Why I will never be a Febreze Fairy.

MM, the Fallen Febreze Fairy, as drawn by Rugby-boy.

MM, the Fallen Febreze Fairy, as drawn by Rugby-boy.

PF knows that I am not the kind of woman who hits the Prozac if HMS Bogbrush doesn’t circumnavigate the toilet rim on a daily basis. He will arrive home tonight, and sigh in despair. As his forehead furrows, his eyebrows will lunge towards each other like two caterpillars that are hell-bent on copulating on the end of his nose. (OK, so caterpillars don’t copulate. But I bet they would if they could.)

He often enquires why I’m not houseproud. The only answer that comes to mind immediately is that if I was, he wouldn’t be able to draw hearts in the dust to declare his undying love for me. But there are other reasons why I don’t have “Purgo, ergo sum” tattooed on my forehead. So here is why I will never be a Febreze Fairy, in five easy points.

1)  I am not my mother-in-law.

Don’t get me wrong; I admire her. At my age, she was Martha Stewart with Sophia Loren’s dress sense. I’m not. She attained the paradoxical summits of immaculate fingernails and a spotless home. I won’t. I accidentally knock the shower faucet and drench myself when I clean the bath. She doesn’t. In short, we’re different. So now for the visualisation exercise, PF: 1) Compare me with your mother at my age. 2) Hit your head against the nearest wall. 3) Get over it.

2) The time invested is simply not worth the fleeting result.

I have carried out a detailed feasibility study of this cleaning lark, and I have to inform you that whatever the activity undertaken, all visible evidence disappears in the space of a few hours.

Let’s illustrate this with laundry – a time-waste tragedy in six acts. I have copied this reference document for you from MM’s “Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework” (available from Prozac Publications):

Extract from "Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework" (Prozac Publications).

Extract from “Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework” (Prozac Publications).

Conclusion: Anyone who gets a thrill out of a pile of clean laundry should immediately consult a therapist and enroll for sky-diving lessons.

3)  I want to share the fun.

There are exciting hidden realms in this house just waiting to be explored. The laundry basket and the washing machine are both impatient to get to know more members of my family. They also have a distant cousin called Washing Line who lives at the bottom of the garden – her relationship with me is so insular that she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. She would welcome a visit from you.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind my offspring that the dishwasher has not yet learned how to fill and empty itself. Here’s a helpful hint: the distance from the table to the sink is equal to the distance from the table to the dishwasher (this domestic equation is often referred to as “Kitchen Pythagoras”). You guys should locate the toilet brush, too, or you will literally be up shit creek without a paddle if I ever I go under the wheels of a bus.

4) The looming danger of HWS:  “Hamster Wheel Syndrome”. 

Housework is both futile and ephemeral in this house. I can hear that clock ticking as I run around the wheel in the full knowledge that I’ll be doing the same thing again tomorrow, the day after and the week after. Hoovering a carpet for the second time in ten minutes because the dog has baptised my initial efforts with the saliva-drenched burrs she chewed out off her fur is hardly my idea of a rewarding occupation.

5) Cleaning is asking for trouble.

Maybe we could call it “maternal Murphy’s law”: Cleaning Karma bites you on the bum every time you wriggle your fingers into those Marigold gloves. If you clean the windows, the sky darkens and it immediately rains cats and dogs. Just washed the floor? The cat will throw up on it. Cleaning the bathroom before Rugby-boy returns home from the pitch is about as optimistic as getting out the Wedgwood when King Kong pops round for a cuppa.

DIY is also a common culprit in this equation: please tick the guilt-trip box if you have a) sanded down a wall just after I dusted, or b) rinsed out a paint bucket in the bath I had scrubbed in a rare surge of enthusiasm five minutes earlier.The greatest paradox of cleaning is that it’s only noticed when it’s not been done. I tried doing it regularly for a while, but nobody noticed….. until I stopped doing it.

Someone clever once said something about a great woman being behind every successful man, but I don’t think that being a sharp shooter with the toilet duck was one of the criteria he had in mind. So this Febreze Fairy Failure is off to walk the dog in the sun. If you want to cast a few spells with my magic wand while I’m out, help yourself: it’s beside the toilet on the right.

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The Febreze Fairy popping out for some fresh air (artist: Rugby boy).

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Wonder Woman.

The day it all started, I was in a French clothing store on a mercy mission for my upward sprouting, and thus trouserless, eleven-year-old son. I had already dug through the kids’ clothing section, and successfully emerged with two pairs of jeans, having survived the merciless, snatch-and grab world of French mothers at the sales. I slid gratefully away from the sales scrum. As the women’s clothing department appeared on the horizon, the noise of screaming toddlers diminished. I stopped in front of the first clothes rack, and my fingers fluttered over a skimpy size ten dress that reminded me of the one that I had fitted into once-upon-a-long-time-ago. Before producing the three reasons for my visit to the shop in the first place, before discovering the culinary joys of Eastern France, before……

My thoughts were interrupted by a strong waft of vanilla invading my nostrils. I was pushed sideways by an immaculately made-up, delicately perfumed local delicacy who eyed me up from head to toe, muttered “Pardon, Madame”, and shoved the size 10 skimpy out of the way to grab the size 8 just behind it. She held it against her sinewy, taut body, hissed a self-satisfied “ouais!!!!” through her teeth, then smirked smugly at me before swinging off to the garish green changing rooms, the chains on her handbag clanking in tempo with her high heels.

