Some homes don’t actually have a Dirtwoman. When the estate of my beloved’s previous marriage was split 50/50 and the family home sold, he and I cleaned through. I spent an evening scrubbing, bleaching, de-greasing another woman’s kitchen – because in that home they had Careerwoman and Intellectualwoman and Findyoursoulwoman – but they had no Dirtwoman as such.
We have lodgers share our home with us, and all of them have been very clean and tidy. They do their own laundry and washing up; they cook for themselves and keep their rooms pleasant and tidy. But it is always Dirtwoman who crawls around on her hands and knees scrubbing the floors; who cleans around and in and behind the toilet; who moves the shampoo bottles and bleaches the bits of the bath where mould grows if you don’t; who bleaches the shower curtain, and scrubs the grime that gathers in the corner of the window frames, and empties the bins, and scrubs out the recycling boxes and takes a nail brush to the moulding on the skirting boards and brushes the yard.
There is a glorious exception. In our house, my beloved cleans the oven. Last night at my request (graciously and willingly) he also took the remainder of the stew that had gone bad up the garden and buried it. When he dies, he will go straight to heaven for this. God sees.
My mother has been a Dirtwoman Extraordinaire all her life. I remember the Lost Soul feeling of coming home early from school on the last day of term – when home was not yet home as I knew it, with home-made cake and jam sandwiches, but a Grim Place dominated by floor wax, Windowlene and Jif.
I was okay with the nappies when my children were babes – though despite all my eco-principles I have advised my daughter to let go of this one Shining Act of Environmental Responsibility – stuff the terries: go for disposable. Mopping up sick, pee, spilt food and drinks: the mountains of washing up and laundry, the endless sorting of belongings – I felt this was fair enough.
Around and after the ending of my first marriage, every member of our family went through multiple moves; and we were a kind of corporate Dirtwoman as each inhabitant marched out. We bagged and boxed and carried and scrubbed and wiped and swept. I guess that was okay.
I’ve even been a Dirtwoman by trade; skivvying as a cleaner and as a care assistant shovelling in Ready Brek at one end and catching it as it came out the other. I guess that was okay: I needed the money.
When I got together with my beloved, I used at first to stay some weekends at his place, and he came and stayed some weekends with me. When I went to stay at his place I’d clean through; hoovering, polishing, washing the floors, cleaning down the bathrooms, doing the ironing. Sometimes his ex-wife would have been to stay with his daughter while he was away, and left behind some big oven dishes from a roast dinner for me to clean up. I guess it was okay. My beloved was grateful, and I do love him very much.
When I go to stay with my family, sometimes I dabble as a Dirtwoman – it doesn’t hurt to pick up a cloth and help out, and they all have their hands full earning a living or raising a family.
And just now I am getting a home ready to sell. They say, don’t they, that it doesn’t matter too much about the condition of the home you sell: hey, don’t try too hard! – the next people will want to do things their own way; they will expect to re-decorate, re-carpet, change everything to their own tastes. Will they? I am not convinced. I try to imagine myself viewing a house and thinking, ‘Oh, cat-sick stains on the carpet, toilet stained dark brown, walls in need of painting – woohoo! I was hoping it would be this way; now I can refurbish a whole house! Out of my way! Here comes Dirtwoman!’ Nah. I’d rather it was clean and fresh and ready to move into, every time.
What I would really like is to live in a shed. One small room. Almost no belongings. A brush, a cloth, flimsy curtains that wash out quick and go up on the line without a struggle, without hurting my neck and my arms; a bucket toilet. People think a bucket toilet in the shed where you live is not hygienic and not private. I think shitting in the middle of a house where everyone can hear you and smell you is not private, and you can clean a bucket a lot more effectively than a flush toilet. And cooking over charcoal outdoors, draining dishes on the grass, is clean. The stuff that accumulates in sink traps and the powder drawer of washing machines is disgusting.
But I have to choose between the way I would like to live, and the companion I would like to live with, who prefers a large house, two bathrooms, a nice fitted kitchen – and lots and lots and lots of ornaments. Memorabilia.
I have chosen the person. Not without struggle, I admit. There have been a series of moments when I have almost, almost chosen the way of life instead. For the freedom. Because I want to live with cleanliness, order and peace; I don’t want dust and moulds and parasites and grease and the stains of spilt food and drink and the stains of stuff that dropped out of the orifices of living beings: but I don’t want to be Dirtwoman any more either. I don’t want to choose between using a toilet with stuck-on bits of shit from who knows which resident, or scraping it off myself. I don’t want every day to clean out the slimy bits of onion and soya and hair stuck round the thing that catches stuff as water goes down the kitchen sink plug. I don’t want to scrub the stuck-on gunk off the wire racks on the draining board and under the washing up bowl, or poke out the slime mould that gathers under the draining board drain-holes with a knife. I don’t want to poke out the grey fluff that gathers where the radiator pipe goes into the floor.
Not now, not never, not ever again. I like to be clean, but I hate being the household dalit, everybody’s Dirtwoman.
This last time, as we move house, I will be Dirtwoman. But after we have moved, Dirtwoman will have resigned. Even while I think about it, I have no idea how I can share a home with a bunch of other people and accomplish this.
But I will. Somehow I will.
The enemy of cleanliness and order is the accumulation of possessions. Everywhere stuff accumulates there is either filth or a Dirtwoman. The gift of life was not meant for this.