Because marriage is about compromise, 10 years ago I did not balk when my Australian wife slowly and surely began to replace the Marmite in our cupboard with its Antipodean counterpart, Vegemite.
“This is absolutely fine,” I told myself. “In fact, Vegemite is probably even better than Marmite.”
I began to get used to its taste.
It was a lot like Marmite. I don’t mean that you either love it or hate it. I mean that it was literally a lot like Marmite. But it wasn’t Marmite, was it, and I think that’s the point.
I was probably acting in such a magnanimous way because it is easy to be blinded by love, and we were in our twenties and full of vim and vigour, and when all’s said and done I am a man who can never be accused of making a mountain out of some yeast extract.
But on my wife’s return from three weeks in Australia she opens the kitchen cupboard to an unfamiliar sight.
“Marmite?” she says, and then her face falls a little.
I suppose for her it must be like the last 10 years never happened.
“It’s just yeast extract,” I say, using a very comforting voice, and I daresay this is the first time that sentence has ever been said in a comforting way. It sounds like something a doctor might say while examining unusual discharge.
She closes the door and smiles a sad half-smile. Is it the finances she’s worried about?
“We have reached a stage in life where we can afford to keep both Vegemite and Marmite to hand,” I say, like I’m Lord Grantham. “I know it sounds grandiloquent.”
“Not as grandiloquent as saying grandiloquent,” she says, which bursts my bubble because I was proud of that and I’m already looking forward to the next time I can use it. “It’s just that…”
“Well… you bought what you wanted and not what we normally get. And that means you don’t normally get what you want. And that makes me sad.”
There is a poignant moment. She sees this pot of Marmite and thinks of all the pots of Marmite I never bought. She imagines a giant pot of Marmite labelled ‘sacrifice’.
I want to reassure her. I want to tell her this was an impulse purchase. I was in the shop and there it was and we’d run out of Vegemite and you were away so
I just stuck it in the trolley. It was just spread. It meant nothing.
But the truth is, I am totally back on the Marmite train. In the decade we’ve been apart I admit I did not often miss its taste – until it was in front of me, shining on toast. I would not have bought it if my wife had been home, so she’s right – this was for me. A selfish act. But she’s worried about what it says about our marriage. That buying Marmite instead of Vegemite represents a brief moment of striking out as an individual, not as a husband.
“I suppose it is inevitable that in the unification of two disparate souls, one’s ambitions and pleasures must be compromised,” I say. Grandiloquently.
And the more I think about it, the more I realise she’s right: I suppose this marriage has crushed my life experiences. I mean, sure, we’ve never stopped laughing and we have two kids and stuff, but what if I actually prefer Colgate to Crest? What if I go through my life using Crest, through middle-age and beyond, when all the while Colgate is what my heart is saying? Who’s to blame for that? My harridan of a wife, of course, doing her best to rob me of any tiny pleasure. Am I supposed to wait until my deathbed and then have a nurse slather Colgate over my lips for one last brief taste of a long-forgotten dream? I suppose, on the bright side, if my wife goes first, at least I’ll be able to change toothpastes.
“Have you even tried Marmite?” I say, thinking maybe we can find some common ground. Maybe she can join me on this adventure.
“No,” she says.
“Maybe you should,” I say, as it becomes clear that just because she is back, I will not stop buying Marmite. The days of not keeping Marmite in the house are gone. It’s her fault. She went away for three weeks. I have needs.
But she looks at me like I’ve just suggested we do something really odd in our marriage, like visita German sex dungeon.
“I’m fine with Vegemite,” she says, and I consider that although this is a good woman, she is set in her ways. She will forgive me this spread-based crisis, and there is a joke here about spreading my wings, but I can’t work out what it is.
“Despite our differences, we will make this work,” I tell her, and I open the cupboard door again and take something out. “Because I also bought Bovril.”
“The hell is Bovril?” she says.
“It’s a sort of thick, salty meat extract,” I say, and she quietly leaves the room.
It’s hard work, marriage.
Spot the difference
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It’ll put chest hairs on your back
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