As the date of Mum’s arrival draws nearer, I see the state of my flat with new eyes. What is that muck on the tile splashback behind the hob? There is grimy horror on the small top ledge of the electrical sockets. And I finally decide to tackle that one corner of the bedroom that is forever teenage chaos. Look, there’s a chair under that pile of clothes. Who knew?
That I could be more dedicated to cleaning and tidying my home is an understatement, like some Ridley Scott fans are a bit keen to see his new movie, Prometheus. But when it comes right down to it, there are usually 50 things that come ahead in terms of personal preference, including sitting in a trance-like state staring at the wall.
I sometimes linger longingly over brochures that come through the door offering cleaning services – promising to tackle those one-off cleaning blitzes, or tempting you with the kind offer of undertaking the drudgery of scouring the oven. I haven’t yet. Part of this is because the Man in my Life is an improved version 2, who understands his way around a loo brush and still retains the skill of shirt ironing from his university days.
The other part is I seem to have a high tolerance for a less than sparkling interior.
Actually I feel sorry for people who get frantic about a bit of scuzz on the carpet. Sure, they may have light-filled rooms worthy of being featured in the Scotsman Magazine, but the hours of scrubbing, scraping, dusting and dirt removal required can seem pointless. Like that guy cursed to roll a giant boulder up the mountain, only to have it come crashing down when he reaches the top, then having to start all over again, for all eternity. He should have been doomed to open a domestic service, Sisyphean Cleaning, while he was at it.
I would guess my lackadaisical approach is part of a trend which, according to recent a report by Saga, means that women’s waistlines are on average six inches bigger than they were in 1952, because they aren’t on their knees scrubbing all day. Although this is just the sort of nonsense you read in typical “Daily Fail” headlines aimed deliberately at making women feel confused and miserable about themselves.
The 2.5 million people in the UK who employ a cleaner, and the other 2.5 million who bring in a gardener, according to some recent estimates, shouldn’t be blamed for doing so. Although I have one friend, a working mum, who struggled to get over the guilt of outsourcing her dirty work. She constantly worried that her twice-weekly cleaner was being exploited and so she spent most of her time coming up with reasons for paying her extra until it amounted to a tidy fortune.
My mum too, who had a cleaner off and on for a few years while she was raising my sister and me and holding down a full-time job, would insist that we tidy the house the night before the cleaner was due. My occasional attempts to float the argument – isn’t that what the cleaner is for? – got no truck. She insisted it meant the cleaner could get on with the job, but I suspect it was, at least in part, an act of contrition. Although the method to her madness was that the house was sparkling, and also served to get me off my sullen backside. I still recall a certain look of contentment on her face when she got home after the cleaner had been.
At least in the UK domestic service is a job, where in other parts of the world it is still like Upstairs Downstairs except more beatings with hairbrushes. The trouble is the creeping contempt that exists for the person who does the necessary chores that no-one else wants to.
So today is the big day – hoovering, mopping, dusting, scrubbing and the last bit of laundry. Not that my mum is due to come around wearing a white glove to run on the banisters. She sympathises that there are only so many hours in a day for work, relaxing, socialising and housework. But I will enjoy the satisfaction of an orderly house and the sense of a job well done.
Until I have to do it again.