I have never claimed to be house proud.
In fact, when I first read the short poem “Dust if you Must” it really
spoke to me:
“Dust if you must – but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture, or write a letter?”
I couldn’t put it better myself. So long as the house is reasonably clean (if not necessarily tidy – Mr B and I are a pair of litterers, each as bad as the other),
as long as the beds are made, pots and pans are washed up and we have clean clothes to wear. You probably get my drift.
Today, however, I felt the stirrings
of guilt. There I was on Church Watch, my last session this season. We had had five visitors in the first twenty minutes but, after that, nary a one. My fellow Watcher showed me where the coffee and powdered milk was stored, down in the vestry and made
me a cuppa. I wish I had known this stash of goodies existed, back at the beginning of the Watching Season when a cup of coffee would have been most welcome. Still, better late than never. Sipping our coffee, we sat in companionable silence, me reading “The
Sugar Girls”, another book loaned me by the Eldest of the Darling Daughters, and my Fellow Watcher attending to his studies of sheet music.
Girls tells the true story of some of the young lasses who worked at Tate & Lyle’s East End factory in the years immediately following the Second World War. In Chapter 2, I am introduced to Lilian and her mother, the house-proud Edith Tull. Listen
“Despite their poverty, Edith Tull was extremely house-proud. Every morning she could be seen on her hands and knees, scrubbing and whitening the
doorstep until it glowed. Next, the shared toilet in the back yard was swilled down with hot water and new squares of newspaper were threaded onto the rusty nail that served as a loo paper dispenser. Then the coconut matting came up and the place was
swept and dusted vigorously until lunchtime. Monday was wash day when Edith would rub the family’s dirty linen on her washboard until her arms were covered in angry red blisters. Friday was the day for baths, with water heated in the copper by burning
old shoes and boots if there was no money for fuel.
“Before her husband returned from work each evening, Edith got a fresh piece of newspaper for a tablecloth
and carefully laid out the mismatched crockery and cutlery she had got from the rag and bone man.....”
Oh, Edith, how hard you tried! I wonder what you would
have made of all today’s modern conveniences? The washing machine that gobbles up your dirty clothes and presents them back to you, washed, rinsed and spun dry, ready for the washing line or (what would Edith have said about it?!) the tumble dryer. How
she would have loved to set a table with fancy tablecloth, place mats with pictures on them, and matching cutlery and crocks!
I do wonder, however, about that
front door step. Could it be that there was an element of competition afoot here (if you’ll excuse the pun)?
I ask because I do remember, when my first-born
was a babe in arms, that there was a kind of competition going on among the mothers all along the road where I lived. The aim - to have a washing line full of snowy white nappies, blowing in the wind, by no later than 10 a.m. It was a tyranny I was not
prepared to accept. (Though, if I’m honest, this was more because I knew I would always fail miserably to meet the 10 ‘clock deadline.)
it thus for poor, weary, Edith Tull, determined that, even if her children had to ask the greengrocers for a ha’pence of “specks” (bad apples which they could gorge themselves on, once they had cut out all the bad bits) and even if they were
clothed in hand-outs from the local church, cut down to child-size – nobody else in Conway Street would have a cleaner, whiter, more glowing doorstep?
if you must but there’s not much time
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb
Music to hear and books to read,
to cherish and a life to lead.”
What would she have said to me, if I read her this poem? Would she have stopped to think about how life might have been?
Or would she have just gone on scrubbing that doorstep?
Sadly, I think I know the answer...