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From crosswords and toenails to Facebook... it's really all about maintenance

By Mary Kenny

Published 05/10/2015

Tough times: thankfully there are some practices from yesteryear that we can now do without
Tough times: thankfully there are some practices from yesteryear that we can now do without

My sister used to say "everything in life is about maintenance" and that reflection returns to me with every season's change of clothes. The roof needs repairing? Maintenance. The bathroom needs a makeover? Maintenance. The paint is peeling on the back door? Maintenance.

Your toenails need attention? Your hands could do with a manicure? And why not an eyebrow plucking, too? It's all maintenance. Every trip to the hairdresser is about maintaining the barnet on your head in some kind of order: colouring, cutting, shape, conditioning. Maintenance.

A man shaving each morning is practising maintenance. Even a bearded man must clean and maintain his facial hair.

The universe obeys the Second Law of Thermodynamics: everything eventually wears down, wears out, and stops. But maintenance deters the process.

The fashionable New York woman dry-cleans her clothes every week. Maintenance makes them last longer and in better condition. The prudent gardener prunes and weeds the garden with attentive regularity. Without maintenance, a garden becomes a wilderness. Houses, without maintenance, crumble. The car declines without an NCT.

You go to the doctor for body maintenance. She measures the wear and tear on blood and organs, and when the cholesterol level seems to be touching a ceiling, a preventative medication is prescribed. Your system needs more maintenance.

The ophthalmologist examines eyes and searches for signs of decline, for floaters or distortions or dryness caused by too much time staring at a screen. Drops are prescribed and warm compresses suggested: ocular maintenance.

Dentists explore your mouth to detect plaque and decay, and with the wonders of modern dentistry can suggest not only fillings, but implants and caps and impressive whitening procedures. Pricey, but it's maintenance. Without dental maintenance, you'd be a toothless old crone, or a gummy old geezer.

Religious people go in for spiritual maintenance. They may go to confession, or attend retreats, so as to refresh and maintain the state of their souls and to beckon "good karma".

Relationships have to be maintained. The marriage counsellors have forever advised couples to make time for one another, and not let their love grow frayed through ill-maintenance. Friendships must be maintained through thought, contact, meetings, greetings, gifts, anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas cards and, nowadays, email. "A man, Sir, should keep his friendships in constant repair," Dr Johnson told his companion Boswell.

Brains have to be maintained - if you want to conserve mental agility, you have to "take your brain to the gym". Crosswords and puzzles offer such maintenance.

Language needs to be practised. The French will tell you - "une langue, cela se perd" - language declines unless used and maintained.

A rich man once told me that money needs constant maintenance. First, you have to gather it: then you have to maintain it: then you have to control it and guard it.

Thankfully, few women today need learn to darn socks - a task of great tediousness to which young girls used to be subjected, with the aid of a wooden mushroom. Socks today are thrown away when they develop holes.

The disposable society has now freed people from the many time-wasting tasks involved with the "make do and mend" of old-time maintenance.

Yet, I actually threaded a needle the other day, to append a loose button on a jacket, and recalled my mother sewing regularly to maintain well-worn clothes. Even if she found sewing relaxing, it's a form of maintenance we can do without.

Sewing too much can harm your eyes, so you're maintaining apparel at the expense of vision.

And yet, despite our freedom from the maintenance chores of old - when kitchen flagstones had to be scrubbed, grates cleared out, stair-rods brassed, and silver regularly taken out and dosed and shone with Silvo - we have acquired so many more accessories to life which need to be maintained.

When we enter a house, we look for sockets to battery up our mobile phones. Railway carriages are equipped with such sockets, so that travellers may maintain their source of power as they tap away on their tablets, Androids or laptops.

The more equipment you have, the more maintenance will be required. Insuring it, caring for it and storing all that stuff is also a form of maintenance. And consider the inbox in your email system: the system must be maintained by daily attention.

Those who tweet and go to Facebook must update and maintain their electronic feeds to keep their involvement alive.

Hippies and hermits seek freedom from the responsibilities that go with maintaining every aspect of a material life. They disappear to deserts and mountain-tops and ashrams to forget such cares.

You wouldn't blame them. But even they must occasionally cut their toenails and launder their underwear. Maintenance.

Belfast Telegraph

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