Who wants to eat pizza off pristine parquet?

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If cleanliness is next to godliness, as we were always taught at school, where does the Almighty stand on the delicate question of dust? Scientists have just come up with the theory that certain bacteria present in house dust are beneficial to children suffering from asthma. Since most of the kids I know, including two of my own, are asthmatic, it is clear that the sooner we lay down our dusters and unplug our vacuum cleaners the better and the healthier we shall all be.

If cleanliness is next to godliness, as we were always taught at school, where does the Almighty stand on the delicate question of dust? Scientists have just come up with the theory that certain bacteria present in house dust are beneficial to children suffering from asthma. Since most of the kids I know, including two of my own, are asthmatic, it is clear that the sooner we lay down our dusters and unplug our vacuum cleaners the better and the healthier we shall all be.

I've never been a great one for housework. The highest compliment my mother ever pays anyone is to describe their house as so spotless you can eat off the floor. Who wants to eat off the floor? I'm less interested in floors than food, and in my experience, the sort of women who spend hours servicing their floors spend no time at all preparing food. Given the choice of eating microwave frozen pizza off pristine parquet or home-made shepherd's pie off a dusty table, I know which I'd rather.

The crucial question of course is when does healthy dust become unhealthy dirt, and then again, what exactly is dirt? The other day in the supermarket, I filled the special see-through bag provided with four croissants from the loose bread section only to be reprimanded by a woman beside me selecting organic wholemeal baps for not using the bread tongs. "I couldn't see any tongs," I said irritably. "Besides, since I only touched the croissants I've taken for myself, I don't see what difference it makes."

"Oh, but it does make a difference," she insisted, waving the bread tongs in my face. "You may not actually have touched the other croissants, but how do you know that the dirt from your fingers hasn't dropped on them and contaminated them?" How indeed, but then, how do you know that the assistant with his back to you at the fish counter hasn't sneezed all over the cod fillet you're just about to buy?

You have to take certain standards of hygiene for granted otherwise you'd end up as loopy as the acquaintance who came to stay recently. She'd barely unpacked her suitcase before she asked if she could possibly borrow a dust-pan and brush.

Getting up in the middle of the night, I heard a noise. I discovered her in the kitchen boiling the Brillo pads and J-cloths. "Don't mind me, it's just one of my little foibles," she said cheerfully. "I always do it. It makes me feel more at home."

Now I come to think of it, it was this very house guest (used to be a neighbour) who almost persuaded me to go halves with her on an incredibly expensive German vacuum cleaner that had just come on the market. You couldn't buy it in the shops, she explained, they sent a special technical adviser to demonstrate it in your home. From Germany? I said, impressed. Well, no, from Godalming, but he was certainly a persuasive salesman. His machine was so powerful, he said, that it could remove a kilo of body ash from the mattress of a double bed in less than five seconds.

Body ash? Yes indeed, said the man from Godalming, who had clearly played this scene many times before. Body ash is the dead skin that we humans shed all the time, particularly in our sleep. Our beds are full of it. He fixed a special nozzle to the machine and five seconds later, emptied a bag full of what looked like mouldy flour on to the floor. Ugh! we said. Body ash, he said triumphantly.

Now he would show us the special attachment for dusting our walls. It was attractive, light and portable and most of the women who tried it described it as great fun to use. "Gosh, yes, it is," enthused my neighbour, dusting furiously.

I didn't go halves with her. Call me a killjoy, but my idea of fun isn't sucking body ash from my mattress or dusting my walls with a handbag. I want to live. There's a great big dirty world out there waiting for me.

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