29 April 2020 DC (During Covid)
Cleaning? What cleaning?
“After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”
Here we are in lockdown and we are all trying to keep up with exercise in one form or another. Those of you who used to go regularly to the gym now exercise at home in front of a screen. I have friends who use treadmills and exercise bikes. Many are doing pilates, yoga, ballet, weight lifting, tchai-chi, zumba – and these are just the over 70s!
Aside from the official walk we’re allowed to take every day, my exercise consists of running up and down the stairs (to find things one of us forgotten we need), playing table tennis on our wonderful mini table tennis table, gardening and skipping. I bought a skipping rope for our grandchildren to use and now it has come into its own. I skip in our back garden, feeling rather self conscious doing so, wondering if our neighbours can see me.
The other day I had a lot of exercise shovelling up a pile of smelly, fly ridden shit an unsupervised dog had kindly deposited on the path right outside our house. A minute’s walk from our home is a field used by dog walkers where there are numerous doggy bins for doggy doings. And there are notices everywhere about what to do with dog poo. The problem is that dogs can’t read. And some dog owners don’t give a shit.
Then, of course, there’s the housework. I’m a firmer believer in the quote by Quentin Crisp whose home famously was covered in layers of dust, “There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”
I do the essential jobs around the house but what’s the point in cleaning a room that we’re not using? And I’m fortunate in having OH (other half) who in his student years earned money by cleaning. So he is much better at it than I am.
My late mother always seemed to be doing housework. I find that I can now empathise far more with what she often used to say to me when I was growing up, “Don’t use the bathroom – I’ve just cleaned it!”
When our three children were small I would put the non essential housework on hold so I could have more time for them. Unlike one friend who refused to go out until her house was perfectly clean. So she never went out.
When I was expecting our first child I came across this rather twee rhyme by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton (1898-2008) which I decided to take to heart.
Mother, O Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
Ruth Hamilton was an American poet and journalist. She wrote this poem after the birth of her fifth child. It is said that when she was at drama school she was cast as a thorn bush in Sleeping Beauty. The director apparently criticised her in rehearsal, saying she was not brambling properly! She died at the age of 109 so clearly not doing housework does have some merit.
Once I started back at work we had a succession of cleaning women.
The first was stick thin, pale, unkempt and looked very ill. I asked for a reference and it was only then that I found out she had a drug habit. So she had to go.
The second was fine until I found her helping herself to some alcohol from the cupboard – cocktail cabinet would have been too fine a word for it – where we kept our drinks. The third was lovely but she just didn’t stop talking. She would even follow me into the loo. If we were interrupted she would carry on talking from exactly where she had left off!
Our fourth cleaner was Italian and working nearby as an au pair. She was perfect but far too bright and talented to be spending her time cleaning for other people. So I encouraged her to go to evening classes. She then obtained a job and couldn’t work for me anymore!
The next cleaner would work very noisily, banging and bashing things around the house, knocking the vacuum cleaner into the skirting and doors. Very often, after she had gone home, I would find something broken that she had hidden. So she had to go.
Then there was the cleaner who would often forget to turn off the lights. We were prepared to overlook that until we returned from holiday to find she had left the kitchen window wide open. When we next saw her I explained what had happened and that she would need to take more care in the future. “So, you don’t like my cleaning?” she cried and stormed off.
After this I went back to cleaning the house myself. With the help of OH of course. But then a friend recommended someone magical. A fairy godmother who sprinkles fairy dust around the house. Everywhere is sparkly clean and perfect. I can find no fault with her and I believe she likes us too. When we return from holiday we find drawers tidied and everything in the airing cupboard neatly folded. She is a saint. But, sadly, a saint who had to travel on public transport to get to where we live and we are in lockdown. So farewell saint, hello cleaning.
The only (less than perfect) cleaning woman we now have in the house is me. With the help of OH of course. But it does mean that we now get plenty of exercise.
© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems