Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Still cheerful

Dec08 091

There is freezing fog outside the window and all the trees are white again. Am I downhearted? No. But I am far too busy to blog, so I thought you might enjoy this piece I had in The Times one February, some years ago.

What did you say spring cleaning was, exactly ?

At the beginning of January, as I helped my mother take down her Christmas decorations I asked her what she would like me to do on my next visit, in a few weeks time. “The spring cleaning, please.”

Hadn’t she seen the correspondence in The Times in December, where readers were asking whether the grass they were cutting was the last of the autumn or the first of the spring ? Didn’t she realise that as global warming is blurring the seasons into one, spring cleaning can be classed as an outmoded practice, and moved from the conceptual broom cupboard to the conceptual attic ?

When I told my husband – a man raised with a lavatory brush in one hand and a bottle of Windolene in the other – that my mother had asked me to do her spring cleaning, he turned the colour of his rubber gloves. He knows I am still working in Key Stage One in dusting the bookshelves. And he blames my mother.

Funny that, because I blame his mother for giving him unreasonable expectations. She would spend all morning every morning, cleaning the house from top to bottom, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays would have a cleaning lady round to mop up the speck she had missed. Hers was the only house I have been where, if you dropped a biscuit under the bed, you could pick it up and eat it without first checking it for fluff.

My mother, on the other hand, had her priorities right. For her, reading the paper, helping us furnish our dolls houses, making us cowboy suits on her sewing machine, or taking us out to fly our kites, were all activities preferable to cleaning. She would clear the kitchen floor not to wash it, but so that we had space for roller skating.

Now she is 84 she has no children to entertain, but she has trophies for bridge, and she is the only granny we know whose bedtime reading includes Stephen Hawking, J.K.Rowling, and Matthew Parris. She is still, like me, a slattern, but she is a wonderful conversationalist.

Slatterns fulfil a socially useful role: they allow others to feel superior, even other slatterns. (“My cooker may need cleaning, but you should see the state of her fridge.”) I get immense pleasure from eyeing my mother’s bathroom with disgust, and getting out the Jif to clean the washbasin. Similarly, my daughter loves to come home and chide me about the state of my dishcloth.

Admittedly, some of my mother’s housekeeping habits were beyond the pale. Her most memorable misdemeanour was the time she was making breakfast and dropped a bacon rasher on the kitchen floor. She picked it up, dunked it in the washing up water and slung it back in the pan, and then pooh-poohed our protests with “A bit of dirt will build up your resistance.” Recent research lends weight to her view ( though that specific practice remains dubious. )

But all this chat does not get the skirting boards washed. However warm the winter, you cannot escape the fact that at this time of year the sun shines low in the sky to expose dirty windows and grimy walls. But how can I do my mother’s spring cleaning when she has never shown me how ?

I asked my husband to explain the process. Through gritted teeth he spelt out the major rules: everything moveable in the house must be moved; everything must be cleaned; and it is vital you start at the top of the house and work your way down. Also, you throw out a lot of clutter. It sounds to me like a load of old Feng Shui.

In the last few years, parenting classes have become de rigeur for people struggling with a task that earlier generations launched into without a whimper. Perhaps the next thing to catch on will be courses in housework, with a specialist module in bottoming the bedrooms, and an advanced one in spring cleaning ?

Maybe not. Those eccentric people who see housework as the new sex won’t need classes in it, and the rest of us won’t want to waste time and money on learning to do something we hate. Personally, I shall rely on the global warming excuse, and take my mother to the library instead.

© Sue Hepworth and Times Newspapers.

printed here with kind permission of the Times.

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