If one were to imagine a family coat of arms, my own ancestors that is, it would include a mop or a bucket, or possible crossed mops over a bucket, encircled by a coronet of dusters.
Cleaning was what my grandmother did. In the house and out of it. She charred for people but only when asked. A sense of pride that also extended to her traveling her own dusters to wherever her services were required.
Our own two up, two down terraced house was spotless from front to back. The linoleum floors swept and mopped daily. The coconut matting taken up, the dust and fibres removed from the flagstone floors on which it lay and then spread over the washing line in the cobbled backstreet to be beaten within an inch of its well-worn life.
This blitzkrieg of cleanliness extended down the lobby and out into the front street, for most terraced houses in those days claimed the immediate pavement outside the front door as their own. This Lebensraum extended as far as the gutter which was also swept clean in the direction of the next door neighbour who shooed it on down the street until it ended up as an untidy pile in front of Mrs. Watson’s house. There it remained until the council’s cleaners removed it once a week. As my Uncle Harry said,” Mrs. Watson couldn’t give a monkey’s toss about cleaning up.” I couldn’t understand what monkeys had to do with Mrs. Watson and when I asked Uncle Harry what a monkey’s toss was my gran told him to be quiet.
There were other things about the Watson family that I couldn’t understand either.
One Friday night, I thought I’d seen a man who’d looked exactly like Mr. Watson going into the pub at the end of the street. I’d gone across to ask him whether my grand-dad was in the pub but I couldn’t understand why Mr. Watson was wearing a floral patterned dress, like a woman.
I later asked my gran about this and she laughed and said she thought Mr. Watson was going to a fancy dress party and told me to go down the cellar and bring up a bucket of coal.
Years later, I discovered that it was Mr. Watson’s penchant to cross dress at weekends. The man who told me worked nearby and said that he’d arranged to meet a new apprentice in the pub after work one pay-day and waited for him in the backroom bar. The boy came in, looking ashen faced and a bit perplexed. He said, “There you are, I’ve bin lookin’ for thee in t’front room and dost tha know, I’ve just bin kissed bi th’ugliest woman I’ve ever seen.”
Mr. Watson’s weekend had obviously got off to a good start.