I've always had a vague awareness of my dependence on women but right now, 2300km from home and wife, it is suddenly not vague. That's come about because I've realised I have to do the washing, that my supply of clothes is exhausted after three weeks on the road.
So I'm going to join the procession of women to and from the caravan park laundry, but first I have to phone my wife at home for instructions.
It seems silly that at my mature age I'm intimidated by a washing machine, and if anyone is to blame it is my wife. You can't mix those colours, she says in alarm, and those artificial fibres can't go in the same wash as those natural fibres, don't use hot water for this, and use the short cycle for those, and these can't go in the dryer.
Sheesh. I want to put everything in one load and push one button, then I want to put everything in the dryer and push one button, and that's what I do these days when she's away and it works. What, I ask when she returns, is all this complicated women's washing business? Nothing could be simpler!
But the machines in the laundry here don't have buttons and I've forgotten which buttons to push anyway.
Until just a few years ago I'd never worked a washing machine. Until I left home my mother would do it, and later when I was within driving distance she'd still do it, and further afield my washing would be done by a boarding house landlady or hotel staff or a serviced laundromat or a girlfriend. Then when I married, my wife did it, and does it.
We never talked about who was going to do the washing. Not before we married or after we married did we have a discussion about who was going to do what. I mean, she never said "I'll do the washing and you mow the lawn", which would have been a bargain even if I hadn't had my sons mow the lawn as soon as they could reach the mower handle.
Food is a similar story. Until I left home at age 18 I never once thought about dinner until I sat down to eat it. My mother would plan dinner, visit the butcher and the green grocer on the way home from work, then cook and I might help with the washing up.
Later in boarding houses or hostels I'd sit down at a very firm dinner time, and when I wasn't living in one of those establishments I'd think about dinner a few minutes before I bought it. By the time I married at age 26 I'd lived in a number of countries and travelled the world and I'd never cooked dinner. The fridge in my various flats was for beverages and leftover takeaway.
It seems silly that at my mature age I'm intimidated by a washing machine ...
Things didn't change when I married. Nor did my wife ever initiate a discussion along the lines of "I'll do the cooking and you mow the lawn", and while I'd have been more inclined to open with "you do the cooking and I'll brew the beer" I never bothered. I did try in vain a few years later to persuade her to take up brewing.
I've been surprised since I retired by just how much more there is to cooking than mere cooking. Once a week my wife sits at the table and writes a list of meals she's going to cook over the following week, then she puts together a shopping list as she darts to and from the pantry and the spice drawer to check what she needs. The washing machine is usually whoosh whooshing in the background. Then she goes shopping.
Each morning during the week she plans the day's cooking. There may be meat or fresh ingredients she needs to buy on the day, and she'll decide that she needs to prepare this or that before an afternoon appointment, and she'll work out when she needs to man the pans to ensure dinner is served at the set time of 7pm. So about my beer o'clock she'll head for the kitchen.
Until I had all day to sit and watch in retirement I'd not been aware of the forethought required to put dinner on the table each night, and I'm pleased now that until she retired the school hours she worked meant she wasn't too stressed keeping the home fires burning.
Not that I don't do my bit.
I push the trolley while she's shopping lest she hurt her knee manoeuvring it, and I carry the basket of wet clothes from washing machine to the clothes line when I'm not busy. When she's hurt her knee I carry the basket of dry clothes back from the clothes line a few hours later.
Every day I get my own breakfast and lunch, with barely any fuss, and I insist on doing all the cooking outside. With a beer in hand, of course.
And when she's looking after our small grandchildren I like to take them for a walk around the block to give her 10 minutes' rest. I was not aware of the work involved in looking after small children until two years ago, and that's because as a busy father of five I'd had no need to be so aware.
Throughout it all my wife is my moral compass. She tells me when I've had too much to drink, and to make doubly sure she tells me on the night and again in the morning. And after every social occasion she conducts, in the manner of a post-mortem, a post-faux pas, an examination of my social blunders. Bracing stuff, and if it doesn't happen as we go to bed I know that my faux pas have been not so serious that they won't wait until the morning.
I'm off now to the laundry. My wife has just told me to call her when I'm in front of the machine.
Will things change? One of my daughters says she doesn't want in her relationship the division of labour in the relationship of her parents, and the fact that she uses the word division is flattering, I reckon.