x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Turning over a tidy leaf

If something in the apartment looks shabby these days, more likely than not, it is supposed to be so (although there are exceptions of course).

I can't quite believe it - is Emily actually plumping up the cushions?" my dazed mother whispered furtively to my father. And as I whizzed around the living room, chasing particles of dust out of corner crevices, I completely understood my parent's surprise at my new-found dedication to cleaning. They did, after all, endure my untidiness for 18 years. Although, as I protested on countless occasions, it wasn't so much that I created chaos, more that it relentlessly sought me out.

I think my messiness reached a crescendo as a teenager studying for exams. At that point, clothes littered my bedroom floor and no one understood that I simply didn't have the time to wash up used coffee cups. Not if I was going to stand a chance at doing well in A-level biology, in any case.

Now don't get me wrong, I've never been slovenly, just a little bit slapdash. This trait has been exacerbated for much of my life by the fact that my younger sister is absurdly tidy. I sometimes think that the differences between us were dictated by our names, hers: Vic-tor-ia, so ordered and regal, whereas Emily, by comparison, just seems a little bit amorphous. From her appearance to her handwriting, she is neat, ordered and immaculate, whereas I can only aspire to such lofty traits.

This has certainly gone some way towards dictating our chosen careers. Her mathematical brain likes questions to have right or wrong answers, for boxes to be ticked, and sums to add up, whereas I much prefer the ambiguities of language.

Still, things seem to be changing, and as my mother correctly observed, I have become far more tidy over the past few years. If something in the apartment looks shabby these days, more likely than not, it is supposed to be so (although there are exceptions of course). Is this because I am getting older?

I never used to understand why anyone would regard buying themselves a big bunch of flowers as a "treat", yet these days I find myself looking at lilies in a whole new light. No longer does my handbag brim over with old concert tickets, receipts, forgotten foreign currency and sachets of sugar from once-visited cafés.

This is all well and good, and for now I'm rather pleased with the new "cleaner" me. I've made a vow, though: if I ever find myself ironing tea towels, I'll know straight away that I've strayed much too far from my messy roots.