Category Archives: Cleaning

Autumn Tree

This has been done by the eldest (twelve) on my phone when she was sitting in the car for a few minutes whilst I bought some dog food at the pet shop.

This has been done by the girl who says she doesn’t like art (as it’s taught in school) anymore.

This has been done by someone who has an instinctive approach to form.

tree (1)

Horrible Jobs

I’ve had a few, over the years. My mother has always said, ‘There’s dignity in every job – even cleaning.’ She’s not wrong, of course there is, but cleaning is the job that I find most soul-destroying beyond all others; although like most right-minded people, I like things to be clean, if not tidy. You wouldn’t be able to tell that if you came round. We have an open fire. We have a dog. We have a cat. I have muddy boots. And inside I wear, not slippers, but more boots. It’s not what you’d call pristine, especially in winter.

No-one would pay me to clean – not if they were in their right minds anyway… which is how I came to be paid to be a cleaner… more than once. Actually, I was never employed in that role straight, because, knowing my shortcomings, I would never have applied. No, I have ended up being a cleaner, by default, and more than once.

My worst job was washing plates in a very posh restaurant. When they advertised the post, I am not sure what I thought I’d be doing. Maybe I didn’t imagine there would be that much washing up to do. There was and I was bad at it. I got to prep vegetables, once. The rest of the time I was ducking as the bad tempered chef, Roger, yelled ‘Hot!’ and chucked a sizzling pan over my head into the large industrial sink. They sacked me from that job.

Another time I was a kennel maid. Again, I don’t know what I thought I was going to be doing – stroking dogs and cuddling cats probably. Perhaps walking the former too, on occasion. Wrong. All I did was clean up after dogs and cats, and feed them and clean up after feeding them. After all that, there was no time for cuddling or walks.

I worked in a saddlery in Mayfair. Jeremy Irons came in once, as did Princess Haya of Jordan (now the wife of Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai). I loved being surrounded by polo saddles and boots and bridles and riding hats and jackets. Except there’s not so much call for that kind of thing just off Savile Row. So we weren’t very busy – ergo cleaning. Ugh.

And then, what brought me to this post, was the memory of working as a mother’s help. You can’t be called a nanny without the qualification really. Anyway, you are taken on to look after children, but inevitably your employer finds a window in your week where you can do some lovely cleaning. I was reminded of all this today when I cleaned out all the hair caught in the shower trap. There really should be a name for that phenomenon. A name that fully encapsulates the smelly and disgusting slime ball that I have to deal with. Fair enough, these days, its my hair and the girls. But back in the day, when I was a mother’s help in Darling Buds of May land, it was mainly my employer’s hair.

This morning, I could not help but think, that even if I was ever as rich as Croesus, I would always clean the hair out of the plughole myself. Always.

Just imagine, I’ve taken more than a week off proper blogging and that is all I can come up with. Sorry.

My perfect life (not) part 2

The problem with writing blog posts in parts is that you forget a) where you finished last time b) what you called yesterday’s post. When I have to start checking these kinds of details it kind of makes me not want to write at all. Plus which I am not so enamoured of the humour of the situation I am writing about now as I was yesterday. Friday is a long day and there is a lot of work to be done. It’s emotionally demanding work and I am tired now, but that’s ok.

Anyway, back to mine and Rudi’s non-finest moment which I started yesterday. To recap, I had spent a morning talking to the dog and we finished up with me asking him to pick a dog biscuit selection which he did. We then made the best of our way home and I felt like a good owner with treats for the animal. The point of the treats was this. When I let the dog out last thing at night I can’t always remember when I get to bed whether I did let him back in. It’s one of those repetitive things that you do every day so can’t quite recall the detail e.g. I know there was out involved, but did we do in? I then get up and check and he is always there, on the sofa, looking cross with me for turning on the light. So I mark the letting in with a treat and then I find I remember giving him that more easily than I remember the door being opened to admit one dog into the house. It’s a memory marker. A trail of breadcrumbs through the dark woods of domestic memory. The problem is that I don’t buy dog biscuits, so if I give him the same treat every night, a slice of bread is the absolute favourite with him for some reason, I find myself back downstairs after I’ve gone to bed, turning on the lights and generally disgruntling the dog.

Bag of different biscuits means different memory markers means no more nocturnal memory lapses. I hung the biscuits in the bag on the key rack by the front door, out of the dog’s way. At some point later that day, my daughter took the bag down and gave Rudi a biscuit from the bag. I forgot by the evening I had bought the biscuits, so he got a slice of bread.

The following day the dog found the bag of biscuits which my daughter had conveniently left on the hearth. Dogs being what they are, he ate the lot. I was dismayed when I realised. The things were full of additives and colouring for goodness sake. I mildly remonstrated with the daughter (remonstrating with the dog is a pointless exercise).

