At least for this, its inaugural week, I’m participating in the WordPress writing challenge, which is to pick the most mundane thing I did in the last couple of days and make a story out of it. That’s often what I do anyway, pick on some small detail in something not very remarkable and recount the story that attaches to it; and so many things have little stories that come with them, don’t they?
I cleaned the oven a couple of days ago, spurred into activity by the shame of spending so much time on the sofa watching the Olympics on the television.
I come from a line of women proud of their homes, women who keep them tidy and clean, for whom the idea of dust is a personal afront, and for whom there appeared to be some satisfaction in the endeavour.
I am not one of those women. My home is relatively tidy, but as I sit here typing I can see dust bunnies under the furniture and streaks on the windows. It’ll be a while before these things bother me enough to make me change them.
I can’t remember the last time I cleaned the oven, but it was well over due, and some weeks ago, or it could even be months, I spent a while in the cleaning products aisle at the supermarket to select the best, most powerful solutions to blitz the job. My grandmother would never have used these strong chemicals, she would never have needed them; washing up liquid, elbow grease and, in an extreme situation, a brillo pad were her tools.
As I forced my hands into my yellow rubber gloves, I recalled visits to my grandmother’s house when I was a child. It may have been only one visit, but somehow, in memory, I have decided that every time I visited on my own, she was washing the stove.
It was quite a big deal for me to be allowed to cycle from home to her house when I was young; it was about 3 miles, along a hedge lined road. I was so apprehensive of the cars passing by, that sometimes I would ride so close into the edge that the hedge would scratch my arms. And when I arrived at her bungalow, I’d take my bike round the back to lean against the wall, and go in through the kitchen door wanting a bit of sympathy. She’d be by the sink, the iron grids from the tops of the stove would be in the sink and she’d be scrubbing them.
The other thing you need to know about my grandmother, is that she had a parrot, which rarely spent any time in its cage. It would perch on various bits of furniture, or, its favourite position, on my grandmother’s shoulder. I was a bit afraid of the parrot, so I’d wait by the kitchen door until it had been put back in its cage.
After she’d finished her cleaning, grandmother would give me a teacake, one of those chocolate covered meringue ones, wrapped in silver paper, and try to show me that there was nothing to fear from the parrot by doing ‘This little piggy went to market’ with the bird’s claws. The parrot would hold its foot out and spread its claws for each talon to be shaken gently, and then at the climax, it would be the one to cry ‘weee weee weee all the way home’.