When I was growing up I wish someone had explained cleaning to me. If I’d known how much of my adult life would be occupied with it I’d at least like to have been warned. If I’d expected cleaning I might have paid more attention to Miss Houghton in domestic science (double-period, Friday afternoons). I don’t know what my mum thought I was going to do when I left home – I have vague memories of being shown a Ewbank carpet sweeper and of being ticked off for saying “Hoover” instead of “vacuum cleaner” (“it’s a brand, darling”); there was an occasional foray into Brasso and polishing things, and sometimes I washed up but that was about it. When mum became ill my dad and I learned about the twin-tub together, until I fed my fingers through the wringer one morning. Either way, it was hardly a comprehensive grounding in the vexing nature of keeping things shipshape and Bristol fashion.
I like things to be clean but I don’t much enjoy the process – and disappointingly once it’s been done you have to do it again and again and again. It’s never-ending. Everything needs cleaning: bathrooms, clothes, teeth, ourselves … when our children are small we have to clean them too. It’s no life, is it? At least when I was a young mum there were reasonable excuses for not doing it – many a time I spritzed a radiator with furniture polish (it smells like you’ve made the effort even when appearances are very much to the contrary). I had to learn as I went along. The sticky tape/lily pollen trick is wonderful for impressing an audience (“It’s a miracle! I thought my suit was a goner!), whereas the freezer/chewing gum and the candle wax/hot iron are good but less like actual magic. And everyone knows about salt on white wine and soda water on red wine. Underneath it all, though, there is a basic truth – that it is important to take good care of clothes, shoes and yourself by maintaining all three in decent order, and the older you get the more important it becomes: a stitch in time keeps the bag lady away, or something …
However, it is possible to go too far. I love to see a crisp, pressed collar but I do not love to see a crisp, pressed face hovering above it. Can we please give the Botox and fillers a rest and concentrate on good skin? My Auntie Jean sometimes looked as though she’d been breadcrumbed, so thick was her maquillage (I’m sure she slept in it), but we don’t have to put up with such nonsense now that make-up is so light and we’ve been enlightened about exfoliating. Skin that is regularly and properly cleaned seldom looks clogged, tired and dull. It looks fresher and less old too. You might swear by Chantecaille’s Nano Gold Energising Cream at an eye-watering £370 a pop but there’s little point in slapping on any kind of body lotion or miracle cream, no matter how expensive, if it’s just going to sit there on top of a layer of dead skin. My Nan – wonderful skin at 80 – was a great believer in a good rub with a rough flannel and what was that, if not exfoliating?
Try thinking of your face as a cashmere jumper that needs de-bobbling – looked after well, your cashmere looks fabulous but smothered in bobbles it looks like the stuff you empty out of the Hoover (sorry mum). My favourites for the face are either Liz Earle’s Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser or Eve Lom’s Balm Cleanser which work on Nan’s hot-cloth principle. For all-over exfoliating I’d recommend a gentle going over with the Body Shop’s exfoliator/skin buffer thingy which is wonderful on elbows and knees, then follow it up with a slathering in the body lotion of your choice.
Here’s a final thought – the average human body can shed up to 50,000 dead skin cells every minute of every day. And where does all that skin go? Well, it’s in the fuzzy stuff you find lying on top of your face or your sideboard so it’s not a big stretch to think that by washing your dead cells down the plug hole you’re actually saving yourself time on the dusting. Genius!