‘It will be me later, clearing up the runny poo,’ I said.

She pulled a face at me. The dog declined his actual dinner for that day, so full was his belly of giant bone-shaped and heart-shaped biscuits. The whole thing spelled trouble.

The following day I took the dog for his walk. Quite often, in the winter months, I rock up at where the beach should be, only to find that the tide is out. An estuary tide covers quite a distance, so out is out by a few miles and in is nearly in to the pavement. No beach to walk on on this occasion, so we walked on the opposite side of the road until we reached a manicured piece of grass, slightly raised up and set back from the road. Benches line the edge overlooking the estuary and, in the summer, older people sit and sun themselves and enjoy the view. It is right next door to an art deco ice-cream parlour. Southend has its unclassy spots for sure, but this part of Westcliff-on-Sea is a little more genteel in a distressed 1930s fashion. Rudi designated the grassy knoll as his poo platform for the day and evacuated an alarming orange variety of runny poo (as predicted) in copious amounts.

I was pretty pissed off. All this hassle because of pick and mix biscuits and a faulty memory. The quantity involved meant it was a two-handed job, so I dropped my gloves and bag on the floor to tackle it. Sadly, some of it went where it shouldn’t have and left my right index finger daubed in orange. There are no words to describe the disgust of this experience and it’s worse when cars are driving past and elderly ladies are enjoying banana splits, ice-creams sundaes and retro milky coffees only ten feet to your left. I had to double bag the shit and beat a hasty retreat before someone came out and saw the enormous orange skid mark we’d left on the lawn.

I wanted to get straight home and wash my hands, but we had a way to walk yet, so I put the gloves back on in a delayed and after the horse has bolted protective measure. As I pulled on my right hand glove to cover the offending finger I noticed something. The index finger of the right hand glove was covered in bird shit…

My perfect life (not).

There’s a final insult which happened when I came home from work this afternoon. It involves the bag that the biscuits were thieved out of. I can’t bring myself to write about it now though. And I may never. God knows there are no illusions left to destroy round here, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere.

rudi sea

On how we live

By which I mainly mean our habitats. This is on my mind for a number of reasons; one being that it has been on my mind for more than a while. The thing that has brought it to a head recently is the fact of the central heating being broken. Now, when I type that the central heating is broken I could assume that you know what that means… you can imagine, if you cared to and I am not sure you do, that there is no heat. And you would be right, to an extent; there certainly is less heat in this house than I am used to or indeed would prefer. On the other hand, you may not know what it means to say that the heating in this house is broken, that is to say in a technical sense. And I would expect that if you cared at all about my heating not working, caring about why it is not working would be stretching the bounds of the common human feeling for another man.

Someone may imagine, in a passing sense, that it is the boiler that is kaput. Others may be more technically imaginative and wonder if it is the pump, or a stuck valve. Most will not be interested and I do not blame them. Reserve the concern for when you are cold in your home. Maybe that won’t be until you are an older person, living in a larger house than may be strictly necessary, and you cannot afford to heat the whole space. Or maybe it won’t. I wish everyone as warm as they need to be for the rest of their lives. Like food, warmth and shelter are fairly basic human needs, in theory, easy enough to meet. Until your house is too big, or your money is insufficient, or some small electrical part in the system of tanks, and boilers, and pumps, and diverter switches goes and you are a bit chilly.

It should be so simple. Warmth can be eternally generated by the use of sticks to make fire. Why have we over-complicated it with radiators and gravity pumps and pipes and thermostats and so on and so on? Why have we made ourselves helpless in the machinery of our lives? How many of us, when something goes can fix it ourselves. And how many of us, willing to at least try to fix it ourselves are ultimately defeated by some piece of sealed gadgetry that cannot be mended, only slung out and replaced, thus driving the wheels of commerce once more?

I am quite frustrated that I cannot simply meet my own basic needs. This led me to wonder about the whole living in a house thing; the two-up, two-down house that needs to be centrally heated in the first place. Why do we live in houses and why do we have stairs? I mean, what is the purpose of stairs? Dead space that elevate your living area by the power of two (or more). Of course we have stairs because you get more bang for your buck. You can live on less land by building upwards. You and I have stairs to walk up and down and clean because of commerce. And when we get old and live in our family homes those stairs can become obstacles. It is a fact that few animals build themselves dwellings with stairs. Someone pointed out that stairs are good because when you sleep you are vulnerable. Stairs give you a chance to hear someone breaking in downstairs. So I added that to my theory: we have stairs because we live in capitalist culture and because we are scared of our fellow man. It made me like stairs even less than I already do.

