Anthea Turner, Perfect Housewife
I have to tell you about Anthea. As a resident of Europe with digital cable, I get not just the BBC, but I get BBC2, and BBC3, and BBC4. Think of it as having the best programs on PBS but then recent, plus an uncensored movie channel. There are no commercials on the BBC, except program announcements of upcoming shows or promotionals for the BBC itself. So when I click through the hundred or so channels, my thumb is likely to stop there, especially in the evenings. And one evening, it stopped at “Anthea Turner, Perfect Housewife.” It showed her Perfect House (well “mansion” is a better description) and her Perfect Self grooming her Perfect Pets in the intro, and I thought to myself, I so have to change channels and right now.
Housekeeping is such a non-intellectual, mundane thing. It was forced upon me from childhood and why, because I was born a woman. I escaped some of it by having a career at one point, and being able to afford a housekeeper (not to mention my back would not allow me to do more than light dusting of anything above waist level); but since I was made unemployed years ago, and someone needs to do it, and my husband is working, well, it’s my job.
Anyone ever been in the military? Or camp events, as with Scouting or clubs? What happens when you violate the rules? You get punished. With what? With household chores, is what. Dishes, peeling potatoes, cleaning the latrine, meticulous cleaning, mopping of floors. But because I’m the wife and mother, I’m not only supposed to do all of this, I don’t even get paid or in any way rewarded except by having a neat, clean house where there used to be a knee-deep mess. Which lasts until the kids come home from school, and their friends come over, and two days later it’s as if I never did a thing.
Take the master bedroom for instance. We recently moved; we used to have this blue nylon carpet in there, in our old house, and vacuuming it was a fight. It didn’t help that I was too depressed to get anything done, so that the few times I actually felt like doing something about it were far enough apart that it took a LOT of work. But it attracted and held on tight to every hair, every tuft of down shed from the duvet cover, every bit of dirt we tracked in. My husband’s computer and desk used to be in there as well, plus an extra bookcase, which must have gathered several millimeters of dust in all the years that just getting the place vacuumed took all my energy. It would have taken any woman’s energy, really, even if she did it twice a month. No matter what attachment I put on the end, my vacuum cleaner wasn’t powerful enough to win from that carpet. The hall carpet was like that but just a little bit easier to vacuum. My husband, in attempting to deal with it, had taken to scraping his shoes across first, to gather up the hair in balls that were then easier to vacuum up. I had to resort to this tactic in the bedroom also, and then some. Good thing my back straightened out (so to speak) somewhat, so I could actually bend down frequently, to pull things off the carpet by hand. What offense have I committed that am I being punished so, I hate housework!!
And now, since March, when we moved, I have laminate in the bedroom, the same laminate that is throughout the house. It looks great — it’s been a dream of mine to have my entire house without carpet, eversince we put laminate flooring in our kitchen in our old house in America, and here, finally, I have it. It’s dark oak with grooves so it looks very much like hardwood floors. Do I love it? Oh yes, I do. About once every two weeks, I clean our bedroom. My husband’s computer is now in his own office, so nobody goes there except for us two, to undress and go to sleep, and to dress and go about our day. I consistently air it out, letting in lots of sunlight and fresh air; when temperatures are above ten degrees Celsius, the window is tilted open at all times. It contains our waterbed, a wardrobe, a dresser with a TV/VCR on top, and a small cabinet with tapes and a cassette/CD player next to it; then a nightstand and a coat rack to hang our clothes and robes. Except for morning trips to the shower/toilet, we only go in and out of there once a day.
And so I take one bucket of hot water and one microfiber cloth and I dust; then I vacuum; and then I use that same water to mop the floor. And the water in my bucket is opaque, even black if I take more than two weeks to get back up there. It’s enough to give one nightmares about that blue carpet and the things that stayed in there for YEARS because no vacuum cleaner on earth would ever clean it that well.
So then, there it is: satisfaction with housework for *scientific* reasons. That’s what happens when you give an academic a mop. Since we moved to this house, which I got to paint and wallpaper and drape from scratch, I have seriously been trying to keep up with the cleaning and why: because I cannot stand the thought of all that might grow and develop and create funny smells that we have to breathe, as turned up behind bookcases and under pulled-up carpets when we removed them from the old house. Having no carpet actually gives me half a chance to win that battle. Dirt stays on the surface; just clean and wipe.
And since I guess I joined the club of Trying to be Better Housewives, instead of changing the channel, I watched Anthea Turner, Perfect Housewife. She’s pretty and petite and I thought I would just hate her. Her show is as follows: she has two people or groups, each of which have a messy house, compete for a tiara for Most Improved Housekeeper. Each of them do get the same gifts, to wit, a housekeeping manual written by Anthea (everybody has a good laugh while reading it, because most of the stuff in there she expects you to do every day), an apron, notepads and pens, and at the awards ceremony, a sash and a feather duster (“the scepter”). The notepads and pens, by the way, are to keep in the pocket of the apron, so that you can jot down the things you need or think of.
