For chalk-and-cheese husband and wife Giles Wood and Mary Killen, much loved for their dry one-liners, the reality TV show has brought them closer (well, sort of), as their shockingly candid diary reveals.
8 April 2016
GILES Working together on Gogglebox – watching telly at the same time – meant Mary and I suddenly no longer lived like two intimate strangers, Mary working from 6am till 8pm, then falling asleep slightly drunk at 9pm; me gardening from 1pm till 3.30pm, when I have lunch, and then going to bed at two in the morning after watching vintage horror films. It has definitely saved our marriage.
It took public interest in our relationship to make us think about it objectively. Are we actually happy? The problem with most 30-year marriages is drift. We are told that opposites attract but sometimes our marriage feels like Brexit Leave and Remain. As people grow old they change and their interests diverge, although Mary claims that while she moves with the times I have been ‘stranded in the 1970s’ and so we are living in parallel universes.
The signs of incompatibility were always there: Mary is upwardly mobile and socially incontinent, while I am downwardly mobile and want to buy a static caravan to reduce costs and restrict my social life to other likeminded, worthy folk interested in the proactive conservation of moths and butterflies. I want to mix with people who can advance my knowledge rather than my social status.
Before Gogglebox we believed ourselves to be so busy that when disputes arose there wasn’t time to let one have the chance to put their point across while the other listened. As a consequence we both tended to speak at the same time.
Some years ago, Mary made an appointment for me with our excellent GP. Antidepressants were then, as now, all the rage. I refused to go unless Mary came too, and announced that it wasn’t I that was in need of treatment but Mary. The excellent GP gleaned that we would do well to have ten (free) sessions of marital counselling.
The sessions taught us a valuable lesson: that a couple will make no progress if they speak at the same time. Mary and I found that just being able to express our grudges without the other interrupting was therapy in its own right. Ever since, during arguments, we have used an oven timer to take turns, each allowed five uninterrupted minutes to put our point across. One holds forth while the other listens – although Mary has, on occasion, required me to wear a gag while it’s her turn to speak.
MARY While we wait for each Gogglebox programme to begin, we end up chatting to each other, amounting to about three hours a week in total. Some of our chatter eventually gets broadcast and we have been amazed to hear from Giles’s sister, who monitors Twitter, that people have found something we said funny. How interesting, when we thought of it as irritable backbiting. It certainly gives you a new perspective on your life.
But we had got out of the habit of discussing things. Gradually we realised we were enjoying the Gogglebox preambles – indeed they became an essential cog in the wheels of our marriage because we had to take it in turns to speak. And then we realised that we had a huge amount in common.
The truth is, though, that man and woman were not designed to spend 24 hours a day in each other’s company. What underpins most successful marriages is the knowledge that irritation, if it arises, will only be short-lived since you will soon have an eight-hour break at least because he or she will have gone to work while you can bask in the blissful mental privacy of having the dwelling to yourself and thereby build up the reserves of good nature that will allow you to greet your partner’s return from the coalface with genuine enthusiasm.
GILES We voted Remain and when I got up this morning I saw the Leavers had got four per cent more votes, but I had no one to discuss it with. Mary has been staying in Austria with our neighbour who has a second home there. I was asked, too, but it rained every day the last time I was there.
I ask myself, what are husbands for these days? No longer needed as escorts to house parties, neither are we needed as breadwinners, map-readers, not even as builders. At least I am still useful for drain unblocking, checking the salt levels in the dishwasher and removing the rosemary stalks from the filter.
MARY I got back from Austria and Giles confronted me as usual by saying I was lucky he had stayed behind because he had kept the show on the road by killing slugs, etc. He asks, ‘What are husbands for these days?’ He might as well ask, ‘What are wives for?’
Things have moved on since the 70s, the decade in which Giles is stuck. I would love to spend all day cleaning and tidying and cooking for Giles coming home after a hard day’s work, but the fact is that he ‘works’ at home and I ‘work’ at home as well. Which of us should suck up to the other and which do the housework?
I used to feel there was no room in marriage for both partners to have a career. Were I to devote myself to Giles as a full-time aide then maybe miracles could occur. Indeed, he is more talented as an artist than I am as a writer. Or if he were to sublimate himself into my career and to the resolution of my anxieties, perhaps we, too, could achieve miracles. However, because I have to write two columns a week, hold down a job as a PR to a Jamaican businessman and do the admin for the adult children, we need the immediate cash flow. That is why it was so good when Gogglebox came along to help us to achieve something together.
GILES Mary is away in London for a few days so it falls on me to keep the show on the road and, being colour-blind with no specific training about different fabrics, I tend to dive into the laundry cupboard which is situated – against common sense – in the kitchen near foodstuffs; conditions which, if replicated in an Indian restaurant would force its closure. After some rummaging I mix and match the dirty washing and set the load going.
What comes out of the machine is something grey and tighter-fitting than erstwhile. But my philosophy is that, even if some of the fabrics come to grief by being washed at the wrong temperature, we have too many clothes cluttering up the cottage anyway so it will do no harm to cull some of them.
MARY I am cross with Giles when he produces too much laundry, because when there is a manageable quantity of ironing to do, I enjoy it. My sister, who has more common sense than me, once asked baldly, ‘Could Giles not wear a boiler suit rather than ordinary clothes?’ and then, ‘And why is the washing machine constantly churning with tablecloths and chair covers? Could you not just stop spilling things?’
