Bill Ralston: A clean sweep

by gabeatkinson / 31 January, 2013
Holidays can sometimes have unexpected consequences.
"That may be true, but it’s definitely the best place in the world to perpetuate the myth that it’s still the best place in the world to bring up children.” /cartoon by Steve Bolton

Usually the toughest part of returning from a long summer holiday is settling back into the mundane routine of work and the familiar pattern of life at home. However, this year is different. I arrived back from weeks at the beach to find my house had crossed into a parallel universe; it was the same but different in myriad small but confusing ways.

We had passed the care of our home to friends. It was a perfect solution: they needed a place to stay in Auckland and we needed the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re unlikely to be burgled and that the house will be well cared for.

Domestic security was certainly guaranteed. He was an ex-SAS soldier who had worked with Blackwater in Iraq. I warned them that on Fridays, women would arrive to clean the house. I thought it best to do so in case he mistook them for burglars and began waterboarding them in the laundry.

We arrived home to be met at the door with the welcoming words, “Hi. I fired your cleaners.”

She produced her iPad. “I’ll show you why.” She had toured the house, photographing a series of hygiene atrocities that included a dead mouse entombed in a pile of dust and lint under the fridge and a thick layer of grease on every surface more than 1.5m off the floor. That last sin against cleanliness was understandable, as the cleaners were each barely 1.2m tall. Greasy tidemarks are apparently a common failing among midget cleaning ladies.

She had performed her military-grade health and safety inspection within the first 12 hours of being on-site and had disposed of the cleaning ladies within 24 hours. She also announced that from now on she would come every Friday and clean for two hours.

I looked around. Every surface was gleaming. I realised the fridge was, in fact, made of shiny steel and not dull pewter. The kitchen floor tiles were not grey but cream. Most surprising of all, the house seemed bigger. This was because five years of accumulated clutter had been removed to storage somewhere else in the house.

It seemed a perfect outcome. Only later did I begin to notice what felt like a tear in the fabric of space and time. At the anointed hour when it was time for a quiet drink, I opened the cupboard to retrieve a glass. There were none there; instead, it was piled high with plates. On the shelf where the plates had been were stacks of serving platters. In the drawer where the pots were kept, there were rolls of foil and plastic wrap. The room began to spin. Nothing was where it should be.

Checking the pantry, I noticed all the cans stood in orderly ranks, the condiments on another shelf lined up with labels facing out, with several packets of food carefully arrayed above. There appeared to be the same amount of stuff, but there was much more space and you could see what you were looking for when you opened the door.

She had rearranged everything in the house quite logically. That was the problem. We had allowed anarchy to prevail. Things had ended up in places simply because that is where we had first put them when we had moved in. Over an extended period, other objects found places to reside, like debris washing up on a beach.

Now, everything is clean, tidy and logically arranged. I, of course, can find nothing. It’s as if I’ve entered a state of dementia, wandering about muttering, “Where’s the can opener? What happened to the TV remote? Anyone seen the cups?”

It will take weeks before I can satisfactorily mess everything up again.
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