hg: Five Minutes

It’s the weekend and I’m bustling around the flat. I’ve washed up the lunch things and now I’m attempting to hoover around Naomi as she lounges on the sofa.

I sigh loudly as I work and pointedly ask Naomi to lift her legs so I can hoover under the coffee table. She does so without looking away from her book, oblivious to my toil.

Hoovering finished, I coil in the plug and drag the hoover away like a disobedient dog. It clatters into door frames and table legs. Note to self: buy a cordless vacuum.

I lumber back into the living room and stand in front of Naomi, awaiting recognition for my exertion. She remains unmoved and stares at her book.

It seems her gratitude requires a cue.

With as much hostility as I can muster, I plonk myself on the sofa and declare, “Right! I’m just going to sit down for FIVE minutes. And then I suppose I’ll take the recycling out.”

Naomi looks up and considers the bait. A tense few seconds go by.

In the end she chooses to ignore me and returns to her reading - a wise decision - and I’m left to simmer and grumble during my five minute break.

I was introduced to this technique by my mother under remarkably similar circumstances. It will have been the school holidays. My mum would be beavering through the house and my morning would be spent on the Playstation or devouring the entire contents of the fridge.

When the intensity of her work peaked and my indifference became unbearable, a similar statement would burst out. It was usually sparked by an innocent enquiry as to when lunch would be served, and could I eat it on the sofa.

“I don’t know, Henry! I’m just going to sit down for FIVE minutes. And then I’ll think about lunch.”

The suppressed rage of this response would sometimes take me aback. What on earth could be wrong? I thought she loved cleaning. And I’ve just been sitting here, minding my own business and eating cheese slices from the packet. What have I done wrong?

Now I understand her frustration. The feeling of injustice as you hustle away in the presence of a reclined, unresponsive bystander.

Not that Naomi doesn’t clean, by the way. She’s the master of a sparkling bathroom and spotless hob. And she thoroughly enjoys doing the laundry. She just doesn’t share my enthusiasm for the more nitty-gritty jobs, or my case of OCD. It’s only natural that I end up doing a smidge more around the house and I’m usually happy to do it.

But when I’m feeling less happy about it, I have this excellent phrase to highlight my efforts and hopefully induce some guilt.

The key is to put plenty of emphasis on the FIVE, to be clear it’s only a short reprieve from your toil. And then follow up with a few details of your next task, preferably an undesirable one.

I can’t guarantee the victim of your scorn will feel bad or instantly cough up their thanks. If anything, they’re likely to feel even less sorry for you. Because, let’s face it, they’re usually innocent and any sense of hardship is all in your head.

In fact, scrap everything I’ve said. Put the duster down and go out for a walk.