Last week I noted here that I had just received a package from a very generous ingrate. (I'll resist the urge to scream in envy at his trip to New York City). Amongst the goodies provided was a small book of writings by Heather Ball. Heather wrote a column in Socialist Standard, and based on what I have read of her work I would have to say that she was a really wonderful and warm writer. There is a light quality to her writing that belies the fiercesomely political stance she was writing from, whether she was writing about her family or more overt political issues. As the introduction by Michael Gill and Stan Parker notes, which they note "exemplifies the biting anger, the humour and the inspiring sense of aspiration that characterised her view of socialism."
"[in present day society] there is an erosion of everything socialism requires and capitalism despises - co-operation, self-respect, love even. I hesitate to use the word 'love' when talking about human relationships - the suspicious sidelong glances I get sometimes make me wonder if it is thought I am advocating multiple orgasms for everyone. Love to me represents the possibility of having such good feelings about ourselves that we can afford to have them about other people too. Yet in this miserable society where money and exploitation must come first, we are discouraged from showing too much concern for one another in case this detracts from our real purpose - to provide profit and power for a minority."For me, one of my favourite pieces was on "Cleaning Houses", and I have to confess it's partly because I'm pretty laid back about keeping a house clean and tidy. In some ways, Cloud and I are probably one of those couple who still live like they're in shared/student style accommodation even though our circumstances are not like that. I'm certainly one of the few women I know who cares so little for constant dusting and cleaning, even though we're both somewhat asthmatic and could benefit from a tad less dust about (I suspect that my fear of spiders should also make me want to clear cobwebs before they appear, but even that dread cannot seem to quite raise me!)
It always astonished me when growing up that keeping a house perfectly clean, spending time each day dusting, vacuuming, polishing, should not only be deemed worthwhile but somehow curiously only worthwhile for girls/women: it was a female responsibility! Thankfully, my mum never felt obliged to follow this - though many, MANY of my friends at school resented that their brothers were let off the hook of contributing to the household chores. These same friends nevertheless slipped easily into their allotted tasks and I would watch in bafflement as they would weekly vacuum their bedrooms of invisible debris, dust every shelf and surface, and polish each knick-knack. My room was too full of books and encyclopaedias being regularly read, of records being played, of toys being played with to gather much dust, whereas in their rooms and house what they had was sat in pristine stillness from week to week. No wonder their stuff gathered dust.
Perhaps my mum's reluctance to make a fetish of house-cleaning (as Heather Ball calls it) came from what she saw in her own family. My great nan's husband had emigrated to Canada (it was never entirely clear why). Abandoned by her husband, my great nan worked as a seamstress and then as a housekeeper to keep her three daughters. My nan, a single parent to my mum, similarly worked as a cleaner. Maybe being paid to work for others doing what they were expected to do at home for nothing, for the sake of 'appearances', made these women make their own mini-rebellions in refusing to fetishize cleaning in their own homes. Certainly I never grew up with any sense that cleaning and tidying to pristine excess was something to be adhered to - though I did grow up with a healthy sense that it was work.
As my mother grew more unwell, and the toll of caring for my dad drained her life away, the house did become more squalid than simply a non-daily-dusted property (though still short of a full-blown "How Clean is Your House?" farrago). But I was nevertheless always grateful to her for instilling in me that show home settings lacked humanity or human endeavour. Mum was too busy knitting, reading books with me, trying to grow vegetables in the garden to care too much if the thinnest film of dust had settle across a picture frame. The pristine house doesn't lend itself well to burrowing through several books at a time, comparing ideas; it doesn't like to invite people to slouch in a room in communal conversation about life, the universe and everything (accumulating empty beer cans, wine bottles, or coffee mugs as the conversation progresses). The pristine house is currently making something of a fetishised comeback - if it ever really went away - thanks to the current crop of house programmes on TV: something that fills me with dread. To get the most money possible for your house, it is important to anonymise it, reduce signs of living, and maximise its pristine potential. Why? Because heaven forefend that one might only make £180,000 on the house you purchased for £90,000 rather than the possible £200,000 you can get by making sure the woman of the house gets into a proper rhythm of house-cleaning. Urgh.
Reading Heather Ball brought such memories back to me and stimulated these thoughts, and for that sort of provocation, I heartily recommend her work to you.