Catherine Pepinster: On this Dirty Sunday, why not get out the Hoover and clean up your act

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I had a sense of impending doom last week when I got home, realised the cleaner hadn't turned up, and phoned her on her mobile. It was the unmistakable sound of a phone ringing in a foreign country.

I had a sense of impending doom last week when I got home, realised the cleaner hadn't turned up, and phoned her on her mobile. It was the unmistakable sound of a phone ringing in a foreign country. Abroad. Miles and miles away from my vacuum cleaner and tin of beeswax polish. Like many Londoners who can afford domestic help, I rely on the seemingly limitless supply of young people from eastern Europe to keep my life in order. But it's Christmas, and so my cleaner and her chums, without any warning, pushed off home to Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk to enjoy the seasonal Polish pleasures of carp and cherry vodka. Impending doom was followed by panic and desperation. Last-minute present buying, card writing, even collecting the turkey, will have to wait. The house is in chaos, and if it's not sorted soon, terror will follow desperation. The relatives arrive soon, and that maternal moue of disgust will be more than I can bear.

But it's entirely appropriate that I'll be giving the place a quick make-over. Today, being the Sunday before Christmas, is Dirty Sunday, the traditional day set aside for cleaning up before the start of the annual feasting. But cleaning and clearing up the house at this time of year is tricky, given the extra sackloads of stuff cluttering it up. There's the decorations – some on the tree, some slightly damaged but still not thrown out, just in case I spot a bit of branch looking bare; the mail-order lamps that, without any advance warning, came as a kit and have yet to be assembled; a new TV still in its box, the explanation booklet in 20 different languages cast aside because none of the tuning information, even the bits in English, makes sense.

Then there's the stalagmites, the piles of books I've failed to read this year. A particularly jagged one grew by at least a foot in the past fortnight as charity book sales proferred what seemed at the time to be bargains. Still, at least I succumbed only to books. One colleague emerged from such a sale of household goods almost invisible behind the pile of fake-fur throws and cushions she convinced herself were must-haves while she fought at least six others to secure them. A week later she still has no idea where they might go in her itsy-bitsy apartment. Then there was another colleague who appeared triumphant, holding aloft a garish, multicoloured plastic shopper. She wouldn't be seen dead in the street with it, she admitted. So desperate is she to justify having it that she's using it for vegetable peelings.

So first task on this Dirty Sunday morning will be to grab the bin bags and fill them with unnecessary detritus which deserves a trip to the dump or the charity shop. But couldn't Dirty Sunday also be used as a moment for people to consider cleaning up their own act? A time when we might prepare for Christmas with a dusting down of our consciences, cleaning in the mental nooks and crannies where we can forget all about the squabbles, the greediness and the petty jealousies.

While we might be ashamed of our own misdemeanours, we've been hooked on stories about the bad behaviour of the rich and famous. We relished Ulrika Jonsson and Nancy Dell'Olio competing for Sven's affections. But enough is enough. It's time for Ulrika to put an end to the sad spectacle of chasing after other women's partners. Nancy needn't think she gets off scot-free either. She needs to accept that London style is not the same as Italian fashion, and dump the shiny, glitzy kit that belongs to Milan or Naples, but just doesn't do in St John's Wood.

But there are more serious acts that need a morality Hoovering session, too. Take Madonna. In 2003 she should refrain from giving the fur industry succour with her taste in Persian lamb coats, made from the foetuses of baby lambs. The Royal Family should put an end to its age-old habit of paying servants low wages and bestowing tax-free Lady Bountiful largesse by palming off unwanted gifts, whose only alternative destination is the Highgrove bonfire, and instead pay respectable salaries. Most appropriately of all, the Catholic Church should prepare for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve with a mea culpa prayer, a deep sense of shame, and an overwhelming desire to clean up its act.

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