Photo: Alan Cleaver
The sound of the rest of my family singing along to Angels at the tops of their voices, harmonising, drifts up three flights of stairs to my loft bedroom. The OH and the offspring are together in the temporary kitchen doing the washing and drying up. We haven’t had a dishwasher for a while now, while our kitchen has been demolished and a new one eventually takes its place.
It’s a funny thing, the washing up. The task that, when performed alone, gives space and time for all sorts of melancholy thoughts to arise can be an enjoyable activity when shared with people you love.
Think about when your family comes together for its annual get together: perhaps the cooking has been shared; at our family Christmas get-togethers I often prepare the vegetables and other family members do the roast and the sauce and the pudding and the starter. We crowd around my cousin’s AGA and make the last minute fuss of our signature dishes, pampering and preening them like clients of a beauty salon until they are ready to be presented at table.
After lunch, or in between courses – although my cousin is much more used to entertaining than me and has loads of stuff – there are seldom enough plates or cups or knives for, say, 14 people to enjoy a three course meal and all the trimmings and, even if you have a dishwasher, you simply can’t leave all those dishes lying around until tea time. So we all muck in and do the washing up. No-one minds: it’s a time to chat, a moment of shared chores that we relieve by our sociability. That wine has been consumed usually helps the amiable atmosphere.
And so it is tonight. My offspring and husband are washing up and clearing the meal I have cooked for us all. Currently Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance is blaring out of the ancient midi system that we’ve installed on top of one of the utility room cupboards. Before Angels it was some hip hop song. I went into the kitchen to say goodnight – I have an early start tomorrow morning and I’m still not feeling very well – and everyone was dancing along so I danced too, a fully clothed podium dancer on our temporary platform. I blew the whistle, still hanging around my neck from our dog walk earlier, and Oscar came to me immediately, and joined in with the dancing, moving his giant paws and wagging his tail with all the joy and happiness of a flatcoat who is completely included in his family’s life. Oscar likes dancing. Raffles arrived a while later, took one look at us all and beat a disdainful retreat. He’s more cat than dog, I’ve always said this.
Curiously I’m finding the task I used to find most onerous of all much less of a chore now I know that this time is finite. Soon I’ll have a new kitchen and a new dishwasher and we’ll be back to one person filling the dishwasher in solitude. And it won’t be the summer holidays anymore and the Boywonder will be off to university in Montreal.
But for now they’re all singing along to Shake it Off and it’s making me smile.