TOM UTLEY: Like Boris Johnson, I’ve found it’s true that a happy wife is a happy life


Tonight I will be sleeping in the spare room — but not for the reason you may think. 

All right, I admit that our marriage, like so many others, has suffered its fair share of strain during all these months we’ve spent under house arrest. 

Indeed, even after 40 years together, we still find new things to irritate each of us about the other almost every day.

Why the hell, for example, can’t Mrs U learn how to lock the dog flap properly, so as to stop Minnie from yapping in the garden at night? I must have explained at least 50 times how to do it.

Boris, even in these early days of his new relationship, gives the appearance of a long-married husband, anxious above all to avoid incurring his beloved’s wrath, for the sake of a quiet life. A bit like me, I suppose

Yet no sooner has she assured me that she’s locked it than the wretched animal leaps through the flap and starts yapping again — forcing me to venture out in my pyjamas to drag her back inside, while the neighbours scowl from their bedroom windows.

As for my own alleged faults, what’s so wrong with the way I ask her where she put my book when she was tidying stuff away? 

Isn’t a chap entitled to know, instead of having to hunt for it, high and low? (And so what if she’s already told me twice where she put it? Am I really supposed to absorb and remember every word she utters?)

As I say, my banishment from our bedroom has nothing to do with the stresses and strains that even the most devoted couples have to endure at a time like this, writes Tom Utley, pictured above

As I say, my banishment from our bedroom has nothing to do with the stresses and strains that even the most devoted couples have to endure at a time like this, writes Tom Utley, pictured above

But as I say, my banishment from our bedroom has nothing to do with the stresses and strains that even the most devoted couples have to endure at a time like this. 

Indeed, my wife plans to join me in the spare room tonight — although she may have second thoughts about that, after she’s read what follows.

No, the reason we won’t be sleeping in our own room is that it’s currently a tip, with the curtains taken down, paint pots everywhere, dust-sheets over all the furniture and plaster drying on the ceiling.

If you want my opinion, there was no need whatsoever to redecorate. But after the first few weeks of lockdown, with nothing better to do than study every wine-stain on the carpet and damp patch on the walls, Mrs U was most insistent that the entire house needed tarting up. At my expense, naturally.

Fateful

I put up a heroic resistance — though we both had an inkling that it would prove futile. Sure enough, I finally whimpered the fateful words uttered by the menfolk of determined women over the centuries. 

They are words, I believe, that hold the key to any hope of a lasting marriage: ‘All right, darling. Whatever you say.’

Oh, how true is the time-honoured adage: happy wife, happy life!

Indeed, is there a husband in the land who didn’t experience just the slightest twinge of fellow-feeling for Boris Johnson over the rumours that he’s been firing his mates and shaping his policies in order to pacify his fiancée, Carrie Symonds?

The difference, of course, is that my surrender to Mrs U is costing a few thousand pounds, which is to come out of my own life savings (farewell, any dreams of retirement!). 

Boris’s rumoured capitulation to Carrie, on the other hand, could end up costing our children and grandchildren trillions, on top of the horrendous bills they face because of Covid — or rather, because of the lockdown.

To be fair, I should stress that I have no inside knowledge of how much truth, if any, lies behind the reports that it was Carrie’s hare-brained idea to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in just under ten years’ time.

Catastrophic

All I will say on that score — apart from observing that the environmental benefits of the scheme announced this week are as questionable as its economic effects promise to be catastrophic — is that although I’ve never met Carrie, I happen to know her father quite well. 

In fact, he was the best man at our wedding 40 years ago, and Mrs U and I have the honour of being godparents to Carrie’s two lovely half-sisters.

My point in raising this is only to highlight that my friend Matthew Symonds, though delightful company, is a man of very strong opinions, forcefully held. As I hope he’ll agree, he doesn’t like to be contradicted.

If Carrie has inherited his characteristics, as some who know her say she has, then I find it all too easy to understand why Boris may be inclined to tell her: ‘Oh, all right, dear. Whatever you say!’

There is also something about the couple’s body language, when they appear on screen together, which makes me suspect the young bride-to-be wields more influence over her intended than is perhaps entirely seemly in a Prime Minister’s unelected consort.

Take the video they made a couple of weeks ago to thank the NHS for everything their doctors and nurses had done for them in pulling Boris through Covid and safely delivering their baby. 

Perhaps I imagined it, but Carrie appeared to interact with her fiancée like an indulgent mother, coaxing her child through his homework — while Boris kept looking at her for encouragement, as if to ask: ‘Am I saying the right thing?’

Indeed, I found their posture and gestures somewhat reminiscent of Meghan’s appearance with Prince Harry, when they sat in their Los Angeles garden and urged the people of America to exercise their votes in the Presidential election and to ‘reject hate speech’ (no, you don’t have to be a professor of cryptology to decode their message: ‘Vote Biden’).

With the best will in the world, I have yet to meet anyone who seriously questions who wears the trousers in the Sussexes’ marriage — and I don’t mean sweet, silly Harry.

But I reckon there’s one clear difference between the two couples. It seems to me that Harry is so smitten by love or lust for his duchess that he has lost the power of independent thought — insofar as he ever had it.

By contrast Boris, even in these early days of his new relationship, gives the appearance of a long-married husband, anxious above all to avoid incurring his beloved’s wrath, for the sake of a quiet life. A bit like me, I suppose.

But then, of course, there’s nothing new about men deferring to their strong-willed womenfolk, over matters both great and small.

Perhaps I imagined it, but Carrie appeared to interact with her fiancée like an indulgent mother, coaxing her child through his homework ¿ while Boris kept looking at her for encouragement, as if to ask: ¿Am I saying the right thing?¿

Perhaps I imagined it, but Carrie appeared to interact with her fiancée like an indulgent mother, coaxing her child through his homework — while Boris kept looking at her for encouragement, as if to ask: ‘Am I saying the right thing?’

As far back as the 17th century, the then-headmaster of my old school, Westminster, felt able to assert: ‘The fathers govern the nation. But the mothers govern the fathers.’ (All right, he went on to claim, more controversially, that the real power in the land lay with himself, because: ‘The boys govern the mothers. And I govern the boys!’ But I reckon that was wishful thinking.)

Go back even further, and you’ll find English literature stuffed with meek husbands of domineering women, from Chaucer and Shakespeare through to P. G. Wodehouse and the present day.

Terror

If Carrie is indeed the real power behind the throne — more powerful, we’re led to believe, than even the mighty Dominic Cummings, whose departure she is said to have brought about — then she stands in a tradition that stretches back to the dawn of recorded time.

As for my own woes, it wasn’t just my terror of uxorial wrath that made me agree to shell out a small fortune on redecorating our semi. No, I also felt this might be a fair consolation prize for Mrs U, since I appeared to have won my battle against her dastardly plan to move us from London to the countryside.

That was until the other day, when I was moaning about the disruption caused by all the painting and plastering.

‘Oh, come on, darling,’ she said. ‘Think how much easier it’ll be to sell the house when it’s finished!’

Though I fear I’ll almost certainly capitulate in the end, at the moment I’m determined that we should stay put. Even if that means banishment to the spare room for the rest of my days.

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