I like to start the new year with a clean house, but as I was away for several weeks from mid-December this year, that annual ritual went by the board.
Ever adaptable, I’m now looking at the Chinese New Year – January 23rd – as a spur to domesticity, so, in tribute to the Water Dragon, I started cleaning last weekend in the downstairs living area.
Like most of the women I know, I’m quite good at the lick-and-a-promise type of cleaning that can transform a room in five minutes when you suddenly realise the in-laws are due at any moment.
What I don’t do so well, or so often, is the in-depth cleaning that requires every piece of furniture to be moved, and every book and ornament to be lifted and dusted individually.
When the Reverend Sydney Smith spoke of “No furniture so charming as books”, I suspect it was because he had a char woman to do the cleaning.
There is little that gathers dust so efficiently as books and piles of papers. Combine this with the dust, soot and ash from a log fire, and it’s almost better to leave it be and hope Quentin Crisp was right that if you wait long enough the dirt won’t get any worse. The problem with cleaning is that once you start, you have to keep going: as long as you never actually move anything, the dust isn’t too noticeable, and as long as the tiles are all equally dirty, it looks like their natural colour.
An additional problem with cleaning bookshelves, of course, is that each book is a temptation. The shelves in the photo are only a few of those to be dealt with and I’ve resisted temptation for most of this section. When I get to the poetry shelves, though, I think I shall allow myself a poem from each book.