The truth is that I would be far happier cleaning all day than doing the sort of complicated jobs requiring thinking that I have got myself involved in. Earning the money to keep the cottage roof over our heads comes first in the pecking order. Writing is time consuming because what’s easy to read is hard to pen.
One of the problems with a one-room-deep cottage, and with the water outlet pipes being confined to only one side, is that we have no space in which we could put a tumble dryer. At least we no longer drape our laundry over the banisters and radiators. Now we have a pop-up electric horse that does the job.
MARY Giles can watch an episode of University Challenge and get 17 questions right. But he can also be inexplicably dimwitted from time to time. We call it Variable Intelligence Disorder. The other day I handed him a letter I had written to our friends Veronica and John to thank them for having asked us to Mull. We were in the television room and I saw him read the first page with enthusiasm. Then he cried, ‘Don’t be silly, Mary. You can’t end a letter like this in the middle of a sentence without even signing off.’
‘I haven’t done,’ I seethed. ‘Turn the page over.’
‘Ah, there it is,’ said Giles.
‘Well, why didn’t you tell me it was a two-pager?’
MARY It’s a heatwave on Anglesey and we are sunbathing. Many New Age visualisation techniques for inducing mental calm involve imagining yourself lying on a beach. This never works for me because I can’t think of a beach experience that doesn’t involve anxiety. Heroic as men can be at responding to danger (toddlers or small dogs being washed out to sea) or theft, they seem to lack the imaginative faculty to anticipate such likely results of inalertness. So a woman can’t risk closing her eyes on a beach unless another woman on the next lounger can be inveigled into keeping watch.
GILES It’s not surprising Mary can’t relax on a beach, as she brings so much stuff with her and then spends ages sorting through her bag looking for various items. Moreover, I never know why she doesn’t carry everything in a sensible waterproof zip-up bag instead of a sisal African shopping basket with all its potential for the contents to spill out.
MARY It’s funny how men seem to consider a loaded woman’s bag to be a symbol of neurosis rather than a repository of useful items that they themselves will be plundering in the fullness of time, eg, water, towels, suncream, bite cream, reading matter, tissues, cash, car keys – to say nothing of mobiles and chargers.
MARY Our kitchen is ten foot by six and a half and would not look amiss in a boat. Giles does almost all of the cooking – not because he’s a new man or because I can’t cook, but I just haven’t time for any leisurely activities where I can’t multitask. While I slave away at the ironing board (I can multitask by listening to instructive radio), Giles is happy whiling away the hours as he perfects sauces, decides he needs wild garlic for a lamb joint and makes a 40-minute round trip to the wood above the house to get some. Also, he is very good at it…
GILES I like to cook so I can get the food the way I like it. Although Mary once made a successful brown bread ice cream, all too often I find fault with her efforts, especially if she has cooked meat. She seems to aspire to the ‘Land of Leather’ cooking method where all meat must be incinerated. Mary doesn’t have the time to ensure that everything can be simultaneously à point. I do.
MARY I have enjoyed cooking, but Giles tends to keep coming into the tiny kitchen to criticise me, which is, of course, undermining. Giles also boasts that he is in charge of washing-up. Yes, but I have begun to notice Parkinson’s Law kicking in – an activity expands to fit the amount of time available for it. Giles has begun to take rather too long loading the dishwasher every morning (he’s ‘too tired’ to do it before bed). And so, as I am boiling an egg or the kettle, I enjoy the challenge of seeing if I can unload and reload the dishwasher within the five minutes it takes for both. Usually I can, whereas Giles seems to take up to 20 minutes to do it.
GILES The dishwasher is my territory and I don’t appreciate Mary cheating me of that satisfying work each morning, which helps me to ‘come round’ as I’m waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Mary is inclined to put in food-caked plates and, following an incident yesterday, I have banned her from loading the dishwasher at all as I found the drainage basket loaded to the hilt with guinea fowl bones and roast potatoes, which she had flung in carelessly in her bid to compete against me with the loading time.
MARY’S PLAN FOR A STRONG AND STABLE MARRIAGE
- Wear invisible wax earplugs while your partner is ranting on a familiar theme. You have heard it a thousand times before…
- Keep different hours from the annoying partner so that you have fewer waking hours exposed to them.
- Give space in your home to a third person who can act as a buffer between you to make you all behave better.
- Compliment your partner on his or her achievements and acts of kindness towards you.
- Ignore their provocations.
GILES’S PLAN FOR A STRONG AND STABLE MARRIAGE
- Have parents who didn’t split up. You are then statistically far less likely to do so yourself.
- Think of the pastoral care. If, like the late John Noakes, I was found confused and sheltering in a storm drain in Majorca, I know Mary would strain every sinew to locate me.
- Don’t have unrealistic expectations. Once the aspiration of personal happiness is removed, the marriage stands a better chance of not being derailed.
- Consider the alternative. Because my brain cells are deteriorating more quickly than Mary’s, there’s an obvious incentive to stay married to her.
- Don’t have a mistress. Luckily I don’t have the income stream to meet the expectations for flowers and champagne that a mistress would require.
- Capitalise on your partner’s memory bank. Mary can remember the details of stories and the point of them (whereas I tend to tell the punchline first). I have become content to trigger her to tell the relevant anecdote while I sit back.
- Finally, the mantra ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish,’ as heard on Mastermind, has always seemed to me a powerful bulwark against divorce.
This is an edited extract from The Diary of Two Nobodies by Giles Wood and Mary Killen, to be published by Virgin on Thursday, price £14.99. To pre-order a copy for £11.99 (a 20 per cent discount) until 12 November, visit you-bookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15