Elbow grease goes further than Mr Muscle for spring cleaning
Published 01/03/2016 | 02:30
Spring has, hopefully, finally sprung. Its my favourite of year and is inevitably associated with spring cleaning, which I both hate and love. I loathe the doing part but, on completion, relish the cleaner, decluttered living space and feel both mentally and emotionally refreshed.
Our younger daughter, Ruth, was watching TV one night when she said, "Mammy, you should get Mr Muscle, he'd do the cleaning for you." She innocently believes the simple act of bringing the bottle into the house is enough for the dirt to be magicked away, by a cartoon man clad in a white-coat and orange-leotard. Forget Steve Silvermint; such a man really would be a cool clean hero.
Getting in someone to help is another possibility. Once, when a few of the ladies were over for a coffee, I mentioned I never had a cleaner in and, looking about, their murmured response varied from, "I can believe that" to "you could tell."
But I it's my dust so it's my job.
I finally accepted I couldn't put it off any longer when I walked into the sitting room to see cobwebs in the corner that had become so heavy that they detached at one end and were hanging from the ceiling like dreary stalactites.
There are several suggested origins for spring cleaning based on religious rituals, including those around the Jewish Passover.
Observant Jews are supposed to refrain from consuming leavened foods including bread, known as chametz, in the week of fasting after Passover. Houses have to be cleaned thoroughly and this culminates on the night before the festival begins with the family hunting by candlelight for any remaining chametz crumbs.
However, rather like Christmas, it's possible this was more about religion attaching meaning to an existing pattern of behaviour rather than the other way round.
In many pre-Christian pagan cultures, winter festivals - especially those centred on the winter solstice - were the most popular of the year. This was because, the world at the time being an agricultural one, it was the natural lull in the working cycle.
It's more likely that spring cleaning dates backs to prehistory. Days are getting longer at either end. The extra light would have exposed the messy state of the caves or huts, while the improved weather made a good clean-up easier.
Down the ages, people in many climates kept their houses shut up over the winter, staving off the cold with fires of coal, wood and turf. On the first fine day, windows were flung open and every available body was dispatched, to sweep and scrub while heavier clothes were washed.
Most homes today are bright, well-appointed and, thanks to central heating and the vacuum cleaner, relatively easy to keep. But I wonder whether we are any happier with them?
In the way that skinny celebrities make young people insecure about their appearance, has the proliferation of glossy homemaking magazines and house makeover shows on TV made us insecure about the appearance of our homes?
When I was a child, no-one made an appointment to call on a friend, neighbour or relation. Now, like most of my circle, there are few people I would drop in on unannounced. Except my mother's friends! It reminds me of the adage, "If you want to see me, drop in any time; if you want to see my house, make an appointment."
Meanwhile, a number of community clean-ups are underway in the run-up to the 1916 celebrations while An Taisce's Spring Clean litter campaign takes place in April. Participation would help your locality and be a good chance to catch up with neighbours.
Restoring a link with the past
I recently fell into conversation with painter/restorer Vincent O’Brien from nearby Durrow about an unusual aspect of his work: the refurbishment of holy statues for farming families.
Most of the statues are of Our Lady or Saint Joseph, with others including the Child of Prague, ranging in size from 12-24 inches. Sometimes it’s just painting but often they arrive in pieces and substantial reconstruction is required.
“This work has always been steady, from the time of my dad, Ned,” says Vincent, who along with brother Paul, took over the business in 1990. This is remarkable, considering the many church scandals since coupled with the general secularisation of society.
Vincent says there is a greater demand for this work from the farming sector compared to the population in general, though he doesn’t know why.
Given that the work is done by hand, the cost is obviously significant but Vincent says this doesn’t really seem to come into it.
“Maybe some people feel they couldn’t get rid of the statue so restoration is the only option. But, mostly, there seems to be some sort of deeper affinity, whether to the statue itself or as a link to their ancestors.”