Now that does sound boring doesn’t it? And don’t we hate perfect Anthea, of course she’s the wife of a dentist and then she has her own TV show AND she’s goodlooking. Except that this lady makes sense, and the people on her show really do need her. I have had friends and relatives who lived like that; back before children, when I had a full time job and spent the weekends partying, my own house would get like that. Well maybe not quite like that; the student house had developed maggots among their trash bags. Or the competing group which had things growing in and under their fridge.
So what happens is, Anthea and her film crew go over to the two houses, and film the chaos as it is. And we’re not talking a bit of a mess; we’re talking “you can’t see the furniture.” Or much of the house. Every horizontal surface is stacked with filth and litter. Open the fridge, it’s a mess, half of it over date; it’s a good thing TV has no smell, but I can just imagine. One of the students slept on the couch in the common room rather than in her bed, because she couldn’t get to the bed and the bed itself was stacked with various possessions new and old, including a mouldy peanutbutter sandwich.
Then Anthea invites the competitors to her Perfect House and shows a video presentation of their problems, much like The SuperNanny, and then they get training and two tasks, to be completed right then and there. The student competitors had to clean up and make a messy bed; two housewives with an organisational problem had to clean and rearrange a refrigerator; another team had to clean an oven in ten minutes. They all have to do the standard task of arranging a nice table setting for a party and hosting it.
Then Anthea discusses the task and what they did right and wrong and why, and it is amazing how much information is packed into that little segment. For instance, I didn’t know you had to clean out your fridge once a week. Or that it took only ten minutes to clean an oven (the trick is to bake a lemon cut in half, then turn it off and then you can just wipe it down). But once she was done explaining to the two unorganized wives, after they had done a fair to middling job of their task, she made perfect sense (but, of course), and now it’s like the laminate flooring bit, I shiver to think what I left in my fridge, back in the days I thought twice a year was plenty. I’m not Anthea so I don’t do it once a week but surely more than once a month now, and she’s perfectly right (but, of course): it actually makes my life easier. For instance, when I come home with groceries I have a place to put them; I don’t have to shove them around stuff that is there that I don’t need, and I never have overdate items anymore taking up space and smelling bad.
After the training, the competitors return to their houses with the manual and the aprons, and begin the mighty task of cleaning. Anthea comes over, assesses the progress, gives tips and even helps out when she can’t help herself, seeing all the chaos; then she points out one room that will get the “White Glove Test” for the tiara award, and leaves, usually shaking her pretty blonde hair in the wind saying, Oh, that was bad, I need to get back home where all is in balance!
In addition to cleaning up their place, the contestants are shown hosting their party, preparing all the food themselves. The students got to host each other, after training at Anthea’s house where they set an elegant table with material, including place settings, bought from Goodwill for only 40 dollars. This part of the show is kind of lost on me though, who believes the best table setting is pans full of good food – exactly where the flower centerpiece and candles and what all sit, in Anthea’s world. The only special treat company gets is that we will supply a tablecloth and matching napkins.
Then the big day comes, and Anthea dons the White Glove and meticulously inspects the cleaning job done. If there is a windowsill you skipped or a shelf where you dusted around rather than under the knicknacks, she’ll find it. The film crew also documents the rest of the house, which invariably looks as if they all had an interior decorator over, whereas the only difference is that it’s picked up and clean. The people themselves have also had the “laminate experience” and swear they will never let it get to maggot stage again, yes they will clean now that they know about the cooties and met some life-sized ones while cleaning kitchens and closets. The end of the show is the awards ceremony, in the hall of the Perfect House, with Anthea looking even more perfect and all dressed up, and she gives each their sash and feather duster, then awards the tiara. It usually goes to the person (I’d say woman, but men compete too) who has not only a changed house but a personal change to show, for instance the lady who couldn’t throw anything out and they carried 17 trash bags to the dump as she learned to throw things out.
When Anthea interviews the candidates at her house, they’re always in the kitchen, and behind them in the background you see Anthea’s kitchen counters and cupboards, each with color-coordinated dishes and vases and items, all sparkling clean. My house is never that way consistently, but, the other week we were going to have dinner guests over at the end of the week, so each day, I spent on thoroughly cleaning of part of the house so that by the end of the week, it would all be done. I had cleaned the kitchen and the dining area, including the back picture window inside and out, and standing on the table to dust and clean the lampshade (which turned out to be a job since the flies over the summer had used it for a toilet). I had also cleaned the windowsill and dusted all the vases and knicknacks I keep there.
So my aunt came over for coffee on Thursday morning; and it wasn’t even clean then, I had to hastily load the dishwasher and wipe the counters down since we’d left the dishes sitting out the night before. She’s from the Old School you know; she notices things like dirty windows or a poor dusting job and disapproves of women who leave the dishes sitting out overnight (but, being a retired teacher, she’ll lecture me on raising my kids better so they will do the dishes). I made the coffee, served cake with it (no, not home-made, I’m not that advanced), and as we were sitting at my kitchen table chatting away, I noticed that behind her, my vases in the window were sparkling in the sun, just like Anthea’s Perfect Kitchen background. It may not be a mansion in the British countryside, but for at least that part of it, I was in Anthea’s Perfect House.