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Monday 8 March 2010

Doing the Chores

"On duty" March 2010

It is so interesting how some chores are not chores at all. Some have become activities that I have learnt and at the same time learnt to love. Other chores are not chores when done in other people's houses.

The rest, though, remain chores wherever they are done!

I have just been carrying out one of those chores that I love and I was wondering why this is.

The snow had almost gone. It had been a bit drizzly and wet for two days but I thought no longer is there the need for warm, water-proof snow-boots. Leather shoes and boots have taken their places again on the shoe rack, after not being worn for two whole months. Even so, although the snow was melting away, the grit is still around and there is still a danger that, when it rains, the salt will leave white lines on leather shoes.

Action was needed

Out came the shoe-polishing kit, filled to overflowing with an array of rags and many brushes in all sizes, with tins of polish in ever colour imaginable, even though most of my shoes are now black!

I covered the floor in newspaper, then I fetched a cushion and I plonked myself on it in my usual place in the middle of the hall, ready for a shoe-cleaning marathon.

I love cleaning shoes. I clean shoes with gusto, with spit and polish and with elbow grease. I love it, I have loved it since I was a very small child.

I learnt to love it because I did it with my Dad and he loved it. We cleaned his work shoes together every single day, rubbing and brushing until I could see my face in them. They would be covered in coal dust when he got home, so the difference between before and after was great and it was very satisfying “work”.

My Dad and I would then do my school shoes, my sister’s school shoes and last but not least my Mum’s shoes.

While we polished I would listen to stories, sometimes about shoes, mostly about trains and what there was to see en route from Norwich to London and from Norwich to the Norfolk coast. I soon knew what to do when a sheep was stuck on its back – stop the train and turn it over! I learnt what to do when a pheasant was hanging on the front of the train – take it home and eat it! I learnt about the single roads and leaning out of the window to pass the hoop to the driver coming in the opposite direction. I discovered where the heronry was and where the glow-worms could be seen. I knew where the flamingo stood and where the swan was mourning her mate. I knew where the cows always got out of their meadow on to the line, and I knew which farmers were friendly and which were not. I almost personally knew the lady who always stood at the gate crossing every day and waved.

I heard about dead man's handles, and frying breakfast on the coal shovel, about learning the road, and speed restrictions. I knew in great detail the comings and going of the mess rooms in Thorpe, Norwich and Liverpool Street, London. I knew who made the best cup of tea and who was best at playing cards.

I knew quite a lot really for a little girl who loved cleaning boots .

When I was about thirteen I had the best pair of chestnut brown shoes that one could wish for, for polishing that is. They came up with the toes looking like brand new conkers fresh out of the shell. By this time if Dad’s shift didn’t coincide with school then I became the main shoe-polisher in the family, I was on shoe-polishing duty. I don’t think that my sister has polished a pair of shoes in her life.

I didn’t mind doing it alone as I loved to be able to shine them as well as Dad could, but I missed the stories. I still clean my shoes when I am home at the same time as my Dad cleans his, just for the company and his stories.

This evening, as I rubbed and brushed and polished and spat, I composed this posting for my blog.


There are other chores that I learnt to love.

Like weeding gardens

That’s because of the stories too, stories about life that Mum and I told to each other when I was home from college for the holidays, while weeding next to each other in her garden. I still tell myself stories whenever I weed, in whoever's garden!

And ironing

That’s the other chore that I enjoy, another one with a story attached to it. When I was tiny my rather loopy Great Auntie Winnie would come to help Mum with the ironing every Monday evening. She would iron and I would watch, and she would tell me crazy stories about her earlier life in Northern Ireland. I got hooked on ironing!

In my twenties when still in England I ironed for the old lady next door, I did it while listening to the Tuesday play on BBC Radio 4. There were not such loopy stories on the BBC but they were still stories

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