I’d like to offer this post up to the patron saint of household chores, Saint Zita, in the hope that she smiles on me and my efforts to keep the (fricking) house clean.
St Zita was a 13thC Italian saint who was a devoted servant to an important family. She would offer her housework unto the Lord. Once she gave away the family’s beans to the poor (true story) but God replenished the store. That miracle ensured her sainthood. Frankly, I think cleaning up after another family for 60 years without screaming would be miracle enough…
It’s the small things that push you over the edge. The otherwise entirely innocuous occurrences that add the final extra weight needed to tip the balance, or to open the floodgate.
Housework is not my thing. I have many other talents (mainly yet to be found) but being tidy is not one of them. Sometimes I deliberately ignore the mess because the brain strain of having to file everything in its right place is just a bit too much. Sometimes I really don’t see it because I’m too busy herding the kids into the house and getting them fed, watered and bathed. By the time they’re finally asleep, I’m on dim dip and can barely see my way to the wine glasses (that’s a lie, I can always find a wine glass when necessary).
My previous working life often used to take me away from home so although I’d make sure the place wasn’t dirty, I’d not have a lot of time to re-order things. It’s not like me or my husband are particularly blessed with the tidy gene (though he is much better generally than I am). I’d come home from a few days away with work to find that the lounge was looking nice and neat but then go round the corner to the kitchen to find the table 3 foot deep in post, ironing and other random household items that were awaiting my attention. That kind of challenge gives me the sweats so the bottom layer would sit there composting for a few months until I finally attacked it.
But this is the dangerous part of living like this: you need to muster so much energy to deal with the towering piles of crap that you spend it all at once and then have to retire, exhausted. There’s a truly sublime blogger called Ali Brosh who wrote a post about this that spoke to my soul. Here is her handy graph to give you a peek into my inner mental workings:
My sense of inadequacy was only enhanced by working for a Large Heritage Organisation, famous for its housekeeping. Whole lives were dedicated to testing exactly the right kind of wax polish for floors or strength of vacuum cleaner for fragile fabrics. I was new to this world and looked on with a kind of fascinated horror at the level of effort required day to day to preserve beautiful antiques.
Some things that they did were techniques that had been handed down by country house servants from centuries before: beating carpets, shrouding furniture in dust sheets, newspaper on the places in the carpet where the sun shone most strongly and blinds that constantly rose and fell according to the weather (or shut permanently). Every winter this incredibly delicate ballet of cleanliness ramped up to a crescendo. Whole rooms were dismantled, as were pieces of furniture, to hunt down every last speck of dust and every last collection piece was washed, brushed, rubbed or bagged up.
Parts of the rooms I’d never truly considered before as anything but decorative became ledges where dust could be stored and, if it got damp, glued on. All of it had to be swept. There was even a huge dust study conducted by the University of East Anglia in partnership with English Heritage, Historic Royal Palaces and the National Trust about what dust consisted of, how to monitor it and how to manage it.
Go on, read it. You know you want to. Did you know that the dust you see about your home isn’t actually bits of skin but clothes fibres instead? You do now…
This introduced whole lexicons of guilt for my inability to wield a duster, let alone any other household tasks. And then I had kids…
Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, there’s still a tiny part of every woman’s brain that thinks that their baby will be different. They’ll wear pretty white layers, smell gorgeous and sit there giggling to themselves whilst mummy cooks wholesome dinners or bakes lovely cakes. When I had my first child, I’d just about navigated the first 6 months and she was starting to respond to the things I did and said. I felt like I was owed a bit of fluffy baking time. Then she started moving. Within minutes of starting to crawl, she had picked ‘something’ up off the floor. My face was a silent rictus of dread and I moved far too slowly to stop her putting it into her mouth.
That was the tipping point. Now every surface was likely to be crawling with life-threatening bacteria and my child was proving to be a champion forager. There was nothing that couldn’t be gummed for its potential nutritional value. From that point onwards I had to be tidy AND clean. On four hours sleep a night. Being at home on maternity leave meant that I got to look at our house for most of the day and assess the likelihood of various objects carrying the plague virus. I was definitely a bit unbalanced at the time (for that and a whole host of other reasons – did I mention that I wasn’t getting much sleep?).
For the next several years that tug between terror at my child contracting norovirus from the doormat and my fundamental dislike of the hoover has continued to guilt-trip me but I have more or less managed. The kids haven’t become bubonic at least, so you know, winning…
But then the watermelon incident happened.
I’d taken the kids to Aldi and, in the way that they do, they’d demanded we buy a watermelon. Reckoning that it was better than the 30-packet sack of crisps that I’d just had to turn down, I allowed them to pick one. And so it sat in a corner of the kitchen for ages because, as it inevitably turned out, they didn’t really fancy eating healthy watermelon after all.
One Saturday morning I walked downstairs to be greeted by a truly awful sweet smell. At some point in the early hours, the watermelon had exploded and covered virtually everything in the kitchen in a fine rotten sticky pink goo. It dripped off the ceiling. It had fired into every conceivable crevice. The only place that wasn’t sticky and stinky was the fridge. Surveying the terrible scene before me, I despaired at the thought of ever having a clean kitchen again.
I jumped on FaceBook to appeal to the hive mind for advice (and to share the nightmare) and the ever-excellent Beth came to my rescue with ZOFLORA. Now I can’t not write it in capitals or sing it when I say it (Zo-FLOOOOOO-ra!). I’d last used ZOFLORA in the early 90s to clean my hamster’s cage and I could only really recall a faint floral scent mixed with musty sawdust but I was willing to try anything to zap the sickly sweet smell of foetid watermelon. I found several bottles in the local supermarket and wondered if a simple liquid could be the answer to my woes. Simple answer: yes.
Beth writes a blog called Twinderelmo and had already covered its many uses so she suggested that I try it out on the surfaces and floor and it only blimmin’ worked! Crucially, it covers the two bases of actually disinfecting stuff as well as smelling really really good. And the smell lingers. In fact, if I’ve done no housework and someone is unexpectedly dropping by (too quickly for me to gather up all my rubbish and throw it under the stairs), I run some hot water in the sink and drop in some ZOFLOOOORA to make them think I’ve just mopped (psychology, see?). That’s only if I’m trying to impress you, by the way. Or covering up something truly awful…
In addition to this, I got a roomba (a self-propelled vacuum cleaner) for my birthday which I think has sneakily raised my house-keeping game. Now I can give the appearance of having at least one aspect of my life under control. I can – guiltlessly – sit and watch it hoovering around me – or even go out and leave it to get on by itself.
Surely this is the pinnacle of human achievement? And almost certainly it’s what Saint Zita would have wanted. Amen to that, Saint Zita. Amen.