Whistle While You Work

…and wait for Disney’s copyright lawyers to come after you. Safer to sing a happy working song – actually, to be on the safe side, better to just work in silence.

The Grimm children doing the housework. 8d29103v

Scratch that! Working songs have been used as long as there have been work and songs, i.e. since before Mr Disney was born or thought of. Whether you’re a sailor, a farmer, or just a general labourer, work songs are there, as Wikipedia puts it, “to increase productivity while reducing feelings of boredom.” Hear hear. Or rather, sing, sing.

Of course, traditional work singing, like traditional work, was generally communal. You’ll Never Work Alone. (Might as well get Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagem Company on my back while I’m at it…) Unfortunately for us, most communal work these days is done in workplaces whose managements frown on their staff joining in traditional call-and-response songs. Can’t think why.

“The printer’s gone and jammed again,
Haven’t had a break since God knows when;”
“Pay cuts and paper cuts,
Another day at the office!”

“Fifteen years since I’ve had a raise,
Manager thinks he owns this place;”
“Pay cuts and paper cuts,
Another day at the office!”

'Sentimental Ballad' by Grant Wood, 1940

So most of your opportunities for work-singing, if you’re anything like me, are solitary: housework, and perhaps gardening if you’re not worried about the neighbours’ opinions.

You can, of course, sing along with recorded music – companies have made good money from packaging music as suitable for doing housework to – but this has its limitations. Housework often takes you out of the room, and vacuums etc can drown the music out. Unless you play it really loud, and then you are one of those neighbours. Taking your music with you is a possibility if you don’t mind the risk of you or your device getting fried, water being another high-frequency element of housework. Thank you, but no.

This is where Ye Olde Work Song comes into its own. The only real criterion for a work song is that you know how it goes, although it does help if it sounds all right a cappella. You can sing anything – even if you can’t really sing – because, like singing in the shower, housework singing is legally privileged. (For a given value of “legally”. After all, when was the last time Noise Control was called on someone wearing a frilly apron?) Any neighbours within earshot might even enjoy the free concert. As they say, how do you know you’re a talented shower-singer? Applause under the bathroom window.

Singing in the Bath (2130531035)

What to sing is a very individual choice. Myself, I like old hymns and spirituals. There is nothing that goes so well with scrubbing a toilet than I Am A Poor Wayfaring Stranger, and the acoustics aren’t half bad either. Other favourites include: The Lord of the Dance; God Is Working His Purpose Out, (which I first encountered in the 2002 film version of Nicholas Nickleby and hunted all over for before finding it in Hymns Ancient and Modern); It Is Well With My Soul, (doing both parts in the echoes); and that perennial favourite of Sir Howard Morrison‘s, How Great Thou Art.

Interesting bit of trivia: the Maori verse sung in said version of HGThA is not a translation of any of the English verses, but a bit pinched from Abide With Me – a hymn which goes very well with vacuum-cleaner accompaniment. Vacuum cleaners love minor keys.

So, do you sing as you work? Any recommendations?

What Does Clean Mean?

The bathroom, I have been told, is an excellent place to think.

toilet

I tend to find the cleaning of the bathroom is most conducive to reflective thought (something to do with the purgative aspect?) and today was no exception. I started to ponder the difference between people’s standards of cleanliness. Not changing standards of personal cleanliness throughout history (though I have read some fascinating books on the subject) but rather domestic cleanliness.

I think we all, consciously or unconsciously, have a gold standard of what constitutes cleanliness, without which a home cannot be considered a truly clean one, regardless of what else has been cleaned.
For some, it’s a clean sink, à la FlyLady. For others, it’s the dishes that get washed in said sink. Or swept/mopped/scrubbed/vacuumed floors. Or a clean fridge. I have a friend who feels it is important to dust the skirting boards.

I realized, as I worked away this morning, that for me, the most important thing is having a clean toilet and basin. If that is not done, the house is not clean. If that is done, the house is – well, not dirty.

Woman cleaning toilets

I think this probably stems from my childhood experience of Saturday cleaning. On which note, Saturday is the day for weekly housework. Five days shalt thou labour, on the sixth shalt thou do housework and on the seventh shalt thou rest. Of course, if thou dost not do the housework on the Sixth Day, thou dost not have to do it until next Saturday…

At the age of seven, I was started on bathroom cleaning and dishes – my parents being of the view that by the time you leave home you should know how to run one.
Dividing the bathroom territory up with my brother, I went for the smallest possible surface area and ended up with the basin and toilet. (To this day, I avoid bath-cleaning where possible.)
Many years of doing these two chores has ingrained in my mind the subconscious belief that once the toilet and basin are clean, my job is done.

A reclining lady with a fan by Eleuterio Pagliani (1826-1903)

Of course, this is no longer the case, so perhaps it would be as well if I got some sort of mental cleaning product and had a good scrub between the ears.

What’s your sine qua non of household cleanliness – and do you know why?

Feeling the Urge to Purge

Funny people, the ancient Greeks: at least four words for love (storge, philia, eros & agapē), but they make one word serve for cleansing, purging, pruning and emotional release.
Katharsis.

It makes sense, though, when you think about it. The word ‘love’ is made to mean far too many things for people to be really certain of what anyone means when they use it; and the various meanings of katharsis do fit together with a certain neatness.

Katharsis (or catharsis as we spell it in English, presumably a thin attempt at covering up the theft) is generally agreed to be a pleasurable feeling. This is why we enjoy reading or watching stories which involve unenjoyable elements. Our emotions are taken out for a brisk airing and returned to their proper places with the warm glow of exercise. This is, incidentally, why we cry when we’re really happy: all the emotion needs to be purged, and tears is how we do it.

But it’s the cleansing/purging aspect of katharsis which I particularly want to look at. Because cleansing and purging are themselves cathartic. This is not to say that washing dishes comes with an automatic glow of satisfaction (if only!) but there is a certain pleasure to be had in pruning the unnecessary elements from one’s life, purging the unwanted stuff, and cleansing what remains. It’s refreshing.

Le faccende di casa by Adriano Cecioni 1869

I spent a while this afternoon cleaning and cleaning out the bathroom – with particular reference to the cupboards. A variety of items left the room for good, and what was left was vigorously reorganized. And I felt good. Unfortunately this took the form of making the Caped Gooseberry come and admire the results. (Patience: a highly underrated quality in a spouse.)

A word to the wise: don’t flush random medications down the loo. Sewage is generally treated before it’s released into the wild, but as far as I know they don’t have special filters for distilling medicaments from the surging tide. Drop them off at the nearest pharmacy/chemist instead.

But don’t worry. As far as I know the mutant-druggie-sewer-alligator is just an urban myth.

Albino Alligator mississippiensis