My admiration for my own total star of a cleaner (namecheck: Jenny) was further magnified after reading this jaw-dropping investigation. Most of those we hear from are immigrants who came in search of a better life but now clean out of necessity: for example Yuliya from Bulgaria who has built up her cleaning business from nothing; Amirah, the Indonesian women trafficked into domestic slavery; and “gay-friendly” cleaner Felipe from Colombia. “They hold the key to our real identities, to the people we really are, behind closed doors,” writes Duerden. Now 17th September 2020.
Dishing the Dirt is not a deeply researched tract, nor a tub-thumping polemic about precarious employment. Instead, driving Duerden’s inquiry is a fascination for the complex interior lives of people who usually play an off-stage role in our personal dramas. Despite the size of the industry, with perhaps as many as one in three UK households employing a cleaner, the realities of waged domestic labour are little known beyond those who actually do it. Duerden offers the people who vacuum carpets a chance to speak freely and at length about their hopes and dreams, anxieties and disappointments. It is less an exercise in titillating gossip than a study in what makes all of us painfully human.