Monday, 23 November 2009

Cleaning up

I've been back from London for ages but had lots of catching up to do - sleep, work, costumes for Christmas performances, more work, laundry, cleaning.

Cleaning is a bit of an emotional topic.

Although Aksel would quite like to be transported back to the 1960s Mad Men style home, where I fixed him a drink the moment he came home from work and his most taxing domestic duty might be to change a fuse, he actually does not believe it is all my responsibility to clean and is fairly willing to do his share.

The problem is that we just don't agree on when things need cleaning and on the level of dirt that is acceptable before a mop needs to be picked up.

A quick quiz of my girlfriends and I understand that this is a normal phenomenon. Apparently, men are just able to live with a lot more dirt and mess than women. Except for one of my friends who is married to an anal type, bordering on OCD. She moans about her husband's need to clean each individual tile to perfection in the bathroom, while I am actually wondering if I could borrow him for a while.

And while my girlfriends are sympathising with me and agreeing, they don't seem to have messy homes. How do they do it? If I am at someone's house and it is really clean and tidy, I admire their home and organizational skills. I wonder if they were rushing around to clean before I arrived or whether it always looks like this. And if I am in a slightly less clean, bit untidy house I will secretly feel a bit relieved and pleased. The thing is, although I like to think that I am not judging people by the tidiness of their house, I think that people are definitely judging me by the tidiness of mine.

A former colleague once admitted to me she used the Black-Plastic-Bin-Bag-Method to clean up. This is a mad dash round the house with a sack 15 minutes before guests are about to arrive.
I don't do this, but I am a big fan of the closely related Boot-of-the-Car-Method. This is used when you are trying to sell your house and have people coming round to see it Any. Minute. Now. You need to disappear the laundry basket, the mountain of toys in the living room, the pile of coats and boots in the porch and any other evidence that your home might lack storage space or the extra bedroom your potential buyers are looking for.

I know other people who have perfected the Little-and-Often-Method. This is probably my parents and other sensible people. Their homes always look ok and they are never worried to welcome unexpected guests. The mess never gets the better of them and they are basically on top of it. I wish I was in this category. Why I didn't inherit some proper cleaning gene I don't know.

But I think I am, unfortunately, in the All-or-Nothing-Method, which is just such a shame. I don't do anything unless I can do it properly, so I don't even start the cleaning unless I can complete the entire blitz of the vacuuming, mopping, dusting, re-arranging, re-cycling, polishing, and sanitizing in one go. And as I rarely (never) have 10 hours of uninterrupted time that I need to devote to cleaning, you can imagine how often this happens. My home looks extremely brilliant and clean and wonderful for about 1 hour every two months and then slowly declines into disarray until I am stepping over piles of stuff and eventually, after much huffing and puffing, the whole process starts again.

I would like to be the sort of domestic whirlwind that can transform the post-weekend debris and chaos into a hygienic and tidy place to be with just a few swiffs of the swiffer in the available 20 minutes. Because I do like Tidy. In fact, I thrive in Tidy and am a nicer person to be around. The mess is just stressful and annoying and makes me grumpy.

So this week I am changing my category. From now on I will be a Little-and-Often Goddess.

Failing that, I have a big pile of black bin bags.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

It's all London baby!

I'm off to London tomorrow for Girls on tour 2. For details of GOT1, you can look here.

For some idea of what I'll be doing in London, you can look here (Gasp! I know! A guest blog post! Me! Feeling very honoured by the whole thing.)

In the meantime, I am busy packing and writing Aksel operating instructions for everything.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

It is not easy but it is simple

Aksel and I used to comment on how easy Anna was as a baby and toddler. At the time, with nothing much to compare it to, we didn't fully appreciate the lack of tantrums. But we were rather smug and self-congratulatory about our great parenting skills.

This was until our son turned up and reminded us that nature might just play a bigger part than nurture and it's all just half-chance anyway.

Samuel really is a buddle of intense loving fury. He is at that stage where he literally thinks the world revolves around him. Right now everything in the universe is Mine! But I know that this is just "that phase" and it will pass. And besides being loving and consistent and trying to pre-empt obvious battles, there is really not much you can do to help your toddler acquire the life skills to function in the world. Or rather, you know the things you want them to learn (take turns, share, don't hit, say please, say thank you, say sorry, play nicely, don't throw that etc etc) and you can teach these things at appropriate intervals and hope for the best. It is not easy – but it is fairly uncomplicated.

