As I Please
Tribune, 9 February 1945
Every time I wash up a batch of crockery I marvel at the
unimaginativeness of human beings who can travel under the sea and fly
through the clouds, and yet have not known how to eliminate this sordid
time-wasting drudgery from their daily lives. If you go into the Bronze
Age room in the British Museum (when it is open again) you will notice
that some of our domestic appliances have barely altered in three thousand
years. A saucepan, say, or a comb, is very much the same thing as it was
when the Greeks were besieging Troy.
In the same period we have advanced from the leaky galley to the 50,000 ton
liner, and from the ox-cart to the aeroplane.
It is true that in the modern labour-saving house in which a tiny percentage of human beings live, a job like washing-up takes rather less time than it used to. With soap flakes, abundant hot water, plate racks, a well-lighted kitchen, and – what very few houses in England have – an easy method of rubbish disposal, you can make it more tolerable than it used to be when copper dishes had to be scoured with sand in porous stone sinks by the light of a candle. But certain jobs (for instance, cleaning out a frying-pan which has had fish in it) are inherently disgusting, and this whole business of messing about with dishmops and basins of hot water is incredibly primitive. At this moment the block of flats I live in is partly uninhabitable: not because of enemy action, but because accumulations of snow have caused water to pour through the roof and bring down the plaster from the ceilings. It is taken for granted that this calamity will happen every time there is an exceptionally heavy fall of snow. For three days there was no water in the taps because the pipes were frozen: that, too, is a normal, almost yearly experience. And the newspapers have just announced that the number of burst pipes is so enormous that the job of repairing them will not be completed till the end of 1945 – when, I suppose, there will be another big frost and they will all burst again. If our methods of making war had kept pace with our methods of keeping house, we should be just about on the verge of discovering gunpowder.
To come back to washing-up. Like sweeping, scrubbing
and dusting, it is of its nature an uncreative and life-wasting job. You
cannot make an art out of it as you can out of cooking or gardening. What,
then, is to be done about it? Well, this whole problem of housework has
three possible solutions. One is to simplify our way of living very greatly;
another is to assume, as our ancestors did, that life on earth is inherently
miserable, and that it is entirely natural for the average women to be a
broken-down drudge at the age of thirty; and the other is to devote as much
intelligence to rationalizing the interiors of our houses as we have devoted
to transport and communications.
A sidelight on the habits of book reviewers.
Now that ‘explore every avenue’ and ‘leave no
stone unturned’ have been more or less laughed out of existence, I think
it is time to start a campaign against some more of the worn-out and useless
metaphors with which our language is littered.
I wonder whether people read Bret Harte nowadays. I do not know why, but for an hour past some stanzas from ‘The Society upon the Stanislaus’ have been running in my head. It describes a meeting of an archaeological society which ended in disorder:
Abner Dean of Angel’s raised a point of order, when
It has perhaps been unfortunate for Bret Harte’s modern reputation that of his two funniest poems, one turns on colour prejudice and the other on class snobbery. But there are a number that are worth rereading, including one or two serious ones: especially ‘Dickens in Camp’, the new almost forgotten poem which Bret Harte wrote after Dickens’s death and which was about the finest tribute Dickens ever had.
The Estate of Eric Blair
Reproduced here under educational Fair Use law