A clean sweep into a brighter new world?
I’ve never really cleaned before, not properly anyway.
When we married, I made Mrs Canavan sign a contract promising to do all menial tasks such as housework, while in return I would clean the outside guttering twice a year.
The agreement was working a treat. Every week or so I would return from work to find the house sparkling. I never questioned how it happened, it just seemed like some sort of extraordinary magical trick that only Mrs Canavan was capable of pulling off.
However, this week we hit a problem when, with guests due to visit and the house a bit of a tip, Mrs C announced that she wasn’t able to do the cleaning because she was tired and had a bad back. ‘You’ve got to be joking?’ I said, as I lay on the settee watching Man United v Liverpool and sipping a fresh mango juice.
“No, I’m not joking,” she replied. “I’m seven months pregnant, I don’t feel well, and I don’t think climbing the stairs with a hoover is the most sensible thing to do.”
Now I’ve heard some excuses in my time but this was taking the biscuit. She’s only expecting a baby, not working down a mineshaft 12 hours a day.
Still, not one to cause a scene, I decided to have a bash myself (after the football had ended, obviously).
I have done some housework in the past - I washed the pots in late 1997, and as a teenager often polished my neighbour’s brass knockers (my neighbour’s husband was furious when he got home from work) - but never the whole house. In short, this was my first proper foray into the world of what it must have been like to be a woman pre-Emmeline Pankhurst.
First I rang my mother for advice for if house cleaning were a sport, she’d be high in the world rankings.
My mother adores cleaning. When she visits, she arrives wearing a pair of Marigolds and before taking her coat off is halfway up the stairs en route to attacking the toilet bowl with a scrubbing brush.
Every time I walk into her home - about twice a week - she is either hoovering the carpet, ironing, changing the bedding, putting a wash on, or wiping the kitchen surfaces.
Her house is cleaner than your average hospital. In fact if I required open heart surgery and could choose where to have it, I’d opt for my mum’s semi-detached. There are no germs there because it is impossible for germs to survive such is the ferocity and intensity of my mother’s cleaning regime.
‘Mum, I’ve got to clean the house,’ I announced as she picked up the phone.
“Do you want me to come round?” she said. This was tempting. But she’s an hour’s drive away, is in her 70s, and recently had an operation on her hip which has left her with a limp and difficulty walking.
So naturally I said, ‘that would be great mum, thanks’.
I didn’t really. I asked for tips (which way up do you hold the mop, that kind of thing) and then went for it.
What I will say straight off is that cleaning isn’t as easy as it looks.
I began by hoovering the stairs but by the seventh step, with sweat dripping from my brow and on the verge of a severe and potentially fatal asthma attack, had to stop for a 15-minute sit-down,
The bathroom took more than an hour - the glass screen in the shower cubicle was covered in a slimy green mould that refused to move no matter how hard I went at it with a scourer - and the kitchen 90 minutes (turns out if you have spill some bolognaise sauce on the hob it’s best to wipe it up right away and not to leave it for three days to become virtually welded on).
Although I wouldn’t wish to clean on a regular basis, I must admit to feeling a certain satisfaction at having a gleaming house and knowing I was responsible.
The downside is that three days on from my Herculean efforts, the kitchen, lounge and bathroom are once again grimy and in need of another clean.
Excuse me a moment while I phone my mother...
We put our best foot forward...and failed
Myself and three friends meet once every couple of months to go walking in the Lake District.
It used to be once a fortnight but as we have got older and wives and children have entered the scene to spoil our fun, our trips have become less regular.
Thus when we pencil in a date we are loathe to cancel. Which is what happened on Sunday, when despite a weather forecast for the West Lakes which read ’95 per cent chance of hailstone and snow, 100 per cent chance of torrential rain, 45mph winds, poor visibility … if you are thinking of going walking, it’s best not to bother’, we decided to plough on regardless.
Attempting to climb Bowfell, the fifth highest peak in those parts, we had been walking for about 10 minutes when the rain - which was horizontal and hitting our faces so hard that it was like being constantly jabbed in the cheek by a woman with very long and sharp fingernails - began to seep through our waterproof jackets.
After about half-an-hour, any joy and enthusiasm we had felt about our expedition had all but evaporated and there were mutterings of ‘shall we turn back, what do you think?’
Being four men though and stubborn, none of us would take that decision to halt the climb for fear of being labelled weak.
So we continued on to Angle Tarn, about an hour shy of the summit, and with three of the party on the verge of collapsing with hypothermia, we decided, albeit reluctantly, to turn back.
Three days later my Goretex trousers - which cost £110 and came with a five-year water-free guarantee - are still hanging on the radiator sopping wet.
Next time we’ll skip the walk and get straight to the pub.