If you are the Cleaning Monitor in your home you might return your palace to its gleaming newly erected self once or twice a week. Lucky you. Or you may have a more erratic janitorial approach if preoccupied with other pressing matters like the care of an aging father, and delivering a book baby. All the while secretly hoping one of your slobby flatmates might suddenly recall where the vacuum cleaner lives –
Behind the Blue Doors
And take charge. They don’t. So when the dust bunnies knit themselves a scarf along the skirting boards that would make Nom D proud you shriek in disgust. This place is a tip.
Instead of going skiing - because it’s another beautiful frosty morning in Queenstown and it snowed 5cms last night - you embark on a cleaning frenzy. You dust, you vacuum - with the pipe only like a crazy nesting woman. You use a whole can of Murray’s Cavalier Bremworth Dry Stain remover on the yellow blobs all over daughter 17’s once plush grey carpet, repeat three times while enjoying a chemical high. You mop the polished concrete floors. You scrub the dunnies. You fold washing and PUT IT AWAY.
Your lower arms and triceps ache. You perspire, kick off your slippers and strip to your merino singlet. Whoop whoop! Who needs to ponce about at the gym enveloped in Lulu lemon. Clean-yo-house is the latest craze-ercise. Tone those batwings and get yourself some satisfaction, Cleaning Monitors!
Talking of monitors, my 81 year old dad is the self-appointed recycling monitor at his rest home. I've watched him attack a cardboard wrapped mini fridge sized package with the zing of a child undressing presents on Christmas morning. And like that child, he has no care for contents. Only wrapping. Plastic is ferried to its rightful bin, followed by cardboard squares carefully cut with scissors to theirs.
His dexterity makes me proud. Still using his hands now he has no daily chores to attend. For 38 years he prepared his breakfast each morning, and delivered his partner a tray in bed. Latterly, the boiled egg may’ve been missing. Or the spoon. But the small Bodum of coffee was always made. Never broken. The few times I took his partner’s place and cared for Dad at home, the exact same tray was laid out for me.
The day before Dad was legging it down the drive when I drove up. He’d managed to push a chair over to a 1.5 metre, key-padded gate, reach over to the handle on the other side and release himself. I was proud again of his escapist spirit. His wanderlust. Incarceration be damned. The staff’s running a Breakout Sweepstake with another resident who’s memorised the gate code. So far the other guy’s winning. Come on Dad!
But it’s actually quite a dangerous pursuit for an old guy. Brittle bones, brain in a whirr, what with falling and all. Clearing the garden of magnolia seed heads and biffing them over the fence is a safer option.
‘You got a potato patch under those nails, Dad.’
It is the games of children now. The unwrapping. The giddy excitement of a chocolate biscuit. Ooh could I have another, a different one. A buttered scone and three lettered scrabble. Picking fluff off the carpet and pulling the curtains after lunch.
He made it all the way to the main road last month and headed north. A frail leggy homing pigeon, shoulder sloping heavily to the left, a mop of badly trimmed white hair on a road to nowhere. No prison stripes though. He’s sartorial almost in his camel corduroys, brown brogues, blue checked shirt, and soft green v-necked sweater. A similar shirt and sweater combo he insists on wearing under his pyjama top each night. Well, he is the Recycling Monitor.
Come Monday this Cleaning Monitor will be donning her Lulu lycra and heading to yoga. The dust bunnies can boil themselves into a rug of dog-hair-felt for all I care. This CM needs to restring some sinews; take her body through a meditation. Plank. Cobra. She’ll be downward doggy dogging it all the way to the best part. Shavasana. Then prostrate, eyes shut, hands on belly in simple silence. For a moment – a five minute moment – she’ll be somewhere else …
She’s in a bare apple tree on a sunny winter’s morning. She’s a baby bird sitting on a branch. An old tui clambers in and drinks sugar water. Then a bellbird. A waxeye. A tomtit. A yellow eye. It’s Noah’s flippin aviary arc in that tree. Sound comes. It could be whale music, it’s calming. No, it’s birdsong - lobble lobble lobble click scrick click. And feathers on feather. Scriffle scruffle. The air is crisp. She breaths it down. Squinting now, the sun burrows into her irises. Warms her wings. A heat she wishes north …
She'll recall a conversation.
He says, ‘It’s wall to wall rain up here.’
‘The grey makes you feel gloomy doesn’t it.’
‘Yes, there is a certain sort of feeling like that on top of it.’