The world of the nearly 8-year-old, on the other hand, I am finding much more complex. Right now with Anna we are navigating through topics such as racism, bullying, sex, war, poverty, death, disease and religion. And we are also trying to teach her about the ebb and flow of friendships, about taking responsibility, and about tidying up.

And as we find our way through these things, her shift in mood from elated to hysterical in 0.2 seconds has me floored.

I am finding this all so much more complicated than teaching an ego-centric toddler to share. The parenting “stuff” that worked wonderfully a couple of years ago just doesn’t seem to fit. So my once “easy” daughter is not so much these days and my “difficult” son is somehow much more straightforward. The things Samuel needs are easy and obvious to provide: Nappies, food, love.

Of course, food and love are just as important to Anna. And she’s really easy to love. But meeting her other needs – her need for independence and to make her own mistakes and for privacy or attention – these are harder to work out. Finding the right moment to offer a hug or a compliment and working out when to be stricter and which rules I’m going to insist on and where I’m going to draw the line can leave me spinning. And if I’m confused – imagine how she must be feeling.

We’d better hurry up and get it sorted out. It’s lucky we have a good few years before she is a teenager, because then, so I am told, you’d better know exactly what your boundaries and perspectives are.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Remember, remember

I have been told that it is November 5th and this means bonfire night, guy fawkes, gun powder, treason and plot. And most importantly fireworks. Sadly, we are not having any of these over here.

Fireworks are impossible to buy at this time of year - some sort of regulation thing. Which is kind of ironic when you see what the Danes are allowed to do with fireworks in their own back-garden on New Year's Eve. As far as I can tell, no regulations whatsoever. Until you have seen your neighbour cheerfully lug a great big Rocket and launcher past your garden fence and witnessed the bombardment of fire that is truly spectacular at midnight on 31st December, you won't really understand what I mean. Every year I think it is amazing that more homes aren't totally burnt down by slightly mis-directed rockets.

Anyway. I used to love November 5th as a child. I remember cold nights up the rec watching the village display and the guy burning on the fire. And baked potatoes eaten in the back garden with sparklers for company.

And I remember writing a song with a few other children and the music teacher at my junior school. It was part of a school competition to do with fire safety.

At this time of year (and around New Year's Eve, funnily enough) I can sometimes be heard singing it to my children:

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The firework code:

Stand well back when you light your jumping jack!
Remember the firework code.

And if you have a dog or cat
Well just remember that
They should stay indoors!

And if you have a rocket
Don't put it in your pocket
Remember the firework code!

And on and on and on for several more verses I think. Luckily, I don't remember it all.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

All the homes... No. 3

In my second and third year at university I rented a really dirty house in SE London with 4 others. The house had the type of grime that only years of non-cleaning and student neglect and apathy can inflict. I am sure I would be shocked to see the squalid conditions now, but I didn't mind so much then.

The "garden" was so overgrown that we literally could not open the backdoor. Until one day the landlord came round with a scythe and hacked away for a couple of hours - then we could sort of sit out there on nasty plastic chairs. But it also meant that the families of mice that had been previously making their nests in all that long grass were suddenly homeless. And they didn't waste any time calling squatter's rights in our kitchen. Maybe that's where my love of mice comes from. I remember having to stomp around loudly in the living room before entering the kitchen so that I would scare the little creatures away from the bread.

The house was very close to the train station and after a night out it took about 40 seconds to make it home in a quick sprint, dodging the drug pushers on the corner.

To start with, I shared with girlfriends who were all doing language degrees. This was a mistake as in my third year they all buggered off to Paris and Cologne and left me there all billy-no-mates to do my finals. My fellow psychology friend Rob moved in. He was really cool but brought along his neurotic, annoying Norwegian girlfriend and her (also Norwegian) friend (who turned out to be really nice and I still see in Copenhagen occasionally). We rented the final room to random-bloke-Paul, who liked to borrow my Calvin & Hobbes books, was an anarchist and sometimes received dodgy substances in the post (cleverly addressed to Mr M. Mouse, presumably to confuse the narcotics authorities).

I had one of the better rooms, downstairs with french doors (again). I remember sitting for many hours there, tapping away on my little Apple Macintosh that I got for my 21st birthday. It was an awful student house and a great couple of years.