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A few weeks ago I was preparing my order for The Book People. If I bought another book I would get free delivery, so for just a pound or so more than I would have spent I acquired "How Clean is Your House?" by Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie.
This is a dual purpose book. Its primary claim to fame is that it's the book of the Channel 4 series "How Clean is Your House?" The authors attacked years of filth and grime in homes across the country whilst viewers were allowed to feel superior no matter what the state of their own homes. The secondary purpose is that it's a book of advice on cleaning your home. So, how well does it stack up on each count?
If you're hoping to revisit the squalor of the homes visited in the series then this isn't the book for you. There are passing references to particular horrors, but there's no naming and shaming and not much in the way of pictures to jog the memory. The book is positive – it's about getting your home clean without dwelling on what might have gone before. You'll find the trademarks which made the series so popular – the over-the-top rubber gloves, beautifully manicured nails and "filth offenders", dear. If you enjoyed them in the series then they lighten the message of the book. If, like me, you didn't, then you'll find them slightly irritating and possibly even patronising.
As advice on cleaning your home I think it's rather better. There's a quiz to establish your cleaning profile – ten questions about the way you tackle different jobs. You'll find out if you're on top as a cleaning queen or right down at the bottom of the scale as a filth offender. It's a bit of light-hearted fun and I would hope that no one would take it too seriously, not least because there's no suggestion that too much cleaning can be a bad thing.
From an environmental point of view I was quite pleased. I've seen similar books which recommend a variety of proprietary cleaners which almost amount to chemical weaponry. Kim and Aggie use bleach only in moderation and at the other end of the chemical scale rely on lemons, vinegar and concentrated washing up liquid. Dusting is done with a well-wrung-out damp cloth and polish is applied only once a month. There's no encouragement either to get expensive gadgetry other than a good vacuum cleaner.
There's a simple routine laid down of jobs which need to be done on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. Rooms are then tackled on an individual basis and hints given as to how to get the best results. Most of it is common sense, but there's the occasional gem, like putting the dishcloth into the dishwasher each time you do a load.
I like the hints for using natural cleaners. Lemons or distilled white vinegar will remove limescale from chrome and stainless steel. Soda water helps to remove red wine stains. As a quick reference book in an emergency it could be excellent, except for one important point. The indexing is atrocious. I decided to look up "red wine" under the heading "stains". It's supposed to be on page 187. This is headed "extra activities in the bedroom" and red wine doesn't get a mention. Never mind, I thought, it'll be on the same page as soda water, but that's supposed to be on page 187 too, and isn't. One of my dogs wandered in so I thought I would look up "dogs" and it seemed there would be quite a chunk of text on pages 170 – 1. Page 170 is all about cat litter trays.
The book is, er, vivid! There are lots of bright pinks and yellows, which I could have done without and there's regular use of the "large print fills up more space" trick. It's 192 pages but in truth it could have been a good deal slimmer. I read it in about an hour and a half and found it interesting and informative. There was no earth-shattering revelation which would get the house clean with little effort from me. On, the other hand, if the advice is followed, the house will sparkle.
I did worry about the obsessive nature of the book. I've always said that my house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be a home. I like my food preparation areas to be spotless. Everything that can go through the dishwasher does, but that's probably got more to do with laziness than anything else. I like to keep on top of the bathroom. Apart from that I'm fairly relaxed. The house gets a thorough clean once a week and I'll dust and vacuum in between if the need arises.
What I am not going to do is use cocktail sticks to pick dirt out of screw heads, or vacuum myself out of the door when I go on holiday. I'm not going to stay up late after we've entertained so that I can clean up: I'm going to enjoy the evening and deal with everything in the morning. I'm certainly not going to ask visitors to remove their shoes before they come into the house. I'm not going to make a martyr of myself to produce a home that would need a curator rather than a cleaner. I'm confident enough about the basic cleanliness of my home to laugh at some of the more extreme suggestions. I worry though that there are people, already under pressure, who believe they have to go to these lengths to avoid having the squalid homes they saw in the television series.
I must admit that my original intention was to buy the book, have a quick read and then sell it on eBay or Amazon. The phrase "sooner rather than later" springs to mind.
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd - Format: Hardback - ISBN 0-718-14699-9 - Price £12.99, but available from The Book People for £4.99
[Alright, I'll confess! I was prompted to empty the crumb tray on the toaster which hadn't been done for, er, a while. The microwave also got a clean rather than a lick-and-promise wipe.]
Do they actuall suggest that in the book - using cocktail sticks to pick out drit from screws ??? I found it an amusing show - but like you, will not be obbsessing over cleaning !!! Philippa. x
SRowlands 06.07.2005 16:23
I love the TV show, but as you mentioned, some of their suggestions seem a bit excessive !!! I'm surprised they don't suggest using a thermal-nuclear microscope and a pair of tweezers to get rid of bed bugs !!
David_Scutt 21.06.2005 00:20
Well, what can I say, I bought this book for my mum after reading this review. The TV show is hilarious!!!! brilliant review. Many Thanks.
In How Clean is Your House Kim Woodburn and Aggie Mackenzie "The Nation's Dream Cleaning ... more
Team" continue the mission of their popular Channel 4 television series--to educate, inform and generally browbeat us all into cleaning properly. The double act (dubbed "Trinny and Susannah on Domestos" by one pundit) need little by way of introduction. Kim, who wears pearls and sports the type of ridiculous Beehive-cum-wasp-nest hairstyle that hasn't been seen on the box since Bet Lynch graced the Rovers Return, is the bruiser. To ladle on the 70s TV trivia, Woodburn is Bodie to the finicky wee Scot Mackenzie's Doyle--if The Professionals had been a pair of hygiene-obsessed middle-aged women and forgone the pleasures of driving Ford Capris through cardboard boxes choosing instead to give the u-bend a good going over. Here Kim and Aggie do actually include a series of Crime Files; factoids of horrifying information, usually about "beastly bacteria", which are destined to make you at least question, briefly, the wisdom of opting to leave your dishes soaking overnight after that joyously wine, port and a whisky or seven-for-the-road-fuelled dinner party. "When you let dirty plates sit for a long time the food contributes nutrients for bacteria, so they will rapidly multiply". It's therefore best, they suggest, to "wash all dirty dishes in hot soapy water as soon as possible." (Paper plates are, of course, always an option.) Divided into chapters that cover each room and full of astonishing top tips, such as using a banana skin to dust plants ("the dust" apparently "clings to the skin and the juice nourishes the leaves") it will have you on the way to meeting their notoriously exacting standards. But, a note on the back of the jacket kindly reminds us to give this volume "a dust every now and then" and under no circumstance use it "as a coaster or a dinner tray." --Travis Elborough