“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” This is the opening sentence of Dodie Smith’s novel “I Capture the Castle,” a poignant coming of age book. And, yes, that is the Dodie Smith who also wrote “101 Dalmatians.”
I can’t quite claim that. Instead, I write this sitting on a stepladder, with my laptop balanced on a window-sill, in my parents-in-law’s almost empty house. In the background I can hear the house clearance agents loading the last of the crockery and cooking utensils into big cardboard boxes, ready to take away.
As they have cleared, my husband and I have followed in their steps, with the vacuum cleaner, bowls of soapy water, cleaning rags and bleach. The house may be shabby, but at least it will be clean for our buyers.
We mentioned this to the estate agent, in passing, when we were discussing Completion dates. “Oh, we weren’t expecting that,” said our buyer, in return - and through the medium of the agent. Please don’t go to any effort!
Well, that’s kind of them, but I cannot rid my mind of the idea they nevertheless expect absolute cleanliness.
I’m sure we’ve all heard, when we have a friend coming round, “Oh, don’t trouble yourself. Don’t put yourself out for me!” Yet we do.
My clients must walk through my house to reach my studio, and I swear this is sometimes all that keeps things from descending into an untidy and dusty chaos. I clean thoroughly every time. I have the – probably unwarranted – assumption that each one of my clients lives in an immaculate home and that they must look around mine with horror, even when it’s clean and tidy. I’m sure that any evidence of their hobbies or sports are kept out of sight, not draped over the dining room table like the wetsuits and sailing gear of my family. They don’t have a guinea-pig cage in the lounge. And here I must explain that Ruby is now elderly and frail and cannot live outside as she used to. Oh, and spot the apology there!
It’s not just our houses, but with many things in life, we feel we must produce perfection. Effortlessly. And even near perfection is never effortless. We hear the message from all around about taking it easy and pacing ourselves, and we listen with frustration because that’s simply not possible.
Yet, if we think about it, do any of us expect perfection from others? If we visit a friend, are we horrified by dust and untidiness, or do we simply not notice?
When my mother, newly delivered of me, was visited by an elderly woman from the village, she apologised for the state of the house. “My dear,” said the woman, “I’ve come to see you, not your house.”
Mind you, I also have friends, who when they visit, and knowing I am in a depressed state, simply roll up their sleeves and start on my washing up.
A Moodscope member.