When I was a fully paid up member of that elite class of people known as The Ones With A Full-time Job, (catchy) the greatest perk was to allow myself the guilty pleasure of employing a cleaner. She only spent five hours a week mucking out our thirteen room hutch, but in that time she was capable of leaving it, if only for a few blissful minutes, completely hotel-room spotless. Living in the country, with children, animals, husband and a huge garden, as we do, means that her unstinting efforts at keeping the filth, dog hairs, and human litter trays under control gave me one less thing to stress about.
As a small business owner I sometimes worked up to 60 hours a week, and seldom switched off, but I miraculously ‘managed’ all the other stuff too; cooked dinners every night, did grocery shopping (I never mastered online shopping), gardening, bath & bedtimes, laundry, and general household admin. The one domestic chore my husband, who also runs his own, more successful business, undertook during that time was the weekly wheeling of our bin onto the drive for collection. He continues to carry out this onerous task with aplomb and only occasional outbursts of expletives, as the sound of an approaching dust cart drifts through the dawn chorus to interrupt his slumber and he dashes out to haul the forgotten bin to meet it, in his underpants. He does ALL this, despite my return back to the lowly rank of Full Time Mum.
It is only now that I wonder just how we coped while I was so preoccupied with building my fine art empire. How DID it all get done? Perhaps it didn’t. While I still put in the odd working hour keeping my little gallery ticking over, (more like flickering circus lights on auxiliary generator, than floodlights on mains supply), I now have much more time in which to perfect my skills as a domestic goddess, but ‘Cleaning’ has become an activity that brings out in me occasional bouts of gnashing rage and blinding resentment.
I broke the Sebo.
It happened when I decided to tackle the ‘moth crisis’ which I eventually traced back to a thriving colony of Tineola bisselliella chewing on the fibres of the antique Chinese carpet under our bed. The metal catch which makes the vacuum cleaner stand to attention, was wrenched off somewhere in the darker recesses of that dusty place of moth-eaten horror, and now, when I put it away it flops limply into a flat swoon like an exhausted inmate at a Siberian prison camp.
Henry Hoover, the staple of every commercial cleaning cupboard, came to live with us after the gallery closed. He cowers in the utility room, dreading the touch of my slave-driver’s hand on his hose. I have grown to hate his stupid face, in particular when he peeps coyly round the corner of the sofa, refusing to budge as his hose strains to reach the place in the living room where spiders leave heaps of silk-wrapped fly corpses. I have to yank him away from the obstacle, usually resulting in him rolling onto his side like an idiot, and I want to kick him and shout ‘Get UP, you ARSEHOLE!!’
Later, I feel bad about abusing him.
My bottom lip trembles and bile rises as I crouch breathlessly over the toilet bowl.
I share a home with two other hose-wielding creatures, one of whom consistently fails to aim his with any degree of accuracy and another who occasionally misses the mark in the dark after a beery night. Mercifully, my daughter has for many years now been the soul of discretion when it comes to her toileting, adopting the same air of secrecy as the cat, who’s doings thankfully also remain a complete mystery to me. Badger the Parsons Jack Russel, supplier of inexhaustible clouds of little white hairs that fill every corner of my house, is also fond of leaving plentiful evidence of his healthy digestive system for our inspection but at least it’s only in unexpected corners of the garden. But there is no doubt as to precisely when and how the male humans have used a bathroom.
So why, I ask myself as I kneel and gaze into the spattered maw, does it fall to me to scrape and mop each of the three porcelain thrones in our house? Perhaps it’s time that I sub-contract these household chores out to those responsible for their creation? Ha! The thought brings out in me a gale of bitter mirth as I imagine their response to such a preposterous idea. In this household men are men. If I died face down in the mess they would eventually step over my shrivelled corpse and call in an agency, preferably with blonde bosomy staff who would no doubt do a much better job than me, and complain less. So I resignedly plunge the loo brush deeper into the u bend and think of Poldark.
Then there’s hair. Hairs and lint. Is there a top secret training camp for professional cleaners where they learn the dark art of wiping surfaces without leaving a fluffy residue looped through with hairs? Long before it was my job to clean up other people’s filth I recall an episode of ‘One Foot In The Grave’ where Mrs. Meldrew emerges from the bathroom, mop in hand, and declares that there were ‘…enough pubes in there to stuff a mattress’. I laughed back then, but only now I fully appreciate the bitter irony. How DO chamber maids do it? I’ve used expensive microfibre cloths, tried the wet-dry approach and static reducing mist spray, but my bathroom battle with lint rages on.
I have, to my shame, broken down and employed the help of a dear little old lady who comes for a couple of hours once a week. She cheerfully mops and vacuums the ground floor, and dusts the countless ‘objets d’arte’ that crowd our shelves. She actually seems to enjoy it. She sings! Her imminent arrival every Thursday prompts me to carry out feverish tidying, ensuring all surfaces are clear, thus maximising her filth-busting capability and VFM (value for money). The special wicker basket on the stairs is permanently overflowing with the detritus of children who still haven’t got the gist of how it’s supposed to work, stepping over it as they climb the stairs empty handed. I tell myself how much I’ll miss that when they’ve grown up and left home, but it’s a lie. Every room and most of the staircase is permanently littered with hairbrushes, pop figures, precious pieces of paper, novelty pens, seashells, empty Tic-tac boxes and an ever growing array of miscellaneous homeless objects that I have to accommodate somewhere in our shrinking house, (but ultimately in the bin).
This brings me to the gnarly subject of the teenage boy’s bedroom. I like to think that my son is no different from most boys his age when it comes to the despicable state of his private living quarters. Aside from my monthly outbursts of haranguing, and impassioned pleas to his sensitive side, I have decided that his chaotic bedroom is one battlefield I should avoid, for the sake of my mental, and physical health, and so the budgie dander and floored bath towels, throbbing piles of dirty laundry shot through with empty crisp packets and clean laundry, (hyperventilates) prevail.
As to the laundry, well, this brings me weekly to a stunned standstill after gathering together the contents of three laundry baskets and arranging seven four-foot high heaps next to the washing machine. Unlike Henry Hoover, I have the utmost love and respect for this magnificent round-windowed beast, a stoic workhorse that, in partnership with its friend the 8kg tumble dryer, processes trillions of tonnes of dirty laundry every year.
The zenith of my muttering bouts of simmering resentment usually occurs at the discovery of a trail of grass cuttings across a freshly cleaned floor and beyond to the once spotless carpet. My rugged handsome husband favours footwear more suitable for scaling mountains than working in an office. The treads of his every day boots act like a fresh set of 4×4 Goodyears, gripping impressive quantities of mud, grass and surprisingly large pieces of gravel, and depositing that payload liberally about the house. At these times I try to breathe deeply and channel happy thoughts of my stay last year at an idyllic timber farm house in rural Japan. Ah, there it is, the smooth springy feel of tatami under bare feet in a clean and tranquil home, a neat rack of shoes in the entrance hall.
Perhaps Japan is to blame. I don’t remember being this bad before I went there.
Maybe I was easier to live with when I cared less about a freshly made bed and concerned myself more with sales figures and exhibition openings. But In truth I was also crippled with stress and exhaustion back then. So it might take a while, but it is possible that I will eventually recover from this period of domestic OCD and slip back into the chilled-out slatternly ways of my own teenage years.
But for now I continue to revel in the petty dramas and grinding martyrdom of being a housewife. I get my kicks from swearing at appliances and a deep satisfaction from a plumped cushion on a momentarily hair-free sofa. Flowers from the garden help too.