Stained, soiled and sore.

Already my new red jumper has threads pulled. Which is of no great consequence to anyone but me. I had hoped the jumper might hold its newness for a while longer and then comforted myself with the thought, like the first scratch on a new car, the first wound on a baby’s skin, it takes away the pressure to maintain this pristine state. 

It’s all downhill from here. Downhill or uphill, however you look at it. But at least that sense of fragility that accompanies the use of something brand new diminishes once the first blemish erupts.

By way of contrast, every renovation in this house is unfinished. Somehow the strips of moulding that go to seal the floor and wall joins have never been put in place. The builders on the second renovation went bust and I had a baby a week early and so those small finishing touches were never completed. Although my husband swore, he’d get around to them one day, it never happened. 

It’s funny how those small, unfinished bits get forgotten, if only visually. I don’t notice them anymore even when I get the vacuum cleaner out over the years and find myself trying to scoop up a lone paper clip, or safety pin, bead or Lego piece that got trapped in the small openings still visible between the parquetry floor’s ending and the wall.

So many treasures slipped into this cavity and many I will never reach. Most of the time I don’t even notice but I wonder about an observant visitor. Will they notice the incompleteness of my house, or the thick dust that turns to a sliver of grime on the ledges of window tucked behind curtains and rarely visited,

Ever since our cleaner stopped coming during Covid and I’ve taken on the task of housework here along with my daughter and occasional efforts from her boyfriend, I’ve noticed the cobwebs are on the increase and the dust is beginning to leave its mark. I get to the major cleaning tasks, the bathrooms, toilets, kitchen sink and floors, but the ledges that are everywhere do not scream to me as loudly, until it’s too late and there’s a film of dust across almost every unused surface. 

Olga Lorenzo once told a writing class I attended when one of our group was complaining she had too little time to write because her teaching job swallowed up all her time, ‘What would you prefer they wrote on your grave stone: “They kept a tidy house”, or they wrote a fantastic book?’ 

The latter of course. 

The question stays with me and justifies in my mind at least my comfort in not spending too many hours on housework. Then I watched the pleasure in my daughter’s eyes when she completed sewing a summer hat yesterday, from scraps of material she’d collected first for mask-making under Covid. She dragged out the sewing machine and took to ordering patterns online. She now sews away in her spare time. Her satisfaction is palpable. A sense of a job well done, a task completed, something to show for her efforts. 

My daughter completes these pieces. Her perfectionist father has more trouble getting things to that finished stage, that stage where once you decide enough is enough, you must then accept its imperfections, no further amount of work on it will improve it. Now it only needs to age and grow tarnished in the process.

For a long time now I’ve been dancing around a title for my second book, one of those memorable titles that signpost the book’s contents without giving too much away. An enticing title and there are so many around at the moment. 

I love the way book titles these days can encompass entire clauses and even multiple clauses, never quite a sentence. I love the way people are playing around with ideas in the titles. And I want to do something similar which is why the title that came to me, ‘If he touches you, scream’, may not work. It did the minute it snuck into my head but on further reflection, it loses its appeal. 

Book titles hint at beauty, even when the book offers ugliness and cruelty at its core. And all I can think about now are those early blemishes on my skin, well before the acne of adolescence. When I was small, I developed a series of school sores on my face around my lips and nose and on my knee. The scars are still there as if from wounds. They must have been deep those sores. And in my memory, the colour purple. They used gentian violet to deal with outbreaks. I only learned as an adult that school sores are contagious, that we can pass them on, that I must have collected them from a sibling or passed them on, much the way we can pass on this virus which tyrannises us at present. 

The cat has begun to squawk, the kettle just boiled, and life drags me away from my writing as it tends to do every morning after I’ve written for a short time. Insistent life which calls more loudly than the cat. I have jobs to do, rooms to clean, floors to vacuum and toilets to disinfect before I can settle into that restful time called the weekend. 

And still no title for my book. Still no moulding for the floor. Everything incomplete. Everything flawed. Stained, soiled and sore. 

The yuk factor

‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?’ Maynard Keynes. 

An apt statement in these times when so much changes from one day to the next. I had my first Covid dream the other night and it surprised me, as if the events of our lives are finally percolating through to my unconscious. 

One of our dogs likes to go out into the back garden where she digs up cat shit or fermenting acorns and eats them. She has a delicate gut at the best of times, but these additions to her otherwise staid diet of reduced fat chicken flavoured kibble bruises my sensibilities. 

The culprit

I googled what to do when your dog eats shit and the post tells us to clean up after other animals as best we can and not to make a fuss of it.

If we make a fuss our dogs detect it as a power struggle and become even more interested in eating the forbidden stuff. 

The vet reckons we shouldn’t worry too much. For some reason, most dogs can tolerate eating shit. 

If these ideas are causing you discomfort, I’m not surprised. I find my stomach roiling even in the process of describing the dog in the garden digging up and eating cat shirt. Fermenting acorns are not such a big deal.

I must have been thoroughly indoctrinated as a small child to have a heathy distaste for all things shit related.

Some of the earliest words I remember from my mother: Vies Bah. Dutch for dirty and yuk. These revulsions run deep. I’m sure they serve a survival function, to keep us more concerned hygiene-wise and then less likely to get sick.

I have a similar revulsion though when I read Maynard Keynes’s words, not the stuff about facts changing and changing his mind, but the final address in the question to ‘Sir’. Clearly, he is addressing a man or men.

Whenever I read quotes from the past that speak of mankind, I react.

When I was growing up, I took it all for granted.

Not anymore. These days I want to scream and when I listened to Alexandria Octavio Cortez’s speech a few weeks ago, and her thoughts about her fellow Senator Teho who had verbally abused her on the steps of their government, I was delighted to hear a woman speak so eloquently against a man who had touched her face uninvited and called her a ‘fucking bitch’ on the steps of congress.

I’m tired of abusive language like this. Tired of the slurs and insults that are directed towards women daily, most notably in the way in which women are excluded from the volumes of history.

And later in congress, the speaker referred to Octavio Cortez as ‘gentle woman’ and I thought how quaint, a gentle woman like a gentle man. And how these terms speak to a sense that people can be gentle, whether as men or women, decent as Octavio Cortez argues. 

A decent man is not decent because he has a daughter or a wife. A man is decent because he speaks respectfully to other women and this includes acknowledging their existence.

How does this relate to the dog eating shit in the garden? 

If we can get to the point where sexist comments and the overriding of fifty percent of the population in public discourse like the overriding of people of colour, the overriding of disabled people, of old people or anyone else who is seen to be vulnerable for the simple fact they don’t fit in with the mainstream norm of young, white and male, if these ideas can create an internal response as powerful as our human revulsion to the idea of a dog eating shit, then the world will be a better place. 

As Keynes writes, if the facts change then we can all change our minds. On the other hand, there’s another issue here that relates to notions of fact. What is it? Especially, in this crazy world of conspiracy theories and fake news. Stuff that’s on the rise.

Conspiracy theories are close cousins of denial: I don’t like the truth, so I will tell myself a story to account for the facts that leave them in doubt. That way I don’t have to notice the bus that’s driving towards me. The bus that will run me over, if I don’t pay attention and get out of the way.

You have to deal with uncomfortable facts, not try to turn them into delusions so that your own delusory life can feel better, albeit temporarily. 

Including the horrors of a dog eating the unspeakable.