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Thursday 9 April 2020

Letters from Lockdown

The Little Things

Cleaning, collating, ordering, sorting. Mel Giedroyc is dealing with the lockdown like a saint… but didn’t they all die horrible deaths?

It’s Easter, we’re all on lockdown, and if you’re self-employed like me then you might be staring into the abyss, in your pants, for the foreseeable. Homes Under the Hammer will only take you so far. You’re going to have to find something to fill the days.

I embarked on a spring-clean of the bookshelves, which has become something akin to a deep clinical cleanse. Dust, wipe, spray, repeat – that’s each individual book – and what did I find? Only my favourite childhood book EVER, the Little Lives of The Saints, more fingered even than the My Guy annuals! I was instantly transported back to 1976, sitting on an upturned crate, reading out loud the saints’ lives to the bemused builder working on our extension in a cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Leatherhead.

Yes. I was brought up Catholic and I have a strong feeling that, even at the tender age of 8, I was trying to convert Mr Barwick by testing him on the saints. “St Felicity!” I prompted him precociously. He looked up from the concrete mixer, fag in mouth, and shrugged.

“She was beheaded, Mr Barwick. St Agnes?”

A pause. “Burnt?”

“No Mr Barwick, she died by a death-stroke of the sword. St. Katherine, Mr Barwick?”

He sighed and picked up his pint of milk. “Forgotten? Katherine was supposed to be killed by a wheel, Mr Barwick, but it broke, so they cut off her head and a milky substance came out of her neck instead of blood.”

Mr Barwick looked at his own milk, grimaced, and put it to one side. I then came to my favourite saint, she of the starchiest wimple and reddest cheeks. “St Therese of Lisieux, Mr Barwick?”

“Death by boredom?” he said rather pointedly.

“No, Mr Barwick. Tuberculosis. Aged 24.”

And that was the end of his daily grilling. Maybe he did convert to the Catholic faith? I don’t know. We lost touch.

Lockdown makes me think of St Therese – she’s sometimes called the Saint of Little Things. Too ill to do BIG sainty things, she made it her mission not to belittle the ordinary, the everyday, the small stuff. I always thought that a national emergency might bring out the big and fearless in one, the – dare I say? – heroic. Er… no. The legends that will be passed down about Easter 2020 will be about the true heroes – NHS and other key workers. For the rest of us, it’s about embracing the Little Things.

The Olympics may be postponed, but there’s a whole enormodome arena of competitive cleaning going on in our gaff. Salute the Little Things! The buffing, dusting, hoovering, bleaching, soaking, de-limescaling, sorting, re-dusting, scrubbing! My husband hasn’t had his hand off his jet-wash for the last three days.

I’ve also become obsessed with categorising the Little Things. Nails, nuts, screws, picture hooks – all collected, collated, processed. Cleaning cloths have been colour-coded. Shoes sorted by smell. Coats by length and weft. I don’t even know what weft means. Tins, strictly chronologically – pre-Falklands War tins go in the top cupboard, post-Falklands stowed away in the lower.

Other store cupboard favourites are organised by their era – Theresa May era go to the back of the shelf, forgotten, anything post-May comes forward. Recent chutneys, for example. But then there is sub-categorisation within the chutneys category. Traditional flavours go fore and jazzier flavours aft – pineapple, mango, and the like.

Books I’ve been sorting by weight, from the heaviest – Encyclopaedia Britannica – down to the very slimmest – the Nick Knowles autobiography.

I swear, if I do any more Little Things, I’m in danger of becoming a Borrower.

With the pencil-categorising I got distracted by the sharpening process – who KNEW that sharpening could be so satisfying? Then, losing all my feminist principles, I’ve gone for a Miss World-type scenario where all sharpened pencils are now categorised by their attractiveness. The yellow and black stripey soft HBs being OF COURSE the Miss Venezuelas.

And this morning’s Little Thing? The alphabetisation of the herb and spice rack. AFTER each jar has been scrubbed, dusted and jet-washed, they are placed back into a new Herb Order. But here’s a conundrum – Mixed Herbs – M or H? Bouquet Garni – B or G? Ground Ginger – I’m on safe ground. That’s a G.

Tomorrow’s Little Thing, however, will be the big one – the baking cupboard. Flours will be edited by their siftability. Think of it like the denier scale for tights. I’m predicting it’s going to go something like: pasta flour, rice flour, plain, strong white bread, self-raising, on to spelt… and then sugars will be ordered by their powers to interest me. Granulated. Doesn’t interest me. That can stay at the back. Demerara. That does interest. She can come upfront.

The Little Thing I’m most dreading, however, and which must be confronted while this lockdown is still in force, is the Drawer of Doom. You know the one in the kitchen? The one you open that brings sick to the back of your mouth? The drawer that’s like a teenager – full of chaos and prone to strange smells. Our drawer of doom contains a watch mended by Uri Geller on the radio in the early Eighties (I know! he did it ON THE RADIO), batteries that don’t fit anything, ten Oyster cards, tokens for the rides on Brighton Pier, a Now That’s What I Call Music 89 CD without a case, two fag lighters, five pieces of Lego, a Thorpe Park keyring, a neighbour’s spare key, my sister’s spare key, some unknown keys, two funeral orders of service, business cards for a close-work magician and an orthodontist, lanyards, PINsentry device, 1988 rave whistle, unpaid bills, head torch, loads of iron filings, a Buttermere notebook, jazz egg, Polos, Moam cola chews, a leatherman, padlocks, chilli seeds, letters from school, photo of Mick Ronson, insole, clothes pegs, 5,000 lire in coins, medal from sports day…

St Therese, I’m going to need a miracle to categorise this. Help me to love the Little Things. Happy Easter all. Especially Mr Barwick.


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