Wash your hands, wash your hands. My youngest son washed his hands so often and dried them so badly that they swelled up and bled. Since then I have had to insist he walked around with a tube of hand cream on his person at all times.
Meanwhile my own domestic routine has completely changed. There is hand cream beside every basin. Fresh towels at all times. New bars of soap, hand scrub, detergent of every hue and fragrance. Get that virus off your fingers. I have never really known how to wash my hands, it seems. Now I am an expert.
Today every surface of my house is clean and dust-free, after news that the virus can seemingly live for ages on a shiny surface. Our hands are carriers and touching is dangerous. Hence at the beginning of lockdown, I resolved to make my house a virus-free enclave. I went out and bought supplies of detergent for every known surface. Glass, wood, stainless steel, enamel. I bought rubber gloves. And twice a week now for the past 12 weeks I have cleaned, scrubbed and polished my home from top to bottom.
I now know it in a way I have never known it before. I am rather ashamed that throughout my adult life I have paid someone to clean my living quarters. Why was I above doing it myself? Now that I know there could be a fatal virus squatting on my doorbell, I clean the front door with a palpable air of joy. And the rest of the place. My cleaning lady has been laid off, but I am still paying her, because what help is it if everyone lays off their cleaners without pay?
She’ll be back, I hope, but in the meantime I am busy with housework. My house has never sparkled like it does now and my hands have never been so occupied. Not only with cleaning, but also with other things: making jam, bread, cakes. Ironing. Sewing buttons on the duvet cover. I think it is a way of dealing with the fact that the outside world has effectively closed down. If I can’t do anything of note outside the front door, I am at least going to turn my energies into caring for my own nest indoors and make it beautiful. Fresh flowers in shiny vases decorate the rooms; dusted pictures hang on the walls. The fridge has never looked so clean and organised. Spices are revelling in a newly ordered fashion. As for the bathroom; I have managed to live for five decades without arranging my lipstick into colours, but all of that has changed. Organically disordered life has changed into order, beautiful order, and ironed pillowcases.
It started out as simply caring for my hands. It extended towards caring for my home, which has of course become much more than a place to recharge and rest. Like everyone else, my house has become my workplace, my refuge, my gym and my restaurant. More than ever, it is a mirror of those who live in it. It’s perhaps no wonder that I have become properly house-proud, certainly for the first time in my life. There’s another reason. Now that everyone can see into your house via Zoom calls, don’t you want it to look pristine?
Yes, I could have read the complete works of Charles Dickens or even embarked on writing a novel myself, but while everything is in hibernation, I am keeping my clean hands busy by reordering my home. I can see by the empty shelves in the cleaning aisle at the supermarket that I am not alone.