With two smallish children, getting to the end of the weekend with everyone present, more or less healthy and fed and broadly contented seems like an achievement in itself. Take them away, and I'm left with a nagging sense of inadequacy that won't let me relax, sit in the garden with a book, have a nap. There should be more words written, more papers tidied, more washing done, nags my uptight bastard brain. It's not enough. It's never enough. So I'm cleaning. It's hard, boring, mindless, punitive and horribly necessary. Perfect. I'm trying not to let myself just do the gratifying bits, like rearranging the kitchen cupboards, and concentrating on the really dull, backbreaking bits, like scrubbing at obscure stains on the horrible textured kitchen walls.
So far I have found:
A spider the size of a family estate car hiding under my suitcase. It's spider season, isn't it? You could put a saddle on this one and ride it around the park. Good thing I am completely indifferent to them.
An extended family of spiders living in a box of cornflakes. Well, I am guessing from the pretty web decorations on the box, and the tiny spiderlets frolicking around the cereal cupboard. I did not open the cornflake box; it was oddly, sinisterly heavy. I wonder if there was a dead mouse in there too.
A leak under the kitchen sink that has spread black spotted mildew through three cupboards.
Seven rolls of yellow recycling bags. If the apocalypse comes and is characterised by a lack of paper recycling amenities, I will be ok. There's some comfort in that, I suppose.
A dragonfly which came in as I was trying fruitlessly to disperse the smell of mildew. I thought it was a bird, it was so large. It lurched around, crashing into things, completely graceless and jerky out of its normal environment and finally, after bashing into the window repeatedly, found its way out.
The house, never pristine, looks filthy to me. Coming from a gleamingly new and perfect holiday let has skewed my perception. Cruelly, unfairly, my kitchen is not filled with the soft sheen of brushed steel and forgiving, warm flooring. It is filled with cheap formica crap from the mid 1980s. The 'Competence Trophy' oven predates the discovery of fire by prehistoric man, the dishwasher does not wash dishes and the tiles manage to be both ugly AND impractical. They show every grubby mark with forensic clarity. I hate them. I think of myself as liking nice things, beautiful things, and yet this house is not a beautiful thing, not now, not in this state (not ever for as long as the orange paintwork remains, indeed). It's puzzling. And then, the house is too big, too ambitious. I found it in a hurry, needed to find somewhere quickly, and I liked it, loved the neighbourhood. I still do. But now what? It's HUGE. I feel out of my depth, not up to keeping everything functioning and clean. I can barely keep myself and the children functioning and clean most of the time, so what hope is there? I remember first moving in here and how intoxicatingly empty it was, how free of the sometimes oppressive, sometimes comforting clutter of daily life. Now I am writing this at a table on which, without even moving my head, I can see the following:
5 bills (I have just opened them in a fit of conscience. Electrabel are still trying to take me to court, obtuse bastards).
Half a pint of milk
Bulging make up bag
Empty coffee cup
2 novels, 4 magazines
A dirty paring knife
2 pairs of headphones
An empty CD case
An ice cube tray
A plush dolphin
A piece of obscure yellow plastic toy
A box of matches
A 'Plumping lip glaze' still in its packaging (I am scared of it. M has told me frightening things about it)
A cooling rack
A plastic dog from Burger King
Three varieties of plug and adaptor
A Playdoh dentist's drill
An empty Compeed packet
A Dexter Series Three DVD out of its packaging
An empty yoghurt pot
3 shark's teeth in a small plastic bag
A large screw, use and origins unknown
Tom Ford lipstick
2 sets of keys
A packet of green paper napkins
Various other things I can't identify without angling my head to the left.
It's impressive how fast the layers of domestic detritus are laid down. In the right frame of mind that could seem comforting, a sign that this house has become more homely. I can't quite see it like that at the moment. I feel overwhelmed; the Augean stables have nothing on the kitchen table. I want to go and live in a pristine white box like the miserable modernists where I don't have to be confronted with the evidence of my own incompetence every time I sit down. A virtual snail shell. Wrapped in this.
Instead of which I am going to go and fill another one of my many yellow plastic bags, grinding my teeth gently in a soothing rhythm until felled by Cif fumes. Make me feel better, tell me what's on your table that has absolutely no place being there.