At home: Dire estates The tidier the house, the scruffier the car
Why is it that a fastidiously house-proud woman is incapable of cleaning out her car? I am not the only driver who pays keen attention to the state of my drawing-room while allowing my ageing Volvo to double as a motorised skip. Now that all three children are at school and I have only my computer, the house, the dog and the chickens to care for during the day, I should have time to clean the car. But the truth is that my 15- year-old banger (with more than a slight dent in the boot) is low in my order of priorities.
A quick inventory reveals three empty cola tins under the passenger seat; a damaged tomato plant waiting to be resuscitated; a large mound of compost from seven surviving tomato plants; a muddy pair of wellingtons; an out-of-date road map; several pay and display tickets, still stuck to the windscreen; a cracked picture frame; one tennis shoe; a broken dinner plate; a melted Bounty that has fused with the dog's blanket; and an overall smell reminiscent of rumtopf gone wrong.
I am not alone. The list from my friend's Peugeot ended with manure that she had transported from a neighbouring farm in a large plastic bag which unfortunately had a hole in it. "I thought I'd vacuumed it up but every time we get in, I spotted a bit more in a crevice," she told me. "You won't mention my name in this, will you . . . ?" </>
Her house, like mine, is immaculate. In fact, I'm incapable of writing in the morning until I've washed the kitchen floor and lavender-waxed the dining-room table. But I just can't bring myself to feel the same about the lump of metal in my drive. I am hard pushed to recall its registration even though I know the serial number of my vacuum cleaner.
But how to explain these double standards? Well, firstly disembarkation is usually so chaotic – dog, children, groceries, dog again – that pausing to pick up rubbish would be obsessive and unnatural. Secondly, I'd rather the broken picture, pottery shards, muddy boots et al were not in the house-of-which-I-am-proud at all, ruining as they would its otherwise perfect harmony. The only sensible place for them is the car.
"Lots of ladies are like you," remarked Steve, the owner of a local car-valeting firm. "The professionals are the worst. We've found everything from the unmentionable to a pounds 50 note under the carpet. The other day, a really smart woman in a suit had stuffed 14 empty crisp packets in her ash tray. After it was full, she had used the floor."
Dr Peter Marsh, social psychologist and director of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford says: "Although this is a bit of a generalisation, women don't have the close relationship with their car than they have with their house. It is not an area where they make their personal mark, unlike their home which usually reflects their personality."
Why is this? "Well, a certain number might not trust their car in the same way they trust their home, especially if it has broken down and `failed' them.
"Many men, on the other hand, see a car as their own personal space and look after it accordingly. If it is a company car, the owner – regardless of sex – normally takes particular care over it. An unkempt car is an extension of undesirable office behaviour."
Still, there is some justice. The last time my husband went through a car wash, his pristine Saab was dented by a faulty brush that skidded off its yellow tracks. But before the jokes had stopped flying, my own mobile dustbin was written off in a crash. The embarrassment of clearing my crunched-in boot of well-matured Oxfam bags and a five-year stash of school reports before the tow-truck arrived, almost outweighed my relief at being alive. But it wasn't enough to make me car-proud.
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