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In praise of washing up - the only good chore

Give me a pile of dirty pans and I'll be happy for hours

In praise of washing up - the only good chore

It’s therapeutic. A job that I can start and finish. How many things can we say that about, these days, when office hours are abstract - when the first thing I do as I wake up is focus my eyes on incoming emails, and the last thing before I go to sleep is mess with my To Do list for the following day. Washing up is the best chore. One that requires effort, but not too much. One that takes time, but not too long. I just love scrubbing, man. The drying part, I can take or leave, but it’s the warm down after a solid session. A necessary evil after a satisfying good time.

Sometimes I like to think about the number of dishes I’ve washed in my whole life. Are there any other chores where you can add things up? You can’t add up the square-metres of hoovered carpet or the number of times you’ve done your bedding. But the dishes? The plates and pots and pans, the cutlery, maybe a juicer if you’re dead posh, the jugs and glasses, teacups and mugs, the trays, the vases, even: all adds up. You can add up the jobs you’ve started and finished and, for me anyway, they’d be in the thousands.

I like to think about it like I’m George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London. Often I’ll say to myself in my head “I am the plongeur”. I am in many ways like Orwell, only I actually enjoy washing up. I never finished that book because the ‘London’ section is crap, but in the first section’s detailed description of hard-arse, crepuscular dish-work, I was fucking hooked.

George Orwell: he didn’t like washing up, but he was wrong. 

I never grew up with a dishwasher and my most recent flat is the first I’ve lived in that had one. I do not trust it. How can a machine beat these damn hands? How can a machine beat the learned skill of my Fairy-beaten mitts? My fingers, they are pliable; my motions with a sponge, fluid; my attention to detail, unconscionable. Perhaps one day engineers will create a dishwasher that could compare; the Deep Blue to my Gary Kasparov. But for the time being, I am off and away, showing the chasing hardware a clean pair of heels and an even cleaner set of IKEA soup-bowls.

Where others see a baking tray with burnt on cheese, I see a challenge: I soak and separate, I bide my time, putting my apparatus in order, clicking my knuckles and rolling my shoulders. I approach each mound of scorched matter with due care, making sure never to ruin my housemate’s belongings. I respect metal, I respect the possessions of others. I do not, however, respect a stain. No mark or char shall pass. I attack it with force, relieving it off its evil duties with extreme prejudice. And when the job is done, I breathe. Got you, I think. I got you.

My girlfriend always says, “Well, if you like washing-up so much, you can keep doing it” and the joke is on her, because I love it. I really do. Sometimes when I’m at work, staring at a computer screen for hours on end, I’ll think: Ah man, I could really go for scrubbing a saucepan right now

Some dishes, there. And a sink. (Flickr/andreweason)

When I get home I might pop my headphones on, whack a podcast on full-blast, learning while I scrub, or sometimes I’ll just let the swshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh of the tap consume me, allowing myself to enter a meditative state of anally retentive cleanliness, glazed but free, hands moving from muscle memory alone, like I’m Neo in The Matrix if he was rinsing novelty tea cups.

I like to take my time, like the R&B songs of the ‘90s promised. I make sure I do the job properly. In a shared house, I will do my housemates’ pile of dishes too, every dirty plate and spoon within the vicinity operating under my purview.

“Oh,” they’ll say. “You didn’t have to, you know, do all that.”

“But I did,” I’ll say, teatowel slung over my shoulder like I’m working the fryer in a Route 66 diner. “I like it.”

And they’ll shrug and go off to the pub or whatever, and I’ll gaze at my domain, the sink and rinsing board cleaned, too, as I go, hands still warm from the water, skin stinging lightly from the soap, the smell of Clean in the air, the smell of lemon Fairy liquid hanging above, a warning shot to anyone who enters with mucky washing-up that their days are numbered, and I’ll think: That’s nice, isn’t it? I’ll think: I enjoyed that