Thursday, 25 August 2016

Would You Just... Clean the Grill?

I am about to do something unconventional, radical, perhaps even heroic. I am about to clean the grill.

I know.

I hate cleaning the grill. I have always hated cleaning the grill. I remember childhood as one long uninterrupted stretch of wonder and joy, pretty much because I spent it never having to clean any grills.

At 15 I could be found in the kitchen of my family home, staring at the grill with tilted head, silently, like that dinosaur trying to comprehend existence in Tree of Life. Cleaning that grill must be a nightmare, I began to think. I'm glad that has nothing whatsoever to do with me.

At university I was appropriately adequate in many ways. I finished my assignments on time and washed my pots and only occasionally maxed-out my overdraft. But the grill was just not my domain. I found if I left it long enough someone else would get angry and clean it for me -- and that person's anger was always infinitely preferable to actually doing the grill myself.

But then university was over and I was living back at home, pretending I didn't need a job because I was going to be the next Jack Kerouac, and suddenly my mother had decided the rules had changed.

She would return from work and I would hastily tab out of World of Warcraft, back to the Word document in which had been scrawled the same lousy four paragraphs for weeks, and my mother would come upstairs and ask how the writing was going, and I would squint at my lousy four paragraphs and say, Yes, good thanks, yes. And my mother would put her arm on my chair, and I wouldn't say anything. And she would peer out of the window, and I wouldn't say anything. And she would walk back towards the door, and my fingers would be hovering over the alt and tab keys, and she would be at the door, through it, gone -- and then she would turn around, like fucking Colombo, and offhandedly ask if I would mind quickly cleaning the grill.

And I would stomp downstairs, muttering how the grill wasn't even dirty, I hadn't even used it, that Jack Kerouac never would have finished On the Road if he had been perpetually forced to clean grills like this, and I would get to the grill, and in fairness it would look like the back seat of the car in that scene in Pulp Fiction when John Travolta accidentally shoots Marvin in the face.

But I had meandering poetic romans-à-clef to be writing -- or at least night elf druids to be levelling up -- so I would do with that grill what Harvey Keitel had the mobsters do with that car in Pulp Fiction: I would gather up all the sodden old tin foil and throw it away, and then basically ensconce the grill pan and all the crumbs and congealed fat and bits of crisped bacon in new foil, so that if someone peered close the subterfuge would not hold, but from a distance any mum-cops in the area might be fooled. And then I would make cheese on toast and go back to World of Warcraft.


Of course now, a decade later, I'm a proper adult, which means I don't even change the foil in the grill. I just leave it all and hope that, like hair, it will eventually start regulating itself.

Except the roguishly deprecating tone I've engendered here belies the truth of the situation, which is that I am miserable. My girlfriend will come in from her exhausting job as a pub manager -- which job provides the flat in which we both reside -- and I'll hastily tab away from, I don't know, a Wikipedia page detailing Captain America's role in the 1982 Marvel comic book cross-over event Contest of Champions, say, back to the Blogger draft in which has been scrawled the same lousy four paragraphs for an eternity, and she, my girlfriend, will ask how the writing is going, and I will squint at my lousy four paragraphs and mutter, Yes, good thanks, yes.

And it's all fucked. I don't know what to write. If I'm not up for work or something that will let anyone but myself down then I'll just stay in bed all day, and the flat is a tip, and I've got no clean socks, and I keep reading the first page of books and then throwing them aside, and there's this weight pressing down on my chest that has been pressing down in some form or another for as long as I can remember, and it's like everything is too heavy, I can't lift any of it off, it's all fucked...

And then here I am in the kitchen one day looking at all the dishes feeling the weight pressing down, and sort of slowly yet all at once it strikes me that although I can't lift off the heavier weights, the ones about my career and my future and the apparent inexorability of my failure, there are smaller, more manageable weights that I could lift off, if I actually so desired, and one of these, perhaps the smallest, so small that it would almost be more ridiculous to not do it, is cleaning the grill.

So I am going to clean the grill.


And immediately I find I can breathe easier. Although, yes, only a minuscule weight, it is the first time anything has been lifted off rather than added in aeons, and it fills me with hope. Life is not so bad. You do little bits and they add up to big bits, and eventually you are free. The trick is to go slowly, and go easy on yourself. The grill today, then later I will watch Netflix, maybe have a beer, and I'll be prepared to tackle more tomorrow.

