A Slattern’s Diary #2

Welcome to the next chapter of Margaret Cabourn-Smith’s continuing struggle to balance a failure to give a toss about a sinkful of dirty dishes with the calmness which comes when everything’s nice and tidy.

Illustration by Joanna Neary

I’ve worked out that the best thing about having this (so far imaginary) cleaner, would be that there’d be a deadline for tidiness.

As all writers know, without deadlines, nothing gets done.

So, if you’re not trying to impress the people who live with you, and your most regular visitors have seen the worst (my mother-in-law puts it sweetly: “I get it, you’re chaotic people!”), there isn’t much incentive to make real in-roads. Being shamed into it is the only way forward.

As the famous Joan Rivers joke goes: “’I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again”. That quote is a personal favourite just because I’m always looking for evidence that other people are as bad, (or ideally, worse) than me.

I have a mental scrapbook of writers and comics who have revealed slatternly behaviour, even if it’s just in their MySpace blurb (showing my age there).

There’s a brilliant bit in Miranda Hart’s stage show where she gets increasingly irate at the idea that other people are changing their bedding as often as once a week. Of the same chore, I loved hearing Alun Cochrane admit “I reckon I could get to 18 months”. These are warm funny, successful people who don’t have perfect homes. Hurrah!

And even without evidence there are some celebrities I suspect have even more “chaotic” homes than mine – Grayson Perry (discarded wig nets in the bathroom, lipstick stained pillowcases); Jackie Collins (same); the Jolie-Pitts (I don’t care how rich they are, they have SIX KIDS).

I’m convinced there must be other people who always have a need to say to guests “sorry for the mess”, even when they have just spent four hours tidying.

There must be other people whose houses were actually tidier when they had small babies, because they didn’t have the energy to make their usual mess.

There must be other people who always, always choose lunch with friends over housework (or updating iTunes; or even work) and who have haven’t dusted the top of tall bookcases. Possibly ever.


These are my people, my team. In a battle, we would win; we are immeasurably better placed to fight dirty.

I need to believe in these people – not only that we exist but that we are, or could be superior in some way to “The Tidies”.

There must be other people who always have a need to say to guests “sorry for the mess”, even when they have just spent four hours tidying.

I like to pretend that they’re anal, prudish, lonely and boring, and that must mean we’re spontaneous, carefree, wild and sexy.

(I do have a sneaking suspicion the truth may be closer to “they’re just better than us” but I need to be able to get out of my slatternly bed in the morning.)

It could be genetic. When I reported back to my mother after the first date at my then-boyfriend, now-husband’s flat: “He cooked me an amazing meal but his flat was dangerously messy,” she ruefully replied “Well, that’s how you were brought up”.

I’m still looking for a solution. I wish it was possible to do washing up or hoovering while waiting for buses or in the post office queue. This is the technological advance we’re really waiting for. Remote housework. Tidying by Skype. It’s the future.

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Written by Margaret Cabourn-Smith

Margaret is a comedy writer performer popping up on your TV and radio who over thinks and over talks.