It was then that I turned around and saw it. The Wonder Woman T-shirt.  The predatory eye of the clanking, pin-up consumer had missed this little beauty, and I grabbed the label, then sighed in frustration. It was an out-of-bounds size 8, and it got me thinking. Was nobody here a size 8, explaining why there were so many items of that size in the sales? Maybe size 8 women are a rare species, and the human missile that had just knocked me sideways was a rarely-observed species that had ventured out of its lair to replenish its wardrobe during the sales?  Glancing under the rails of clothing, I half expected to see Richard Attenburough-style journalists crawling through the vestimentary undergrowth to film her as she shopped.

I returned to my study of the Wonder Woman T-shirt. Having already glimpsed WW’s cleavage in cartoon books, I couldn’t help wondering how she could fit her generous bosom into this particular garment, even if her minute waist did spare her the muffin top no doubt currently stretching the hems of the larger-sized T-shirts  bought by aspiring Wonder Women.

We all know a Wonder Woman, and are in awe as she manages her house, husband and family with more determination and assiduity than Martha Stewart. She is up, showered, perfectly made-up and perfumed before the rest of her tribe, and trills a sexy “au revoir, mon chééééééérie” to her doting husband before pulling beautifully ironed clothing out of the cupboards for her grumpy offspring. She drops them off at school after a sensible breakfast and then runs off elegantly without breaking her neck despite her 7cm high heels, mobile phone clamped to her ear. On good days I smile, on bad days I look down at my old pair of jeans and my faithful trainers, and my self-esteem plummets to sub-zero temperatures in her wake.

Turn up out of the blue at WW’s home…. and admire, or weep. She will never be flustered, never be in pyjamas, and never be in a foul mood. Her golden retriever does not shed, whereas mine provides enough hair to make an angora survival bag within the average week.

Time mysteriously stands still in WW’s home. Dust does not dare enter her spotless interior, which sports glass flowers on low tables that her children strangely don’t touch. The white carpets are mysteriously unsoiled by soda drinks, and much as you insist on walking barefoot, no pieces of crisps will ever get stuck between your toes. Push the sofa backwards, and you will not find the missing piece of the incomplete jigsaw you threw away last week, or a rogue playmobil helmet. WW’s children actually look after their stuff, without being asked. No red felt tip pen without a lid leaking its contents onto the sofa cover, no lonesome peanut screaming out for a taker. Niet. Nada. Welcome to the perfection of domestic paradise.

Whereas her pristine vegetable tray proudly boasts organic vegetables, the only organic thing to be found in mine recently was a decaying avocado lurking at the bottom. A family of six can appear unannounced and be invited for what is described as “a simple” dinner: WW whips out a meal for 20, beaming and gushing “it’s just leftovers” before digging a home-made tart the size of a tennis court out of the depths of a fathomless fridge.

In Wonder Woman’s bathroom, small decorative figures and framed quotations about “Home sweet home” remind you that what the French quaintly call the “little corner” is also a quiet, homely place, and a pile of magazines, novels and cartoon books are thoughtfully placed there for passing visitors (and yes, I did use that adjective deliberately). I will spare you details of my bathroom, but the reading material found there is currently “Snakes of the world”, the free magazine from the health insurance company, and a mail order catalogue: my failsafe method of making sure nobody hogs the toilet for too long.

Wonder Woman finishes her day by cleaning her kitchen floor, tripping delicately over her beautifully shiny tiles in Isotoner slippers, and curling up in an appropriately feminine ball on the couch with a cup of herbal tea, whilst her husband looks on admiringly. My personal version is to drag on my manky Canadian sheepskin men’s slippers, which I fondly refer to as my kayaks, and climb over the dog to the sofa, only to be growled at by the lanky teen strewn over the piece of furniture designed for 4 people, defiantly clutching the remote as if it were his last Rolo.

As my fringe-flicking teenage son regularly points out, my reaction is based on pure enviousness, awe and lack of self-esteem. He’s right. See, it’s not hard to admit it. But what we forget is that each and every one of us is a wonder woman, just not that kind of wonder woman. Being the one who cleans up after the cat throws up on the floor, the only one who spends the afternoon fighting to combine two pieces of string, an egg-box and a disappointed child in a determined bid to build a dinosaur, and the one who decides she doesn’t like chocolate cake that much after all when there isn’t enough left is already proof of the pud, don’t you think? So thumbs up to all you other Wonder Women out there…..whether or not you own the T-shirt.