Sunday, 17 April 2011

Garden-keeping

It will come as no surprise to those who know me, if I write that housekeeping is not my forte. It's not that I can't do it; I know all that could possibly ever need to be known about cleaning fluids and polish, dusters and mops. I have rubbed and scrubbed, vacuumed and swept with the best of them. I've experienced the self-righteous glow of turning a pigsty into a palace, but frankly it just doesn't interest me. I resent the time spent washing things down and tidying stuff up; I'd rather be doing almost anything else.

But while I can merrily ignore dust until I trip over it, and live with accumulated papers til they cut me, I simply cannot leave grass that has grown too long, or weeds that need pulling. All week long I've been getting itchier and twitchier as I've practically heard them growing in the garden, calling to me as they stretch their green arms out to the sun. This morning I responded to the call and spent a few lovely hours trimming and digging, and now, with achy fingers and dusty knees I can sit here with a genuine sense of satisfaction from a job done well, that was well worth the doing.

What is it about being outside that makes work feel like play?

When we were kids we spent a lot of time outside, while mum was indoors trying to make our house spotless. I sometimes joke that we were locked out in the garden so we couldn't come in and make a mess, but I'm not entirely sure that isn't true. When I think of my mother back then, she's almost always either cleaning or ironing. I'm probably the only person on the planet for whom the Beatles' album Rubber Soul is inextricably mixed with the sounds of my mum singing along to the backing track of a hissing steam iron.

In my mum's head, anything, and I do mean anything, that required washing, must also demand ironing - socks, pants, towels; nothing was already sufficiently flat that she wouldn't feel the need to bludgeon it into further submission. And given that there were five of us, that always meant a pretty huge ironing pile waiting to be tackled.

It seemed to have a hold on her, as though she couldn't relax until it was conquered for the day. Even on the most glorious sunny days, when you might have thought the heat of an iron was too much to bear, she'd still set up the ironing board. Her only concession would be to open the french windows, and set the board just outside, stretching the iron's lead as far into the garden as she could.

For two weeks of every year though, it was different. Each afternoon of the last week in June, and the first week in July, the housework would be abandoned, as mum sat down to watch Wimbledon. Glued to the TV she'd live through every moment of Roger Taylor's unsuccessful efforts to be the next Fred Perry. And those are my favourite memories of her. In my mind, a whole summer was mixed up in just those two weeks.

I'm sure that was when she'd let us make our own ice-lollies, pouring orange juice into special plastic holders; or when she'd give us a bowl of peas to pod, sitting on the back door-step in the sun. It might have been when we helped her pick gooseberries from the bottom of the garden, or loganberries from the bush behind the shed. I know it was then that she tried to teach us the rules of tennis, when I learnt that a tie at 40 points was called deuce and not juice.

Every now and then, if it really was a perfect summer's day, then mum would abandon the inside of the house and come to sit on a deck chair in the garden, to watch us play our own version of Wimbledon on the lumpy, but regularly-cut back lawn in Croxted Road. I'm sure that was the reason I ached so much to have my own tennis racket, and why I was oh so chuffed to get a perfect white Slazenger. I still have it; although nowadays it's warped beyond playable and the shiny white paint has almost all chipped off.

You can't see any more where I carefully scratched my name into the handle, claiming ownership, exhibiting such pride, but I think it's the only possession that has stayed with me since childhood. Maybe that, and the memories it brings with it is why, even now, at the slightest hint of warmth and sunshine, I feel the need to get out there to cut the grass.

27 comments:

Fran said...

Nice memories. My mum had a mangle in the back garden to squeeze the clothes dry after they'd come out of the twin tub. I remember that very clearly.

Doria said...

Lovely post! :)

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Wonderful memories. Ironing in the garden? A lovely creative concept.

Liz said...

My Mum ironed everything too. Haven't a clue where our iron is.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello:
This is such an entertaining post which conveys so many snapshot images of your childhood, your home and, most importantly, splendid memories of your mother. She certainly appears to have been a very focussed woman, and hard working too, possibly belonging to a generation with an inherent dislike of being idle.

And, we wonder, do any children now know about shelling peas?

Sensible Footwear said...

It must have been nice for your mum to down her tools and let go of all that ironing and cleaning for a bit.

And some very sweet childhood memories in this post as well. Lovely.

Caroline said...

Wow, you still have the tennis racket - I remember it well!

Sarah Has Moxie said...

You are such a lovely writer! I could almost imagine being there, helping to pod the peas. :) Thanks for a lovely Sunday story!
Sarah

Rohini Prasanth said...

such a sweet post!

your mom sounds just like my elder sis. she always has a huge pile of clothes each - to be washed, to be ironed and to be folded. phew.

my mom was is always in the kitchen cooking. breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner. and special treats for special occasions. and treats again if guests are expected. the only time she comes out of the kitchen early is to watch cricket especially when India is playing.

It is one of the imperative conditions for when I buy my own house that there should be place for a huge garden, front and back. for now, my balcony garden will have to do, and my lilies have just awakened. happy gardening to you too! it is liberating and exhilarating. food for the soul.

Pat said...

The thing about ironing - it kills the mites in the seams of bed linen.
Did you have one of those heavy wooden presses we used to screw the racquet in? Not sure why.

Nicole said...

I think that as a mom I have a sense if success about my parenting when I shoo the kids outside while I mop, fold, sweep, etc., inside. But this piece makes me wonder if they'd benefit from seeing me engage in some of my passions as much as they do from the fresh air.

Hillary said...

Oh, so nice! Happy to feel the warmth of your childhood memories.

Must say, though - I never iron. Shaking stuff out, fluffing it up is the closest I get to the actual act of ironing. Yeah, they're not the same thing.