Why do we even live in houses like we do, on streets? Why would we string out our living along polluted, noisy and dangerous roads? Thoroughfares that exist for the wheels of commerce trundle along? Is this the most peaceful, harmonious environment for humans to live in? People in boxes, with stairs, lacking the means to make their own heat and grow their own food, closely packed together without connections to each other and strung out along smelly highways? It is, to paraphrase what Thoreau wrote in Walden, simply that rather than us having the house, the house has us.

To simplify our lives then must be the answer, but we have so over-complicated everything that it is doubtful if it is possible for the majority except over the generations. Take wealth. We were raised to believe that the way to live is to own your own home, not to best serve your needs in your living, but to have wealth to pass on when you are dead. Those days are gone. Our parents are spending the wealth accumulated in bricks and mortar on their enjoyment now and their care later because we don’t or can’t always care for our own in communities any more. Your house, the one that takes so much work and money now, will turn against you in the end and betray your basic needs. I don’t know about you, but I have come to the conclusion that, actually, I don’t need a lot of indoor space, but what I do need is access to outdoor space. I don’t need stairs and if I live in a smaller space, I don’t need central heating. People think that perhaps I mean to be a regressive sort, living in a muddy field with woodsmoke in my hair and no broadband. Or perhaps a militant eco warrior with an agenda for you, me, mankind! I don’t really – there is no need to have a war about it. I have not read some life changing tract or had conversations with like-minded souls. I have simply come to the conclusion, through observation adn experience that we can live differently to how we do. And I hope that within the difference there is greater connection with self and others. Even now, we have the technology to generate what we need in terms of energy but we are in the grip of our houses and their demands and consequently the energy corporations. Do you not feel robbed? If we become more modest in our living arrangements we can quietly harness wind, earth and sun and rain to meet our needs. If that means becoming more aware about what our real energy consumption needs are, is that a bad thing? Why not just use what is, rather than try to extract what is not. This is my modest dream for the future. At the moment the house has me, but if I can learn the skills I need, one day I hope to live harmoniously with a shelter I have not just created, but that I understand. A shelter that can adapt itself to how I live, instead of the current situation which is, sadly, the reverse.


The smug washing line

It’s not mine. And shame on me for writing it, but, it’s the neighbours. Every morning, no matter what time I get up, and I admit I am not the earliest of risers, when I get down to the kitchen there it is, full of washing, taunting me and my lazy ways.

It rained heavily overnight, it kept me awake for a while. The forecast is not good. How come then, next door have managed to find a brief window of general weather loveliness for their clothes to dance on the line. And all the while I have been dozing, or reading in bed, thinking that laundry was off the menu today.

It never used to be this way. I had my one single clothesline strung between the house and green garden shed: one end too high for me to access, the other overgrown by the butterfly bush. They had a triangular rotary line, round the corner and hidden from my view. Their laundry habits, were and remain, none of my business. However, this year they put up a single wire, like mine, running in full view of my kitchen window. It’s not my business, but it’s under my nose.

I am the kind of person who hangs out washing for it to get more wet in the rain. I am the kind of person that returns from a week’s holiday to find that I have left the washing on the line. I am the kind of person who has piles of laundry in the dining room. I don’t do envy, but still.

Here’s the biggest mystery though. The neighbour’s line is full every day, with at least one load, on a sunny day: two or more. And I swear I never see them wear half the clothes on the line. The black and white number rubbing my nose in it this morning – the lady of the house is always well turned out, but not in that outfit. Who is wearing all these clothes?

And here’s my final thing – I never hang underwear on the line. It dries discreetly elsewhere. There are no such sensibilities next door: the line is regularly used as an exhibition space for bras and underpants. I wonder if my own aversion comes from a country upbringing, where a young miscreant was once cautioned for shooting knickers off washing lines in the village for the sake of entertainment and target practice. Whatever.

Here’s my dining room in a recent incarnation. Nothing smug here, I hope. Taken to send to a friend who was asking my advice about criteria for tidiness – this was to illustrate I was definitely the wrong person to ask…

The washing line visible through the door is the other next door neighbour’s and there’s nothing smug about their line. They didn’t used to use pegs. I use pegs: three per two items of washing, no gaps. The smug line has two pegs per item and a space between. I suppose some would say I have low standards. They might be right.

P.S. It’s started chucking it down and the washing next door has been taken in. I, on the other hand, have some to hang out.

La vie en rose

I don’t suffer from this as a rule, preferring to see things as they really are. A counsellor once told me that people who are able to reach for the rose-tinted spectacles, people who are unrealistically optimistic, have basically got a protective shield around them that helps them to cope with the vagaries (and worse) of the world.

