When I was young and my life was an open book, I knew what tidying up was.
You found the nearest voluminous cupboard, you picked everything up and you prized it in, shutting the door convincingly behind you. Sometimes it took a few stout shoves but even the largest contingent of Cindy dolls can be tamed with enough brute force.
The room looked quite impressive after that.
Later, as adulthood dawned, I progressed to another tactic and one which I occasionally use even today.
I would simply take everything off every shelf and put it into a huge pile in the middle of the floor. And then I would sort everything in the huge pile into little piles corresponding to destinations: the toys to the toyroom, the gift soap to the bathroom, etcetera.
It was systematic, and it tidied to the core. But it is not a conventional system, and those who saw it in its transitional stages were prone to panic.
I empathise with a character in the 2005 version of The Producers: a receptionist who can speak very little English. Ulla is Swedish: and while her 1968 counterpart, the Ulla in the original Producers, was employed to dance and light cigars, the modern Ulla is entreated to ‘tidy up’.
Which, in a Swedish accent inspired by director Susan Stroman, sounds more like ‘Tidy Ooop”.
She does. With a vengeance. The gentlemen’s oak and mahogany of the Producer’s office is banished forever: they arrive shortly after her stay begins to find everything – and I mean everything – painted pristine white.
No half measures there, then. I do like her style.
These days a family life means the house experiences one tidy part of the day: we have an evening clear-up. But it has been slipping.
Today, I can take no more. The clutter is beginning to rule us all: it is setting my teeth on edge.
And so, it begins. Felix, who is allergic to tidying, is spared just this once after his rain-bound friend invites him over to play. It is no exaggeration to say he flees the house.
Maddie has a pragmatic approach to tidying. She potters round checking my bidding and I ask her to do this and that, and she works hard and after half an hour I say: you’ve done enough now, Maddie. Time to go and play.
Phil is very keen to help, in the way that Phil generally is. With gusto and enthusiasm, and an agenda all his own.
I arrive back from a shopping session to find he has heroically cleared the kitchen and stacked the dishwasher and is preparing to vacuum.
Me: I clear the floor when I’m vacuuming. I take chairs and stack them, lift large toy planes and stuffed owls and such, and blanket vacuum the lot.
Phil does precision vacuuming. He leaves the stuff right where it is and delicately laces his way round each object like a ship skirting the coast.
Him being a professional communicator I get regular progress reports. “I just spent some time clearing the fridge,” he informs me, much as one of Wellington’s officers might deliver an account of a particularly thorny clash with the dashed enemy. “There were mould cultures present on several items which I removed and destroyed professionally.”
I resist the temptation to tell him “At ease, Shrewsday. As you were.”
I ransack the ground floor in my customary fashion. I stop short of painting it white, but I am definitely Tidying Ooop, splashing polish here and bleach there and returning jars, which have sat lonely as a cloud on the working surface for weeks, back to the fold, the cupboard of their origin.
I switch the big old vacuum cleaner off to hear a noise which sounds like an overblown hornet somewhere on the middle floor, a furious buzzing sound which takes a moment to place.
Ascending the stairs three at a time, I arrive at the bedroom and appraise the scene.
My husband is holding the most ancient hand-held vacuum, which must have been made by Hoover almost 40 years ago. He is applying this geriatric device to our bedroom sofa. I think he is getting non-specific dust out.
He has had it ever since his father bequeathed it to him. It is possibly an antique: certainly a collector’s item. It is eccentric, like my husband. It has a sturdy metal nozzle and a cloth bag with Hoover’s logo emblazoned on it.
He has already used the tiny wheezing device to hoover the entire bedroom floor. His love for handheld vacuums knows no bounds. It wails companionably, a modern version of Man’s Best Friend, and I turn and leave the two of them, content in each other’s company.
The house is put bang to rights. We have Tidied Ooop.
Time for tea.