Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Slattern’s Guide to… housework

This is where we really get down and dirty to the nitty gritty.

Housework. One of life’s great necessary evils, and one which – despite the fact that we think we’re now enlightened and advanced – is still mostly laid firmly at the feet of a person of the female persuasion.

That is not good news for us slatterns.

No-one likes housework. Some claim to, but they really mean is that they like the end result, not the process. And if they still insist they enjoy scrubbing the toilet bowl, picking out soapy clumps of hair clogging out of the plughole, or wiping unmentionable stains off the furniture, they’re either lying, in urgent need of professional help – or welcome to come and indulge their fetish at my house.

Household chores are where things really get serious, and seriously unpleasant, for those of us born under the sign of the slattern. While there is pleasure to be gained from some of the subjects we’ve talked about so far in this Guide – like clothes and food – housework holds no potential for fun, role play or hedonistic indulgence. It just has to be done, the faster the better, if you don’t want to be buried under a mountain of your own detritus or savaged by those weird dust bunnies that magically reproduce under the bed.

Like most of you reading this (it IS, after all, a Slattern’s Guide) I’m no natural-born housewife, hausfrau, femme au foyer, νοικοκυρά, ama de casa, whatever you like to call it – not in anyone’s language. I can talk the hind leg off a donkey, I can be a great friend, I’m good at my job, I can make you laugh, sometimes make you cry and when all else fails I can whip up a storm in the kitchen. Just don’t expect Martha Stewart perfection when it comes to cleaning up afterwards.

Ironic then, that the man I feel in love with all those years ago, and with whom I have made a life (and a boy child along the way) is Greek. A real Greek Greek. In Greece. With a classic stay-at-home Greek mama.
Ah, and did I mention he’s also the first-born and the only son?

When we moved in together, I attempted to distract any sidewards glances of disapproval of our the unwed cohabitation by being the perfect hostess – ALL THE BLOODY TIME.

We moved into our flat in November and during the first month we received 56 visits from friends, family and assorted well-wishers bringing us sweets and good wishes for our new home. They usually arrived unannounced, sometimes less half an hour after I’d arrived home from work.
So, I had to make sure the place was perfect – ALL THE BLOODY TIME.

The alternative was a mad last-minute dash round the place with the hoover, with a duster stuck between my buttocks, as I bustled round grabbing stray items and stuffing them in cupboards, then rearranging furniture to keep the doors closed against the heaving mass hiding within before combing my wayward hair and slapping some lippy and a grin on my face to greet our guests. 

By Christmas, I was an exhausted, quivering mass of knackerdom hiding under the pile of untamed gift wrappings shoved out of sight behind the extravagantly decorated tree.
That January, I made the only New Year’s Resolution I have ever kept – to stop trying to meet the impossibly high standards of the Greek mother and housewife, and just do my best.

Immediately, the pressure was off. I let myself slob out on the sofa reading, despite the pile of ironing lurking in the corner. I hid all tablecloths and started using raffia mats instead. I banished all doilies and crocheted covers for…   well, pretty much everything (armchair headrests, coffee tables, sideboards, even TVs and fridges) even though it ran the risk of offending well-meaning family members who generously donated them in the hope of making me a fit woman for one of their men. Dust-magnets…  sorry, assorted ornaments and  trinkets….  were gathered up, wrapped lovingly in newspaper, then  shoved into a box hidden in the spare room.
In short, I simplified things.

Of course, I knew I had to keep the house decent, but I was buggered if I was going to it solo. Poor Nikos probably didn’t know what hit him, but fair’s fair, right?

Fast forward a couple of decades and – perhaps surprisingly – we’re still together. The house is mostly clean, though not usually entirely tidy. We try to pass it of as having 'character', with a dash of creative flair (a great euphemism for lack of domestic order). We devote one day a week to beating back the chaos when we wave a duster at the furniture, chuck bleach at strategic surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom, and terrify the cat by dragging the vacuum cleaner (a.k.a. The Screaming Box of Demons) from its lair to roar through the rooms in an orgy of dust sucking.

But the place is always lightly littered with books, scraps of papers, ashtrays, cameras, flash drives, guitars cushioned in chairs designed for human rumps, random notebooks and biros (never together) and feral teacups. I think there’s a mythical beast of some kind living at the back of our Tuppercare cupboard, which pushes the entire contents onto the floor whenever some foolish mortal dares open the doors. There are no fresh-cut blooms on my sideboard, not a stitch of crocheted handiwork or gleaming silver-plated candlesticks. There just an old baglama (a traditional Greek stringed instrument – think of a mini-bouzouki hewn from a single piece of mulberry wood), some headphones, a forgotten shopping list, an anonymous but hardy plant in a blue pot that’s survived our neglect, and a large hourglass filled with purple sand.  

We don’t live in squalor. We can find things when we need them (most of the time). Visitors don’t risk any interesting illnesses previously unknown to medical science, and our son has survived to almost-manhood in one piece (we’ll talk about the Slattern’s Guide to Childrearing another time). Even my mother-in-law has stopped checking the windowsills and table tops for grime.

There’s really only way that a slattern can survive the obstacle course of domesticity without losing her sanity. And that is…   relax.

And always keep one room, with a lockable door, available as a dumping ground for debris when unexpected guests come a-calling. Just make sure you’ve had a glass or two of your favourite tipple before you turn the key and enter.



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