long-term health of my spine is a measure of intelligence, not a characteristic of idleness. And unfortunately, the old man, while being an expert at deciphering the techno gobbledygook of complex spreadsheets, fails to identify the intrinsic difference in functionality between a spade and a  hoe, and so fits into the category of a ‘man who can’t’.

How can I seriously be accused of being ‘lazy’ when the inner sanctum of our home makes this year’s House and Garden Best Home look like an African shanty house? You see, like most people I can focus my energies on activities that capture my interest, and I am absolutely anal about every aesthetic detail of the interior of my house, where even the dog is ‘antique white’.

Every accessory in my living area, for example, has a design purpose; nothing has simply been ‘put’ there and each creative element addresses a specific visual requirement. (Which is why gifts from friends invariably end up in the local op shop or are re-gifted).

Dirty dishes may pile up in the sink and washing often erupts from the laundry basket, but if a cushion errs a centimetre out of place on the sofa, I reach for the Valium. Two of the most memorably stressful occasions of my life involved losing decorative control in our home: the first, when my son decided to paint his room a colour that simply did not exist on the Dulux ‘whites’ chart, and the second, when the family decided to take control of decorating the Christmas tree.

But whereas, I could probably forge a career out of the interior decoration of my own home, when it comes to the challenges of garden maintenance, I am completely indifferent.

That’s not to say that I am a complete backyard philistine. I’m happy to be the ‘architect’ of a Jamie Durie style landscape, but I won’t get my hands muddy to achieve it. Aside from the obvious health reasons associated with gardening, and I have done several risk assessments, there is always the peril of that chance encounter with a rogue earthworm or slug which somehow always manage to burrow their way through my protective clothing, no matter how many layers I put on.

Interiors, au contraire, are for the sophisticate. There are a myriad of subliminal pleasures associated with the infusion of subtle light to a space, or a crushed silk cushion strategically placed on a vintage sofa. ‘Decorating’ is like a drug to me and no other stimulant affords me the same fix. I get a high from rummaging around flea markets and antique treasure troves in search of that perfect piece and if I spot ‘perfection’ amid the jumble, I have to remind myself to breathe. Swathes of decadent fabric, hand-painted wallpapers and any style of cushion excite me like a sugar-deprived toddler in a lolly shop. Cushions hold the place in my heart where my children should be. I might have stopped at two children, but my cushions seem to secretly multiply, by some reproductive process akin to binary fission.

Which brings me back to where this all started, when the old man accused me of laziness yesterday.You see, the old man has created this monumental list of tedious tasks for me to ‘achieve’ while I’m ‘between jobs’ to save money, (or in other words, I have become a source of cheap labour). I’ve managed to discount most of the list in my endless pursuit of personal creative fulfilment but painting the back deck held some vague appeal, and so with an uncharacteristically selfless effort (to keep him off my back), I decided to tackle this job first.

The stage was finally set. Overalls, protective eye goggles and a mild enthusiasm were all in place, and I was on the verge of really getting the party started with the sugar soap (!), when I stalled. I suddenly realised that we had forgotten to move these monstrous great plant pots from two corners of the deck, that had no doubt been re-gifted by the previous owners of our house!

Obviously, I did mentally debate how to resolve the problem for what must have been at least three minutes, before coming to the conclusion that even the marital fallout could not be as debilitating as a herniated disk and I proceeded to commit the apparently cardinal DIY faux-pas, of painting around the pots.

And he called me lazy!

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