Life is an avid, persistent thing that tends to burst into being wherever it is given the chance, whether in the rainforests of Sumatra or on the doddering toothbrush in your bathroom that you keep meaning to replace. And, because there is so much of it, it is a simple fact that the beings with the greatest instinct for self-preservation win the survival sweepstakes.
This means that every life form is in the business of trying to elbow every other out of the way in a ruthless competition for space and resources. You have only to stand in a line for something in India to understand what a brutal business that can be: you make the intimate acquaintance of hostile bums and paunches and, crucially, elbows, and if you do not fight back, you will soon be but a smear on the floor that people will stomp over to get to the front of the line before the person at the counter decides they’ve done enough work between tea breaks.
This is also the reason why householding, by which I mean stopping by occasionally to make sure that the roof is still in place, is such a fraught and constant business. All ancient settlers knew this truth: that if you don’t keep clearing the clearing, you can just clear right orf, because life will proceed in its inexorable march all over it, and cover your nice little hut in layers of weeds and caterpillars and fungi. It is therefore vital to make yourself a machete, or at least a hoover, and use it regularly. Push back, or push off.
I’m a bit of a nomad myself. I never seem to unpack completely and put things away in their place. Items absently placed on a nearby surface tend to remain in that exact spot for weeks on end. And I’m quite happy to stick a (fresh) toothbrush in my handbag and sleep wherever I happen to find myself when darkness falls. I don’t mind all that much.
But it makes coming home a bit of an adventure. You never know what lurks behind the bathroom door, or on the mummified veggies in the fridge, or under the toaster. Actually, I just found out what lurks beneath the toaster, and we are not friends; I turned on the appliance until the little creep ran out, weeping and shaking his crisped antennae, and I hope he tells his vile cohort all about it.
The thing is, if you don’t dust and clean and put away and replace and maintain and refurbish and shine up and swab and weed and cook and sweep and clear, you’d better keep that toothbrush in your bag, because it becomes more and more difficult to come home. Things start to look like Angkor Wat, except that nobody will pay you to see it.
So, in a radical move, I’ve decided to experiment with cleaning up, inhabiting the place a bit, pacing the rooms to let the bugs know I’m around, and it’s going to be a showdown if they show up.
For my opening gambit, I refused to be cowed by the black and white exclamation mark of a bit of lizard poo on my desk, which is a reptile’s way of telling you: ‘I was here! Right here, on your keyboard! I’ll probably be back every day!’. I marched up to it with a piece of tissue, briefly thought about whether I could get away with leaving it where it was (how often does one really use the K anyway?) and then took a deep breath and wiped it up.
I’ve taken back my desk. Tomorrow, I’m going to look in the cutlery drawer.