Life is interesting; ‘may you live in interesting times’ being more of a curse than a blessing. Today has been interesting too. I am conscious that even the most committed rose-tinted spectacle wearer might have struggled with getting up this morning to multiple stomach upsets (via the dog) on the rug in the front room and on the staircase carpets. Or the early call to cover a class when I had children to drop off (via the car) and a meeting to take at the same time.

Or the necessity of still travelling, via the car, with the heaters on 32 degree heat, full blast because the question whether to save or scrap the car is too vexatious. Or the meeting summary that morphed into a 1500 word report that I wasn’t expecting to have to do today. Or the threat of bailiffs next week and the mix up about the university library fines I swear I paid. Or the two car parking tickets that are probably in the post.

I didn’t reach for my sun-tinted spectacles though. Instead I took the rug out into the garden and employed some washing up liquid and my watering can. And later on I did some cleaning up the stairs. The rest can wait. I found myself saying to someone earlier this week, ‘Well, it’s not the things that happen to you that are the problem, it’s how you respond that matters’. If someone punched me on the nose for saying such a thing, well I’d understand. It might be fair enough. It would be how I responded that mattered more than the punch. Wouldn’t it?

Sometimes, when I think things like this I wonder if I am becoming somewhat certifiable. Don’t mention this to my mother.

Hmmm…. The jury is out.

Nb The dog is fed three times a day, but he still has the figure of the waif and stray that he was. Eat your heart out!

Cobwebs of my mind

Pollenia Rudis

Otherwise known as the cluster fly, came to my attention today as a great quantity fell out when the loft door was opened where I am staying.

An ancient family violin was being retrieved from the roof cavity but before we were able to inspect the condition of said instrument we were entertained by the dog,la Espagnol (Springer variety), scurrying around the cream carpet eating the dead and dying insects. She was shooed off with much fake vomming and retching from the assembled children before the remaining carcasses were sucked up for one final whizz round the storage cylinder of the vacuum cleaner.

As it turned out the violin, which in a Victorian version of brand piracy, has Stradivarius imprinted on its innards, is in a derelict sort of state with a broken fingerboard, displaced bridge and something rattling around inside it. Maybe it too swallowed a fly.

A fly eater

Friday 13th: out of the frying pan

We’ve had these before. In my experience, bad things happen on all the other days of the week and dates of a month. Anything else is magical thinking. I have done my fair share of that too, before now, but these days I try to catch the superstitious thought before it starts thinking me.

I was tested yesterday when a black cat crossed my path twice. Fortunately my walking companion thought that it was a bad omen which cancelled out my former insistence it was all to the good. So, if you are a greeter of sole magpies, a thrower of salt, a non-walker under ladders (which must be purely health and safety?), or a believer in bad things happening today, empirical evidence shows otherwise.

Unless it’s windy. In which case stay indoors, where there is a rich source of accidents to be had. I can vouch for this, having hosted the towering inferno in my frying pan last weekend…

‘Everything Changes’

but you… was on a loop in my head at the launderette this evening. I don’t really like that song; I never really liked Take That either.

The thing is, or was, or is – I’m not sure – that the ‘you’, that doesn’t seem to change at all, is the launderette. I don’t go to them much, in fact, the last time was the 28th October 2009, so I’m in a good position to notice any drastic (or even minor changes). There aren’t any as far as I can see. As I sat on the thin wooden shelf for bums with the massive tumble driers heating my back, it was as if I was still 14, or 21, or 25, or any other age up to the age I am today. The launderette is the nearest I can get to time travel into the future too – everything changes but you.

The machines look the same as before and they roll round in the same direction as they ever did. I couldn’t say whethere it’s clock or anti though as I don’t pay that much attention – although I should. The smell is timeless and the decor, whatever launderette you find yourself in and wherever that may be, is always that whey-like worn formica yellow, or a wrong blue. There’s no word for the blue, barring wrong. And the word launderette, it’s a womanly word isn’t it? Invented for when washing was women’s work presumably. What would the testosterone-laden version of the word be, I wonder. Two rocks and a river probably. In India, they take your service wash at the launderette down to the ghats, the steps on the river bank. And they suds it and bash it and rinse it, and the children leap in and out of the filthy water, buzzing around the bright saris of the women that wash for a wage. I never saw how they dried it all.

Bunking off school in my teens might involve having a spin in one of those tumble driers, back in the day. A metal cocoon for teenage angst. A few revolutions and a bang on the bonce a great way to put those teenage angsts into perspective. I put my head right in to the drier today, on a mission to rescue clothes at the back of the hot cylindrical void and I wondered if I would still fit into the drum; if I could take a whirl in the drum for old times sake. The thought didn’t last long.