Jude and the Gentle Art of Juggling

Juggling is an art like everything else.

Take a globe in your right hand and throw it into your left. You have just completed ‘one catch’. Now do the reverse. Practise this action several times.

This is the story of a suburban housewife in 1950’s Britain. It is how it was THEN, not how it is NOW. It’s a parody, of course, because we recollect only those things that we wish to remember and what we remember can play tricks on us. Reality is nearly always very different.

For those of you who may be left wondering what the husband did it is worth adding that, apart from going out to work to earn a living, he also did his fair share of work around the house: cracking coal and preparing fires, emptying the rubbish, mowing the lawn and cutting the hedge, paying the weekly bills, helping (occasionally) with the washing up, cleaning the car, mending fuses and organising days out. He also played his part as a responsible parent, helping with homework and playing games.

Juggling act: Noun

-an attempt to deal with several conflicting situations, requirements, or pressures at the same time.

Jude did not believe in devoting her life to the removal of dust. Some women acted as if it was a real priority. To them it was an obsession.

‘So how come your place always looks so clean?’ asked her friend Sarah one day. The question was thrown out in a take-it-or-leave-it manner but, if the truth be known, Sarah was intrigued, if not a little envious and she was hoping for some handy tips.

Mischievous Jude, who enjoyed throwing people off course, always maintained that laziness had a lot to do with it. This confession always confounded her friends. How could Jude, who was such a domestic goddess, claim such a thing?

‘Laziness makes me think’, she said. This was shorthand for how many corners you can cut in order to reduce the amount of time spent on housework.

‘The first rule’, she said, ‘is to make sure everything stays in its rightful place. Don’t muddle things up. That way you won’t waste time looking for things that you can never find. Clear the decks, keep things simple. You can’t work quickly when your house is in a clutter.’

Sarah said that she was always trying to get Harry to sort out his clutter. Most of it had gravitated to the garage because Sarah couldn’t bear to have it all in the house. Once every available space had been filled up on the shelves in the garage, his things had spilled on to the floor. Spilled was the only word for it. He never actually placed things on the floor, they just seemed to fall there of their own accord. Everybody’s garage seemed to be like that nowadays. No one kept their car in the garage anymore. Sometimes she despaired of the mess in the garage.

Jude didn’t believe in hoarding anything. She viewed her possessions dispassionately. The great thing was not to get attached to them.

Whenever Sarah challenged Harry about getting rid of something his stock in trade response was always ‘well, it might come in handy one day’ but that day never seemed to come.

Juggle: Transitive verb. 

-To handle or deal with usually several things (such as obligations) at one time so as to satisfy often competing requirements.

The next step involves the introduction of a second globe. Starting with a globe in both hands, globe 1 in your right and globe 2 in your left, throw globe 1 into your left hand, throwing globe 2 to your right hand before globe 1 drops. Repeat the action several times counting. Once you have perfected this, repeat the process in reverse.

Jude was a genius with a long broom, a short-handled brush and a dustpan. She was also good with a ceiling brush which she used for getting rid of cobwebs that had taken up residence in high places. Spiders had a hard time of it when she was around. Friends marvelled at the way she flicked her lampshades with a feather duster or got to grips with the tops of doors. Dust never stood a chance. She never allowed it enough time to accumulate. Her polished floors were immaculate. It’s a wonder guests didn’t slip on them. Splashes and muddy footmarks were nowhere to be seen.

When it came to beds, she knew how to turn a sprung mattress from side to side and top to bottom to keep the wear even, flap the top of a sheet, pull out any puckers and plump up a pillow before throwing it to the head of the bed. If the word ‘throw’ sounds out of place here, let me say at once that the action was done so nonchalantly, so effortlessly, that there was no sense of anger in it whatsoever. Let me say that it was done graciously.

Start as you did in step 2 with globe 1 in your right and globe 2 in your left, only this time take globe 3 in your right hand too. Throw globe 1 to your left, throwing globe 2 to your right as globe 1 starts to drop. Globe 2 will now be falling to your right hand so throw globe 3 to your left. You should now have both globe 1 and globe 3 in your left hand and globe 2 in your right. Start again from the beginning of step 3 and repeat this sequence until you can manage it without dropping. Remember, practise makes perfect.

Unlike her friend Sarah, she tried out all the new cleaning products and white goods as soon as they came on the market. There was always the chance that someone might have found an easier way to do something, especially when it came to drying clothes or removing the soap-line round a bath. Sarah couldn’t be bothered with all of that. It took up too much time.

Sarah remembered the time when Jude bought a spin dryer. She invited Sarah round so that she could show off her latest purchase. What a time they had together. It was one laugh after another. After she had loaded it up and closed the lid, the thing made a terrific noise and spun round the kitchen like a whirling Dervish with Jude hanging on to it for dear life to make sure it didn’t get completely out of control. After it had finished, she opened it up and they both watched the drum, which was still spinning at a fantastic rate, gradually slow to a halt. When Jude took the washing out, they couldn’t stop laughing because all the linen was covered in raised circular spots having been pressed up against the holes in the sides of the machine where all the water had been squeezed out.

Back home, Sarah imagined Jude spending hours and hours that afternoon doing the ironing but nothing could be further from the truth. Jude had got it down to a fine art. Her golden rule was to never iron the following: towels, tea towels, net curtains, socks, stockings, underwear, permanently pleated skirts, wool jumpers, sweaters, cardigans, drip-dry shirts, any article of clothing labelled ‘non-iron’, drip-dry pyjamas….so what was there left to iron? Ironing was a breeze.

Monday mornings she did the washing. Tuesday was shopping day. On Wednesday she went into town to help her husband with the accounts. On Thursday she did the housework and on Friday she did anything else that she had missed out on earlier in the week. Factor in the garden (weeds are simply plants that grow in the wrong places), the unexpected emergency, the long telephone call, the washing machine breaking down…all the things that had the potential to throw the spanner into the proverbial works and Jude found the time to manage them all. Put simply, she was unflappable. That was the Martha in her. She was as busy as a Bach fugue.

Afternoons were a different matter altogether. Lunchtime was the watershed between the two halves of her life. After lunch she shed her clothes and put on new ones. She took the time to make herself beautiful before going downstairs to have a jolly time. In the afternoon, she would invite a friend round for tea or sit in the striped deckchair in the shade of a copper beech listening quietly to the murmur of bees. Sometimes she would sit transfixed watching the aeronautical displays of a red admiral or a cabbage white hovering over a buddleia.

In the winter months she would be indoors dancing round the sitting room to the sound of Frank Chacksfield, adoring the edgy sound of brass in ‘The Nearness of You’. After the war, and the austerity of war, a girl was entitled to an hour or two of make-believe. That was the Mary in her, content just to be.

One of her favourite memories was the day when Sarah had called round unannounced. She had been so full of excitement like a girl who has just experienced her first kiss.

‘You’ll never guess what I’ve just been given for Christmas,’ she said, and then pressed the box into Jude’s hands. It was a set of juggling penguins. They both fell about laughing.

‘Come on, then, let’s have a go and see how many penguins we can keep in the air at any one time.’

To Jude’s surprise, Sarah was really quite good at it. Jude smiled at the memory of that afternoon when they had set all the penguins flying through the air for that was the moment when she knew that she was truly blessed. She was Martha and Mary rolled into one. For her, the seed had fallen on good ground and now it had taken root.


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