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.