Once upon a time, a woman took a liking to me on the school playground and was kind enough to invite me to her home. Readers I wasn't fussed. Here in front of me stood a "neat" woman. A woman so buttoned up, not a hair on her head dared to misbehave. I wasn't fussed because I, with my frizzy locks and ragged hems, was frightened of her. But I accepted her invitation and duly turned up on her doorstep clutching a bunch of sunflowers, because when your child first starts school you take every opportunity to help your little one make friends even when you can, with Motherly insight, see that there isn't a hope in heaven of your little boy enjoying the company of a child who looks like he lives in the bath.
And there she was, Mrs Neat, standing over us while we pulled off our shoes, and bending down to arrange them in straight lines, before leading us into a kitchen that had been bleached to within an inch of its dully decorated life.
I was nervous.
My new friend was simultaneously making coffee, and dabbing at a stain on her otherwise spotless sink, while I hovered about feeling grubby and Finley proceeded to make merry hell with Thomas the Tank Engine and his wide-eyed new companion.
So far so expected and then the fun really began. No sooner had we drank our coffee standing up in the kitchen, then my cup was spirited away and bleached, right there before my eyes. Mrs Neat, then led us into the living room where I was instructed to sit down on the far end of the sofa, while she whipped away the cushions and stacked them on the coffee table and began to admonish our boys who had dared, to get out some toys on the dining room floor.
I sat stiff backed and terrified. Mrs Neat told me her life story and expectations for her little boy, while following the children around tidying away each and every toy they got out in truly gob-smacking fashion. Finley, used to a Mummy who let him play until the end of the day and then tidied in one mass sweep couldn't fathom what was going on, and at the age of four, took out each and every toy that was put away and proceeded to try to play with it again, while his little friend stood beside him looking worried at this blatant act of derring do.
Twas my idea of hell. A house so tidy, one felt that ones very presence was a blot on her domestic landscape. A woman so determined to keep her world spick and span she could not rest long enough to make visitors feel comfortable, let alone welcome. A woman who had tidied her whole life away and now lived in a beige box, superior and proud, spouting her theories on parenting, while wiping her finger over the mantle-piece, presumably to check for the ever prevailing threat that is dust.
I got out as fast as I could, certain that at any minute Finley would conjure up some of the dirt that seems to veil his entire being and wipe it over the cream carpet. I got out and rang Kath and described the horror that was Andrea's house and she screamed laughing and told me that she couldn't dream up a more unlikely friendship and insisted that she had tried to warn me and threatened to make friends with the woman with the green cardigan from the playground in new best friend retaliation, while I sat about wondering whether it was me or indeed Andrea, who was completely off her rocker??
For my question is this, Dear Housekeepers: Is it better to tidy as you go along and so find yourself in perpetual motion, or to let children be the messy, scruffy little darlings that they are without much interference and tidy up the squalor that is the result of their wild imaginations after they have been tucked into bed? Do we make life harder for ourselves by allowing life and visitors to be welcome in our domain, and saving the straightening of our worlds for later, when mess has reached crisis point? Is little and often the way forward, or can you tolerate the lived-in look while you are busy living in?
Some days you see my house looks like a herd of elephants has trampled through it, but it barely registers until, and I don't know how to explain this without it sounding nuts - untilit is time for it to register. Yes. Five o'clock chimes and I am up and at 'em, putting the day away and creating an oasis of calm for the evening wind-down. I tidy until it couldn't be tidier, and then I relax, but I would no more dream of interrupting my work during the day to do housework, or indeed tidy when I had visitors over, than I would of serving them Madeira cake in my underwear. For the most part I am in the moment, doing what I am doing and my surroundings do not matter until my inner housewife clocks on and gets to work.
So tell me this and tell me no more: does your inner housewife never clock off, or are you a part-time sloth like me? Are you, my pretty one, an Andrea or an Alison??