Bth said...

You write so beautifully when you tell the stories of your childhood. This one was especially sweet, I loved the nostalgia, and the images of you making lollies and your mum steaming away with the iron wire stretched out into the garden on a sunny day. So lovely.

Mother Lover Breadwinner said...

Sounds like my mum and grandma. I think that our family's standards have slipped with each generation. I can clearly see my grandma stooping to pick fluff up off the lounge floor and she ironed absolutely everything. I'm sure she would have ironed my grandad if he'd stayed still long enough!
My mum continues to iron underpants and socks and towels (why would you iron towels?)but draws the line at stooping for fluff.
In my house, DH does the ironing (unless it's something intricate or frilly) and the number of items that get ironed is diminishing annually as we both find much better things to be doing!
I sometimes think Grandma would have a dickie fit if she saw how we lived, but then I remember that she wouldn't; she would stoop for the fluff and get the ironing board out and do it herself!

Olga said...

My mother also starched and ironed all her clothing and other belongings. The feeling was just heavenly, like sleeping on clouds. As for me, I would never spend my time on such a thing.

Happy Frog and I said...

I really enjoyed this post. I too also hate housework though I do love being out in the garden. My Mum also adores watching the tennis at Wimbledon though I never got that into it myself.

Sharon Longworth said...

Fran - gosh I'd forgotten about the twin tub! My mum had a big wooden stick that she'd use to lift the washing out from one side to drop into the other. The clothes always looked steaming hot and I worried for her burning her hands.

Doria - thank you!

Blissed out Grandma - I liked it when she ironed in the garden - I wish she'd spent more time out there really.

Liz - I think our iron is down the back of a cupboard where it fell some months ago. It's amazing how well the creases drop out of things once you've worn them for a while...

Sharon Longworth said...

Jane and Lance - yes she did work hard - too hard really. And yes - we grow our own peas now, so my daughter gets to pod them in the summer too!

Sensible Footwear - they are good memories for me, I hope they're not too bad for my Mum as well, although she did seem to spend all her time working!

Caroline - yes, still got it - sitting on the bookcase at the top of our stairs. It's completely bent out of shape now, but I think it's literally the only thing I've got from Croxted Road, so I think I'll always hang onto it.

Sarah - thank you so much, I'm really glad you liked this.

Sharon Longworth said...

Rohini - I've managed to avoid building my own ironing pile - and I fully intend for it to stay that way!
In our house it was my Dad who loved cricket. He's been dead for a long time now, but even so, every time I hear a cricket report on the radio, I wish I could talk to him about it.
I hope one day soon you get your house with its huge gardens.

Pat - ugh! Now you've got me worrying... perhaps I'll set the washing machine a degree or two higher? And no, I never had a press - although I can picture one now you mention it. A shame really, but I've grown fond of the old thing, however battered and warped it is.

Nicole - I'm sure you're a splendid mum! I would have liked to have mine spend more time doing things with us, but she did make us a lovely home too, so I guess I was lucky either way.

Thanks Hilary! I'm with you on the shaking things out - that's all the attention my laundry will get!

Sharon Longworth said...

Bth - thank you, I'm really pleased you liked this. Oh, and that's a gorgeous new profile picture!

Mother Lover Breadwinner - I'd never really thought about things declining with each generation; I'd just assumed I was rebelling against my mum's way of doing things. Either way, her house was (and still is) spotless and mine is at best unruly , but as you say, there are so many other things to do...

Olga - it's odd isn't it? The thought of starched and ironed sheets seems heavenly, but I still can't bring myself to waste time doing it.

Happy Frog and I - really glad you liked this one. I hope you get to spend plenty of time in the garden this summer.

Baglady said...

I love these sort of memories - the pea shelling and the towel ironing and tennis played on inappropriate surface. Fabulous.

It's funny how our memories of people get distilled down to their essences. Wonderfully captured.

Karson said...

I'm new to your blog by way of Mr. London St. I just had to tell you that the poise and easy grace with which you write makes for a very satisfying read. I will most definitely be back! Lovely post!

Shopgirl said...

So wonderfully told, vivid descriptions painting scenes before my eyes, and a voice that could almost be hard off the page as I sit here with a cup of tea that has ran cold, though I feel like I was in a sunny coffee house listening to a friend recount favorite memories.

My favorite paragraph is the one starting with:
I'm sure that was when she'd let us make our own ice-lollies...

I was with you picking berries, almost.

caterpillar said...

I loved this post which talked about your childhood...seems like mothers all around the world enjoy cleaning and scrubbing, my mom's favorite pastime is dusting, cleaning and folding...she's almost always at it...

Sharon Longworth said...

Baglady - thank you. You are so right about distilling people down to their essences. I wonder how people might capture you or me in a few years, and whether we'd be flattered or horrifed.

Karson - thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment - I'm glad you liked this & do hope you will come back again!

Shopgirl - thank you! I'm truly flattered.

Caterpillar - it's odd though, the being a proper mum thing seems to have passed me by - I'd much rather play outside than do housework indoors!

Mr London Street said...

Loved this and am culpably late to comment on it. I too loved those home-made ice lollies, for some reason they felt like the height of luxury. Them and the occasional Mini Milk. Sadly, work has always felt like work to me, outside or not, but this was still a gorgeous read. I finished it wishing it was twice, three times as long.

Lady Wordsmith said...

I just stumbled upon your blog by way of my friend dearjenna, and I loved this post. My favorite part was the Wimbledon reference--the same thing happens in my house at that time of year! I'm the product of an English-American marriage, and my mum watches Wimbledon religiously, even to the point of ignoring everything else!

You have a wonderful storytelling ability that makes these scenes incredibly realistic.