My room's a mess, but my mind is tidy

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The Independent Online
READING a profile on the humorist Craig Brown last week I was delighted to discover a kindred spirit. Mr Brown, it seems, is hopelessly untidy - deliberately so. I am usually far too embarrassed to admit that my flatmate's cleaner actually refuses point blank even to peer into my bedroom, but news of Mr Brown's failings in the same direction has given me the courage to defend my actions (or lack of them) for the first time.

Being untidy - providing you keep your mess to yourself - is not, as everyone would have it, a crime. It means simply that tidiness comes low on one's list of priorities. Now, I am a very busy person. I get up early, I run to work, I run through my work (I write a newspaper diary column), I run to diary parties in the evenings, and then I run to the gym where I run on the jogging machine. Finally I either run home or out to dinner.

I'm so tired by the time I get undressed for bed that I dump my clothes on the floor (I have a weekly ritual on Sunday mornings when I pick them all up and pop them in the washing machine) and go straight to sleep.

No doubt the tidy lobby - who may, I grant you, all be equally busy people - would argue that I should cut out the gym bit or the dinner to get myself in order. Wrong: I made a decision long ago that I would prefer to be thin and untidy than fat and neat. I also know that exercise stops me from shouting at everyone, which I undoubtedly would if I had to forgo it for the sake of sitting at the tidiest desk in the world.

And as for the dinner? 'All work and no play . . .' as they say, is a very dire thing - especially for a diarist, who needs to retain a sense of humour. I certainly don't go out every night, but I find that my poor weary fiance and I are so tired by 9pm that unless we wrest ourselves away from the television, we probably wouldn't communicate at all.

Mr Brown, I note from the magazine profile, is on my side: 'An old friend says the key to Craig's productivity is that even as a bachelor he has always saved three hours a day by wasting not one minute on cleaning, tidying or maintaining himself or his surroundings.'

The idea that these chores should take any one person three hours a day seems like an exaggeration, I admit. However, there are many other advantages to being in disorder that tidy people don't realise. I find that my partner, who always writes things down in his Filofax, can never remember off the top of his head what he is doing for the next two weeks. I, on the other hand, who either forget to write things down or lose the diary, can - I like

to think of it as the brain

compensating for external chaos.

I never (touch wood) leave anything behind when I go on holiday; I never forget to do my dry- cleaning in time; I always get my parking permit renewed and I watch with amusement while my much tidier friends, who have written notes to themselves, forget all these things.

The only time I can honestly say my habits have let me down is when a policeman came to investigate a burglary at my flat and I was out. He peeked into my room, followed by my then flatmate. 'Ah, I see they've turned over this room,' said the policeman (which they had).

'Oh no,' said my flatmate. 'It always looks like this.'

Perhaps Mr Brown and I do go our separate ways, though, when it comes to personal appearance. (I see from his pictures that he needs a new dressing gown and a haircut.) This too is merely a difference in priorities. Mr Brown works in a shed in his garden; I work in an office which, although relaxed, is not quite so easygoing as to appreciate my turning up in my nightshirt.

I can see that Mr Brown's apparent former tendency to spread his mess throughout a communal flat while refusing to contribute to a cleaner is unforgivable. However, his flatmate took absolutely the right course of action by not lecturing him, but instead exposing his habits in her agony aunt column for a weekly magazine, and then taking the money from his wallet.

Just as untidy people should not inflict their priorities on others, so the tidy bunch should not act, as they frequently do, as if they are creatures on a morally superior planet. I still feel very sore for being ejected from a flat I shared many years ago where I did not mess up the communal rooms but where my bedroom looked like a pigsty. (Its crummy appearance was assisted by a doorknob so old that it fell off the first time I touched it, a broken, draughty window the landlords did not mend for a year, and a bed that was so rotten it collapsed after six months.)

However, I resented the 'guided tours' of my bedroom to amuse dinner party guests, and being told that 'I was lowering the tone of the place' like someone who incessantly makes crude jokes. After all I was merely keeping my mess to myself; why couldn't my friends do the same with their condemnation?

Angela Lambert is on holiday.