Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Sisyphus cleans the house
When Big One was first born, we were invited to a barbecue at the home of one of the mums in my antenatal class. She and her husband were lovely people and we looked forward to attending. It was a gorgeous sunny day in June and all sorts of lovely meats and snacks were on offer as well as booze for the dads and juice for the breast-feeding mums.
Amazing as the spread was, what struck me was the house. It was spotless. I went into the kitchen to get a paper towel and gazed in awe. Surfaces gleamed. Hobs shone. There was not one extraneous item on the countertops. I thought about what awaited me at home. Milky bottles dripping in the sink. Dust and cobwebs in the corners. A dining table covered in old magazines, greeting cards and stuffed toys. Pawprints on the lino. Unidentifiable and tenacious stains on the sofa. Once I got over my amazement and nearly-crippling jealousy, I arrived at a few possibilities:
1. This was not actually their real house. This was a show home rented for the day – not to make us feel inadequate, rather so they could enjoy the barbecue without worrying about the leaky espresso machine or the weird stain on the carpet.
2. The family employed a cleaner, hidden in the basement when guests arrived, and whenever a spill or mishap of any kind occurred she would clean it up instantly, like a ballboy at Centre Court.
3. The couple were very neat and tidy and it was a real priority to keep the house looking good. So much so that they were willing to give up other time-consuming activities like reading, watching films, sleeping, using the toilet.
I am not particularly houseproud but I do get riled when people see the house on one of its bad days. Or worse, when you have cleaned up only for a visitor to run a finger up the stair banister and remark, ‘I guess you don’t really have time to clean.’
Housecleaning is one of those frustrating tasks where the moment you have finished, everything starts to get messy again. There is a brilliant episode of The Simpsons (one of many) where Marge demands that the family skip their Saturday morning fun and tidy up the house. They grudgingly go about doing it and the house is finally clean. Marge then tells the family that they can do whatever you want as long as they don't mess up the house. As the kitchen door swings closed and then open, the room goes from spotless to a total mess yet again.
The whole process reminds me of Sisyphus. He had angered the gods somehow and was condemned to repeatedly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. The punishment, then, was futile and hopeless labour because no matter how many times he rolled the rock up, it would always roll right back down again. But Albert Camus pointed out that all is well with this situation, ‘One always finds one's burden again,’ and the task itself is enough to provide Sisyphus with a purpose. There is, I suppose, that brief moment when the surfaces gleam, the hobs shine, the dog hair is nestled inside the hoover, the rock rests on top of the mountain. One must imagine the Housewife is happy.