A Slattern’s Diary

Margaret Cabourn-Smith chronicles her 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

Illustrated by Joanna Neary

(Original definition of slattern: a dirty, untidy woman)

I have a confession to make. I am an old school slattern. Shirley Conran famously said “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom” – this is how I feel about scrubbing soap dishes. I’m the sort of person who goes to tidy a room and sees the obvious first task as reading everything in the room I haven’t already read. It’s not conducive to an immaculate home.

Maybe slatterns need to put a positive spin on slovenly homes. Why shouldn’t I be proud that my flat is parasite-free, that myself, my husband and five-year-old are clean with full stomachs? Meanwhile we’ve got a basil plant that’s been clinging to life for months now… and we haven’t run out of toilet paper since 2002.
Nope. I still feel guilty.

I wish I could be more Alpha (ie: male) about my habits and boast instead – “Yes, I’m cool – my bedroom’s got so untidy I’ve started to use my bed as the floor”. I remember being disgusted but almost impressed by the sheer Withnail-levels of washing-up in my male student friends’ house. Dirty dishes had migrated from the kitchen and covered the coffee tables – but they only saw it as a filthy badge of honour.

A house is just a machine for living in so why should anyone care?

I do believe this – on one level. But on another, I grudgingly admit I like it when my flat’s tidy. My head feels clearer and my demeanour calmer. I can waft around lighting scented candles and pretending I’m in a boring European art house film about enigmatic ladies who keep their flat tidy. It’s just that doing the housework itself is so boring. It’s relentless. It’s not educational or inspiring. It doesn’t even count as cardio; not the way I do it anyway. It lacks glamour and drama; no-one’s writing thrillers or power ballads about housework. Even that Alesha Dixon song is inconclusive. I just keep thinking they should just invest in a Dyson and become less obsessed with this ‘brushing up’ she keeps banging on about. (To be fair it’s hard to find a rhyme for ‘Does he wilfully not use the laundry basket?’ It was always going to be lacking in detail).

Come to think of it, a few thrillers do touch upon the subject, Sleeping With The Enemy, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Stepford Wives. Their message tends to appeal to the side of me that feels housework is the occupation of oppressed chattels and psychopathic robots. Not helpful.

The truth is, I feel a bit unnatural and unfeminine for not only hating it but… not really doing it. I even considered getting hypnotherapy to make me more house proud, but in the end I decided that was pushing it in the ‘getting a bit of perspective’ stakes.
So now I’m using this column to motivate me. Or maybe I’ll just get a bloody cleaner.

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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.