Updated: Apr 1, 2019
I’m not too keen on mess.
We visited my son’s student house a few times last year and each time we went, it took all of my will-power to stop myself telling his housemates to get their 's_ _ t' together (I know how youngsters speak these days) and do something about the state of the place. Not that getting their s_ _ t together in one place would have made the smell an awful lot better. Okay, I exaggerate for comedic effect: there were no signs of actual s_ _ t, as such and it did not smell too bad, but neither was there any indication that, had there been, anyone would have made the effort to get their s_ _ t together and get their s_ _ t together... so to speak.
It was very messy. It looked like one of the Andrex puppies had been denied all access to toilet rolls on set and been given free rein to let off some steam with anything it could wrap around itself. Hiring a bull to sort out the china shop that was the kitchen would have been a drastic option to blitz the place and start again, if it could have stayed on its feet on the greasy lino floor long enough to do any damage. The washing-up – well, the only accurate part of that compound noun was the ‘up’ bit. There were mucky piles of it.
Our son eventually found the sink and began to clean some mugs for our tea, bashfully clearing away a few other pieces of crockery. He opened the cupboard door and a siren went off with an automated voice saying, ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area’. The tea tasted of bleach – adding a squirt to it was the only way I was prepared to risk drinking from the mug, no matter what our son had done to it. To be fair, the house members took their recycling responsibilities seriously. The food on the floor was there for any animal, or late-night reveler, that wanted it.
One positive: we did not need to wipe our feet on the way out because there was a really nice man from the Department for Food and Rural Affairs in the front garden with a plastic bottle on his back and a hose to spray our shoes.
I don’t understand how a house could get in such a mess. How can they live like that? To be fair to my son, he is a bit like me in that he doesn’t really like mess (unless he is at home) so he will try to clean. But he was fighting a losing battle in that place.
His halls, the previous year, unbelievably, were even worse. One weekend that we visited, we had to go up another way because someone had been sick over the threshold to one of the entrances to their flat. It had happened during the night and it was now the afternoon. Why wasn’t someone hauling the person responsible out of their bed and rubbing their noses in it? As we sat in the communal kitchen counting the corn on the cobs scattered around the room, we wondered what the cleaners thought of it. Who would take such a job, knowing you were cleaning up after students? Whoever you are, I admire your tenacity, your bravery and your nostrils.
I used to be a student. We cleaned. Mostly. We had to at the end of the tenancy in a 4 bed bungalow we had rented by the sea in West Wittering. We arrived there in September in glorious sunshine. It was fantastic. We barely noticed it when the letting agent said that the landlord had switched the storage heaters off because they were too expensive to run. Why would we? It was 25 degrees Celsius and we were in t-shirts and shorts. And we were students.
It was the coldest winter for about 30 years. We would draw straws to decide whose turn it was to chip the ice off of the bowl of washing-up in the morning. We had 2 electric heaters. When you switched a bar on, the metal disc in the meter would whiz round at a frightening rate. I'm sure our meter must have been used as an early working model for the Hadron Collider. 50p would give ten minutes of ‘heat’, maximum. You might be shocked to know that we did not have many 50ps. As a consequence, we relied on blankets to keep warm... or the pub (50p for the meter or 50p for a pint? Tough choice).
I had borrowed a car so we could get to college in the mornings. I would keep my clothes next to me in bed, get dressed in bed, throw back the sheets and rush out to the car to start it. When it was warm, I would tell my housemates it was ready. They had the same arrangements with their clothes and they would literally sprint through the house (they were at the back) and jump in the car. And off we’d go. On the rare occasions we did not shower in college and saved up enough to switch the immersion heater on, we would run a bath and the house would be full of steam within seconds. There was one time, just before Christmas, when we had a load of friends round. We had cooked a Christmas dinner and splashed out on an electric bar. I stopped the music and dancing at one point to make a serious announcement. ‘Everyone: breathe out through your mouths... What do you notice?’ We breathed: it was the first time in 5 weeks we had not been able to see our breath.
As a consequence of all this, you will not be surprised to learn we had a lot of mould, particularly on the walls in my mate John’s room. It ended up all over his blankets and sheets and his clothes. Thick, black mould. As a result, at the end of the tenancy we had six of us deep cleaning the whole place so that we stood some chance of getting our deposit back. I think a day was spent on John’s room alone. It was immaculate... and still the evil agents retained £50 for finding some dust under a couple of beds. Maybe my sensitivity to keeping things clean stems from back in those days.
I’m not the only one obsessed with cleanliness. My mother-in-law, Trish, came to stay at our house in Tilbury soon after we were married (Tilbury... now there’s another blog to come!) We had a neat, small house which we kept clean. My wife and I were out at work one day and, upon our return, Trish took us upstairs and showed us the windows. ‘Look,’ she said. We looked.
Having had experience of Trish cleaning or cutting back things we had never known needed cleaning or cutting back before, I quickly replied, ‘Oh, thank you.’
She obviously detected a little uncertainty in my voice. ‘Can’t you see?’ she said. ‘All the dirt and grime between the wooden frames and glass is clean now.’
We looked again. She was right. Something else we had not noticed was dirty, was now not dirty. I loved my mother-in-law very much. She was always a great source of support and help to us; always doing things for us. I wanted her to continue to like me and to continue to always do things for us.
‘Wow, that is so much better!’ I said.
‘I spent ages on it, scrubbing away.’
‘What did you use?’ my wife said.
‘Just a bit of cleaning fluid and a toothbrush. It’s a small, fiddly gap to get into.’
At this point, an alarm bell went off in my head. I spotted the bowl on the floor, the Marigolds and... a toothbrush. As I looked down, two things went through my mind;
1) ‘I take it all back: the space between the wooden frames and the glass was very dirty.’ and
2) ‘That’s my toothbrush.’
Sadly, Trish is no longer with us, but, after that, and to this day, we now keep spare toothbrushes in the house.
My mum had a similar experience with my dad at their caravan in East Mersea. She had been out and when she came back, he proudly showed how clean the sink and toilet was. She never used her face flannel again.
As I write, 2 more stories, at least, come to mind but I have run out of time so I will save those for another blog.
In any case, I must dash: the bottom of the piano hasn’t been cleaned in weeks...