Thursday, 1 April 2010

Cleaning Up

Each day I get up and go into the kitchen and start cleaning up. I have an idea of how the place should look – an idea that is probably too heavily influenced by honeyed images from advertisements and lifestyle magazines. It takes time – never less than ten minutes and occasionally, (when I really decide to get things camera-ready, just on the off chance that someone may ring up asking for a last-minute double-page spread), almost an hour. Eventually though everything is returned to order. I stand back and admire the fragile perfection I’ve achieved.

Then it all starts over, and before I know where I am, I’m at it again: wiping down bench-tops and scooping up onion skins, while the great Beckettian question - ‘Why this farce day after day?’ – runs round and round my head. ‘Why?’ I began for the umpteenth time this morning as I lifted the bin lid - but my question went unfinished. I’d just clapped eyes on Ian Kiernan. He was there - with his moustache - at the bottom of the bucket, and both of them were gazing up at me, (and yes, he was on a magazine cover, and yes I admit he ought not have been in there, since he should have been in paper recycling - I know, I know [and I am aware that moustaches can’t gaze, but will you stop splitting hairs {hairs, geddit, moustaches - hairs, do you see what I did there? – oh, stop getting at me}]).

Where were we? Oh yes - Ian Kiernan. Ian Kiernan is the man behind Clean Up Australia, which has been going now since 1989. Clean Up Australia generates the kind of community-minded gung-ho enthusiasm that makes me want to go and jump off a bridge. Year after year, you see its adherents trouping up to our local mountain to gather the rubbish no-one would have noticed anyway – the bush is pretty thick and the area enormous; the odd abandoned suitcase is really not that big a deal. In the afternoon, they come back down past our house, smelling of sanctity (at least I think that’s what it is) and wreathed in self-righteous grins.

‘Why this farce year after year?’ I’m sure Beckett would himself have paraphrased his question, if he’d been here to see them trotting by. Why don’t these people devote their energies to preventing the mess in the first place, so they won’t have to come back time after time? Why don’t they lobby shops to cut down on packaging, why don’t they use their collective clout for that? The thing is, I fear these people don’t want Australia to stay cleaned up. I suspect they relish their rubbishy outings. They thrive on the fact that things get in a mess (I sometimes worry that some people who make a career in aid work are a little bit similar). The Clean-Up-Australia-Dayers are actually glad there are people who litter. They can look down their noses at them as they bustle about.

But perhaps my objections are based too much on personal experience, having lived with a cleaning-up zealot for the first part of my life. When your things have been in constant danger of being swept into a bin bag and whisked off to the dump, you don’t naturally warm to those who like tidying. When you’ve sacrificed a complete set of Beatles autographs (yes, I promise that is true [cue weeping]), and a huge collection of Edwardian postcards on the altar of order, it’s very hard to get enthusiastic about group clean-up days.

Even my Samuel Beckett plays were chucked out while I was walking the dog one evening. Apparently ‘they were taking up too much space and no-one was reading them.’ That is why I can’t be sure exactly which one that immortal question is taken from. I’m fairly certain it was End Game, though (in which the following scene is, I think, also to be found: A white dog is placed before Hamm, a blind man. ‘Is it black?’ Hamm asks. ‘Sort of,’ comes the reply.)


  1. ahh, living with a cleaning-up zealot...that is my fate for the rest of my days. My wife is known as 'The White Tornado' for her ability to make most of my possesions dissappear whilst cleaning. If its not nailed down it'll be in the bin in seconds.

  2. '...for the first part of my life...'

    No need to wonder why it stopped there. Beatles autographs! Edwardian postcards! Beckett plays! Few punishments would be too stringent for such an individual.

  3. Gaw: But she can't help it and she has many other fine qualities and Worm: I imagine exactly the same goes for the White Tornado.

  4. Ah, one of those sorts of person! Then all is explained and forgiven. We are almost certainly all guilty!

  5. Gaw: Aka my mum, nuff said.