But what will I watch on Netflix? Do they have Aliens on Netflix? I love Aliens so much. It's not got the majesty of the original Alien, of course -- what does? -- but it is basically schlocky 80s B-movie as apotheosis. I tell you what, when you're having a beer, a few beers, and watching Aliens -- when those marines are running around in their bandanas, and Bill Paxton is shouting "Game over man, whoah man, we're toast man," and Michael Biehn is being Michael Biehn -- when the alien queen detaches from her flaming egg sack -- when that reveal comes of Ripley in her mech suit...

... Or is it Bill Pullman? Bill Paxton and Bill Pullman are similar, no? Is this a thing? Do people know about this?

I continue with such thoughts for about half an hour, until I realise I've spent all the reward from cleaning the grill but have as of yet not actually cleaned the grill, and that there is nothing left to do but go and clean the grill, and I instantly start feeling miserable again.

I motivate myself all over again, and head into the kitchen. To the cupboard where we keep the tin foil. There is no tin foil.

What the Paxton?

I swear, every time I try to drag myself out of this pit, God comes and puts some insurmountable obstacle in my way, like he doesn't want me to succeed, like he wants me to stay suffering here forever. How are you supposed to fight against God?

No, Rob. Stop inventing deities to blame for your inability to complete basic household chores. Just go to the shop for more tin foil.

I go to the shop. Outside it is balmy, warm, wonderful, and everything feels great. I'm moving, life is happening, we can do this.

My cheeriness lasts for two and a half minutes, until I arrive at the shop and the lady points me to the wrong aisle for tin foil, and I decide the best course of action is to stand there pretending to choose from what is actually a selection of tinned goods until she disappears and I can go looking myself -- except then the lady realises her mistake and comes jogging back, and I have to yell at her that It's fine, it's absolutely fine, I wanted butter beans anyway. Which I definitely didn't.

Then at the counter I put my basket down before the woman in front has finished paying, and I don't know what to do, whether to draw attention to the awkwardness by picking the basket up again, so I just hover there too close while the woman buys lottery tickets and chats to the cashier. I'm invading this chat, I think. My arms hang at my side like repugnant flippers. I can't for the life of me remember how people are supposed to stand.

Finally, eight years later, it is my turn. I act too northern with the cashier to mask my embarrassment, but it comes off weird and I know she can tell I'm from the posh end of Sheffield, that I don't belong here. All walk home I am distressed, gloomy. I think of others my age, struggling with promotions and babies and marriages, and here I am struggling to buy tin foil from a shop. I am wretched.

But the only thing more wretched, I decide as I return, would be to use my self-pity as an excuse to not clean the grill. I really am going to have to clean this grill.

So I get started -- by planning out what I'll do. First the dishes in the sink will need washing to make room. Which means actually first I'll have to put the dry dishes away. I hate that this is a thing. Why don't we just build kitchens with huge draining boards instead of cupboards, and then we could store dishes where they dry, thus removing a pointless and mundane job from existence? The same with clothes. Replace wardrobes with massive clothes horses, then we'd never again have to stress over folding t-shirts and the sides not being even and having to shake them out and try again, and finding pairs for all the socks, and staring at the wall as the light fades and the evening draws in, wondering whether it's even worth being alive in such a bourgeois existence that apparently consists of nothing but putting possessions in drawers and then taking them out again, over and over, until death comes for us hunched and--

--Oh, that's the dishes put away. Wasn't so bad.

I wash the dishes in the sink. I wash the big roasting pan that we inexplicably store on top of the grill where it gets covered in dust and grease. I bet that was my girlfriend's idea, I think. I find a better home for the roasting pan, on top of the highest cupboard where neither of us can reach.

Finally it is the grill's turn. The old tin foil wilts in my hands. Underneath is a fatty pool of despair. I scrape out the pool with a spatula. I attack the grill pan with wire wool, green scourer, sponge. I attack the grill rack with same. I put it to dry.

I rinse out the empty wine bottles, the empty milk carton. I clean the hobs, the front of the oven, the kitchen tiles. I look around, panting. I do inside the sink, the back of the sink, wash out the cutlery tub with all the pond water in the bottom. I take out the recycling. I empty the cat's litter tray, take the bins out, sweep the floor. I get it all done, do it all.


It is later. We're watching Netflix. I tell my girlfriend I'm making a brew. I go to the kitchen, stand in the middle of the room, look around. The grill is gleaming. Everything is gleaming.

This will be easy, I think. All I have to do is apply today's technique to every issue in my life that I've allowed to get on top of me over the past decade, and continue applying it every day for the rest of my life. Yes, I think. Easy.