Today I am deeply, sincerely grateful to one Hubert Cecil Booth, who in a stroke of brilliance in 1901 invented the vacuum cleaner (apparently he tested his hypothesis by putting a handkerchief over his mouth and sucking on a restaurant chair. History does not record the reaction of his fellow diners. This is one of life’s random facts that bring great happiness). Yesterday I spent two hours on my hands and knees scrubbing paint from a violently purple ridged carpet, and came away with chapped hands, grid-patterned bruises on my knees, and what felt like an iron bar across my shoulders and neck. Consequently this morning I walked around with an angular, flamingo-esque stiffness in my head and got hand-cramp trying to peel potatoes. Imagine living as a woman before Mr Booth got his brainwave and started sucking on restaurant chairs. I think I would have scored rather low marks in a society where your competency as a wife was assessed by the state of your freshly-scrubbed front step.
Aside from my deviation into 1890s housewifery, our Helping Hands service project yesterday went very well. Tim was Reading’s team leader, so we arrived at the care home in Oxford at 8.30am, after an obligatory McDonalds breakfast, for the health and safety briefing. Having noted all the places where people could potentially fall off ladders (usually places where ladders were), we got to work painting our allotted three bedrooms. Predictably, the rooms were brown, purple and bright blue, respectively – paint colours that must be used with exquisite, non-NHS-funded care if they’re to be used at all – so we had large tubs of magnolia waiting to freshen things up. First coats were done everywhere by lunchtime, when we paused to eat sandwiches lovingly (if rather eccentrically) prepared by the primary children. Tim was disappointed to note that the chocolate bar he was allocated was orange flavoured – forbidden under the Timothy Code of Fruit and Chocolate Abhorrence – but the very lovely Julie Kennedy dug through all the leftover bags and rescued two plain bars instead. Very gratefully received.
The worst part of a day like this is the part near the end where most people have gone home, and the ones who are left realise how long the fiddly clearing-up jobs are going to take. This is why I found myself on hands and knees scrubbing paint stains out of carpets. Timothy had a similarly left-over job washing up paint trays, and emerged hours later with callused, wrinkly alien fingers, wincing. But it was amazing how much 90 or so people can get done in one day. New fences were put up, the garden cleared and a new raised flowerbed created for those in wheelchairs, paving slabs cut, a new handrail erected, every room freshly painted and the curtains replaced. It made an incredible difference, and watching so many people working hard alongside us was a huge morale-booster. Volunteering boosts more than morale, apparently: according to the Corporation for National and Community service, those who volunteer experience ‘lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life’. So despite all evidence to the contrary, scrubbing that floor will actually make me live longer. I won’t bother with the neck brace then.