It’s Boxing Day. Your kitchen worktops are groaning under piles of plates, roasting dishes, pans and champagne glasses. If you’re struggling to persuade anyone in your house to fill the sink with hot soapy water, you should first hand them a copy of Mark Mason’s piece in the Christmas issue of the Spectator, ‘The tao of washing up’. Mark writes that washing up is ‘therapeutic’, a ‘Zen-like state where troubles disappear and inspiration thrives’, threatened only by ‘evil’ dishwashers. He also details how to get the most satisfaction from a session at the sink:

Like all truly noble endeavours, washing up has time-honoured rituals. ‘Washing as you cook’ is a particular pleasure, allowing regular hits of the drug amidst your peeling and boiling. Real aficionados even extend this to ‘washing as you eat’. Grayson Perry’s wife says he does ‘that wonderful, restful thing of washing up all the dishes between the main course and dessert’. But adding fuel to the theory that washing up has a male bias, she adds: ‘He doesn’t do it if he has a dress on, though. That’s the only annoying thing about living with a transvestite — he thinks it’s feminine to just hang around in a chair.’

If you’re using a bowl, rather than going commando with the ‘sink only’ option, the final pleasure is rinsing out the bowl and wiping its bottom with your cloth (Freudians, please discuss). There’s some famous footage of Margaret Thatcher doing just this. Now there was a washer-upper. So keen was Maggie on the chore that during one prime ministerial visit to Balmoral she insisted on washing up after the barbecue. Bit of a problem there: by tradition this occasion is the Queen’s yearly turn at the task. She even retires to a special hut to do it. Only after some discussion did Her Majesty prevail.

Gloves are controversial. For me they’re a no-no — condomish insulation from the water’s heat. Ideally the temperature should render your hands scarlet. (Unless you’re Chris Evans, who prefers his water tepid. Just not natural — the man needs watching.) One of my friends likes water so hot that his hands have actually started to scale up; reluctantly, he is now donning the Marigolds. Another solves the problem with moisturiser. Truly, washing up is the road to metrosexuality.

You can read more about socialist dishwashers and the cheeky trick Mark and his friends played on one earnest chum at the washing up bowl here.


The Spectator Christmas double issue is out now. To read for free, download the all-new Spectator app for iPad/iPhone or sign up to a Kindle free trial.


Tags: Christmas