I happened to call my Dad today, interrupting him from his current struggle with an epic white goods related flood that I have received stormy toned emails about from my Mother. We had a lovely, albeit short, conversation in which he also mentioned that he had seen Alan (my father-in-law) that morning and that Alan had spent three hours cleaning the oven in our old place. Three hours. Oh the shame. I should have apprehended this ending to the Charlton home story, owing to the fact that when Alex and I were sitting in a bar in Lausanne last weekend, Alan had called to say that he and Alex’s mother were at the old house, and amongst other things, the oven was ‘a bit grimy’.
About my oven. To start, you really need to understand its position in a geographical sense. Imagine a tropical island – perhaps the size of Mauritius. Imagine an oven, on the island. And imagine, with all the other requirements of keeping Mauritius tidy, ordered and dodo-free, how often you might remember to check the oven. That, roughly sums up my oven and my attitude to cleaning. Whilst our kitchen might not be the size of Mauritius, it was certainly big.
My sister effortlessly posing in a corner of the kitchen. If you stood at the other end of the kitchen, she would appear to be two foot tall.
And with a big room, the floor is somewhat endless (I don’t really have the knack of mopping either – I just seem to spread water on the floor, and have to get on all fours to actually get any dirt up. Sometimes with my nails). On days when I thought the kitchen needed a clean I would tend to the surfaces and the washing up, and on occasions when I felt really committed, the floor. When it looked shiny enough, I would then congratulate myself by doing something less – what’s the right word? – recurring. Because despite having spent all that time cleaning the kitchen, I would only have to get up and do it all again another day.
I have to write about the house move as a different post, because it’ll go on too long, but suffice to say here, the only demand I made was that I could be there for the physical house move, and in the back of my mind, I wanted to be there to clean up that weekend. You know clean up, as in, hide the abhorrent slobbishness I had allowed our way too big house to give way to.
Alex and I lived there for three and a half years and Alex is a self-declared ‘the water’s too hot to wash up, I don’t know how to cook, my parents ironed my shirts’ sort of man(-child). I’ve been out of work since around August 2014, and had supposed to myself that to demonstrate to Alex, as well as all the invisible onlookers I suspected to be at our curtains, how sensible the decision was to leave work, I would keep the house clean and have meals on the table for when he came home. As well as trying to write the next most-amazing-book-ever-written-thereby-diminishing-the-creative-use-of-the-English-language-to-a-what’s-the-point-she’s-done-it footnote. Since October, as the house began to disappear into boxes, the housework itself took an even lower priority, with a little voice saying, ‘it’s okay, do the proper cleaning once the house is empty’.
As circumstances would have it, we flew back to London the evening after the house move, leaving my brother Jon and Alan to supervise the move itself. Alex and I had decided to hire cleaners to do the last part of the cleaning up, but his parents offered to save us some money and do it for us. Hence the three hours oven cleaning. I don’t know how long they took on the rest of the house, which back to the geography comparison, would suggest a size of … oh – probably two galaxies stuck together.
There’s just nothing worse than someone walking into a place you have been responsible for when you haven’t had the opportunity to run around doing those little fixes you know how to do. It’s like the bathroom. What is it with kitchens and bathrooms? You feel as though you’re letting the world see your soul and decide from those two interior spaces whether you’ll have a happy after life or not. Alan and I had spent a very pleasant two days a few months before painting and fixing the bathroom, which was prone to that orange stuff that turns into black mould. So, orange mould. Mould in an earlier part of the evolution cycle. Alan sorted out the mould and showed me how to scrub a wall. I can’t quite explain the shame I felt as he ran a proper scrubbing brush over the white tiles and the ‘incurable orange stuff’ as I had called it vanished before my eyes. I had been using raggedy jay cloths and the hard side of a sponge, and condemning the bathroom as some sort of un-air conditionable damp trap.
I didn’t condemn the oven in the way that I had the bathroom – a can of Oven Cleaner that I brought twice through the years, promised that all I had to do was spray it onto the oven and later wipe it off (I confess – I don’t have many memories of wiping it off). I remember going to extraordinary lengths two years ago with some glass cleaner on the inside of the oven door. Me and that oven – we shared some times together. If ovens could speak, mine would have said, ‘she did try – when she remembered’. But I’m more afraid of what, during those three hours with Alan, the mute, victimised oven might have suggested. What sort of wife/woman/human being am I if I don’t even keep the oven clean? Are they frightened that they will find Alex covered in dust with holes in his feet after a few years with me? Grandchildren! They’ll be those children with smudges of chimney dust all over their faces, with raggedy clothes and unexpected Victorian orphan accents! Alan is a sensible man. But even he must have found himself pushed to the point of insanity with all the horrors of what the oven was mutely suggesting. I know I am.
Confession over. I am now in a flat in Lausanne, which in comparison to the old house is a mere postage stamp. It’s already a lot easier to keep on the clean side. I can’t promise you that there aren’t a few splatters on the kitchen floor, but you know – I’ll get round to that. As soon as I had spoken to my Dad, I sent what I hoped was a repentant email to my mother-in-law, thanking her for the work they had put in. What I didn’t say, but what I hoped came through was:
I’m sorry that you cleaned my oven and discovered my soul. I am available for an exorcism at your earliest convenience.