SLOVENLY LOVE | House-proud? Rachel Woollett’s short story introduces a character who is more than happy to revel in her own untidiness.
by Rachel Woollett
My osteopath, a woman far too young-looking and physically pert to fully understand the bodily rigours suffered by a world-weary and life-addled old husk like me, asked me if my back had hurt whenever I’d done the hoovering over the last week. I looked her straight in the eye and answered that it hadn’t. This wasn’t because my twisted sacrum had received a Messiah-like touch and miraculously righted itself since the last time I’d seen her, but because I simply hadn’t done any hoovering that week. Or for about a month before that. In fact it would have been the last time someone came round to visit, which I try to avoid at all costs. So, probably more like two or three months in truth.
I’m more than happy to wade knee-deep in my own detritus in my own home, because it’s my filth. As Julia Roberts would say, it’s the fork I know. If it came to it, I’d happily scoop up great handfuls of grit, crumbs and dead skin cells and throw them unashamedly up in the air, in the same way that a lottery winner might do with crisp new fifty pound notes, just because, due to the hugely unlikely alignment of some pretty staggering odds, they now can.
My television is covered in dust. As are my dusters. Or they probably would be if I knew where I kept them. Somewhere in the unknown realm of wonders that lies under the sink, where everything smells of the 1950s and all the bottles scream ‘DANGER!’ at you with their hazardous skull-and-crossbone labels and their leaky, corroded lids.
Sunday’s roasting dish still sits on the kitchen work-surface, having a quick soak in warm water to ease the removal of vegetable oil, granite-hard potatoes that never made the plating-up, and burnt-on chicken parts. It’s now Thursday. And that’s fine.
The early autumn garden, which can just about be seen through the smeary, snail-traversed kitchen window is a feast of nature’s glory. Trees in full leaf, battling the strong September winds, determined to keep their hard-grown foliage til it’s golden and ready to fall, which is a long way off yet. The grass is high, the reeds over the pond have now obscured any sign of the water beneath and I know there’s a hosepipe out there somewhere, possibly under the half-used bag of John Innes or the now abandoned yellow-striped windbreak from the summer trip to Margate.
“I’m more than happy to wade knee-deep in my own detritus in my own home, because it’s my filth.”
On several occasions, various neighbours have offered to lend us hedge-trimmers, loppers and even a chainsaw ’just in case’ we wanted to cut down that tree or trim that hedge. One of them even gave us a lawnmower, free and gratis, mumbling something about how perhaps we could put it to ‘good use’. I think it’s still in the shed, where it went the day they gave it to us. Similarly, I never answer the front door anymore either, as nine times out of ten it’ll be some burly, leather-faced brute from a local landscaping outfit, with a sweaty brow and hands like shovels, offering to trim my privet for fifty quid. There are only so many times you can square-up to a tradesman and tell him you like a full bush without causing offence.
Overgrown, unkempt, uncleaned, I’m happy with my home the way it is. It feels familiar. The bulging boxes from the move three years ago that never got as far as the loft and still line the perimeter of the bedroom like a makeshift cardboard fort, ably patrolled by soldiers who look suspiciously like week-old tea mugs, allow me to sleep safe in my bed at night. The piles of clothes on the floor that never even made it to the chairdrobe feel like wartime sandbags, shoring up our home against doodlebugs and incendiaries, keeping the enemy at bay. The Blitz spirit lives on in this house. A cup of tea, a slice of lardy cake and a healthy distrust of outsiders is all I need to get by.
Tree-surgeon chancers or not, I’m rarely at home to strangers, as they simply wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t appreciate the convenience of the butt-flap onesie. Unthinkable warmth and practicality in the same garment, like one of Dr Seuss’s Thneeds. They wouldn’t understand that not all the lights work and consequently wouldn’t appreciate the thrill of negotiating the pitch-black hallway assault course of toolboxes, bicycles and tins of paint without grazing all the skin off an ankle bone, or the sense of achievement on reaching the end, where a lit bulb once again brings forth light unto the world and reveals a cosy sofa on which to nurse your hard-won gaping wounds.
Like weather-carved rocks in the deserts of Utah, or the much-trodden steps of a mediaeval cathedral, my sofa cushions reveal their years of use in the shapes created by satisfied, tired, end-of-the-day arses. Stuffing worn down by years of slouching spines and leaden limbs. Covers stained with liquids, body fluids and toddler yoghurt, with crevices full of crumbs, Lego and pen lids. Who could want for more?
My osteopath says my back pain is caused by my fatigued buttocks. Apparently they’re exhausted. Who knew? Her recommendations were yoga, which I noted can be done from the comfort of one’s own home, and bike riding, which I noted can’t. The swaying sycamore through the dirt-opaqued kitchen window tells me it’s unwise to cycle in a Force-10 gale. So, in my gaping butt-flap onesie, I shall adjourn to the comfort of the living room, lay on the filthy, unhoovered floor, and try to stretch some life back into my saggy old behind. Or I may just sink it lovingly into the welcoming cushions of the chaise and enjoy a cup of English Breakfast while I ignore the doorbell.
Rachel Woollett | @RachelWoollett
Rachel Woollett is a journalist, writer and comedy performer.