Mummy says I can’t play at your house anymore

E.S. Turner

  • Biting the Dust: The Joys of Housework by Margaret Horsfield
    Fourth Estate, 292 pp, £14.99, April 1997, ISBN 1 85702 422 2

In the index to that best of bedside books, the Army and Navy Stores Catalogue for 1915, there are 148 entries under ‘Brushes, various’. For men there were such essentials as moustache brushes, brilliantine brushes and revolver-cleaning brushes, but nearly all the other items were for the use of women about the house. Individual brushes were available for banisters, cornices, walls, halls, curtains, carpets, parquet, furniture (stiff crevices), furniture (soft crevices), libraries, billiard-tables, mattresses, conservatory windows, flues, lamp chimneys, boots, boot-tops, hats, hat-brims, velvet, crumbs, celery and dogs. These brushes were not interchangeable: no good could come of using a moustache brush to remove gunge from tile grout. There was enough thoughtful equipment there to give women maximum assistance in performing ‘one more day’s work for Jesu’, as the poet in the Servants’ Magazine put it. Of course, it was not all brushing, dusting and polishing, there was also squirting. The catalogue featured the Eclipse Radium Sprayer (‘Contains no radium’) which was a combined cleanser, polisher, dust-layer and fly-destroyer, warranted not to harm the finest fabrics. There were already electric fly-killers, a boon for women with high-piled hair who dreaded being ambushed by sticky fly-papers in the dark.

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