My mum is coming over for lunch. Consequently I am armed with kitchen roll and anti bacterial spray and I am cleaning every light switch in sight.
One is never too old to feel the disapproval emanating from a beloved relative.
My mum hates a dirty light switch.
I learned this in 1978 when we moved into our new house. I say ‘new’ but it was actually old and very down at heel. Think rotting window frames, threadbare carpets and mildewed flock wallpaper.
My parents were doing property projects way before Channel 4 invented them.
Upon entering it, my mother glanced around, spotted grimy fingerprints on the light switch in the hallway and immediately muttered, “Filthy swine!”
My mother sets a lot of store by cleanliness. It is a measure by which she is happy to judge others.
She has a keen sense of smell and employs it to determine where on the scale of grubbiness one might fall.
The merest hint of cooped-up-cat or the liberal use of Crisp ‘n Dry and she’s sniffing her clothes all the way home in the most theatrical way.
When I was growing up, the cupboard under the sink was home to my mother’s vast arsenal of cleaning products.
This was the 80s, and the market was burgeoning.
Remember Shake n’ Vac? My mum never looked quite as ecstatic as the woman in the telly ad (that actress must have been high as a kite with all the powder she was inhaling through rehearsals and first takes) but she threw down that carpet freshener like it was going out of fashion.
I hated the stuff, not only because it made me sneeze, but because I found the ’n’ irrationally irritating; ’n’ was also big in the 80s.
The thing was, the sprinkling of Shake n’ Vac was the last step in a process which saw my mother vacuum then scrub the carpet with lavender based disinfectant and a wooden scrubbing brush first.
She was permanently attached to a tin of Ajax and never felt relaxed unless she knew she was within ten metres of a bottle of Jif.
Her relationship with Mr Sheen has lasted almost as long as her marriage. All that pleasurable rubbing keeps you loyal.
She has always done her own cleaning, eschewing the services of others whom she immediately assumes have lower standards. (“Would they think of taking the nets down? Dealing with radiator grills? Skirting boards? I don’t think so!”)
I have always enjoyed a clean home. But I have been less committed to cleaning it than my mother was to hers.
I did try employing a cleaner.
At first, I was eaten up with guilt at exploiting the labour of another woman, tasking her with menial work I was unwilling to do myself.
Then I started questioning what I was paying for.
My cleaner was good at stacking untidy magazines and catalogues in a pile, but seemingly couldn’t bring herself to lift the loo seat and give that a good scrub.
Finally I was incensed.
When she asked me if she could take one of my catalogues away with her because she’d seen something she wanted to buy in it, I realised that I was paying her to read the pile of magazines and catalogues she’d grown so expert at tidying.
We parted ways after six weeks and the experience put me off having a cleaner again.
That and the £14 per hour she was charging. (I kid you not.)
I was reliant on my own elbow grease. And a whole load of solvents.
Fortunately, in recent years a whole load of helpful domestic technology has arrived.
No scrubbing brush for me! I purchased a steam cleaner! Yes, carpets, soft furnishings and hard floors all get treated to a thorough going over.
(Stay still long enough and you might feel the heat rise up your trouser leg too.)
Bagless, see-through technology made vacuuming almost a mesmerising pleasure. It’s a joy to watch those dust mites, dead skin cells and pet hair fly up the tube!
I’ve tried to enlist the help of my sons but it’s not gone well.
Somehow they confuse ‘in’ (as in put that ‘in’ the dishwasher, ‘in’ the laundry hamper, ‘in’ the bin) with ‘near’ and other prepositions.
Consequently there is invariably a crockery installation ‘near’ the dishwasher, a scattering of pants and socks ‘beside’ the laundry hamper and empty pizza boxes ‘by’ the bin.
It infuriates me.
It inspires me to swear.
I may have a clean house, but I have a filthy mouth.