It’s important to me to have clean hands.
I always carry a pack of wet wipes in my handbag and have been seen to whip them out for friends as an emergency spillage treatment. Sometimes this elicits comments about the fact I don’t have or want children, like being prepared is something only mothers are. The idea of being out without access to hand cleaning facilities makes me a little nervous.
There are some days when I can’t make my hands feel clean. I can go into the bathrooms at work and wash my hands two or three times (using the hand soap that I put in there because what was supplied simply wasn’t good enough) and they still don’t feel, well, right. I wet my hands under the cold tap (hands washed under hot water never seem to be as clean to me), squirt on the soap and rub my hands around each other, like they do on the “have you washed your hands” posters. Then I lace my fingers together, one hand on top of the other, and rub back and forth to clean between each digit, watching the colour of the suds as they drip into the white basin. Then I wash the back of my hands – often neglected, in my opinion – and rinse thoroughly. If I’m having a bad day I’ll do it again. And maybe again. I’ll dry them on hand towels and walk out, holding the door handle of the bathroom in a position that I think no-one else will use, so it’s not so dirty.
But if it is one of those days washing them three times won’t work. I’ll return to my desk and use an alcohol rub to make them clean – that word again – flapping them in the air as they dry. Then I’ll put on some fragrant hand cream to mask the smell. It’s the same smell that haunts me time and again when I can’t get my hands clean. It’s worse when I am out doing something in the countryside; at a park barbecue, off for a long riverside walk or at an open air festival. Those are the worst. On days like those the smell on my hands almost has a physical feeling to it. It feels like my hands are muddy; they smell earthy and damp and just plain dirty. I’m always a little surprised that you can’t see the mud on my hands on days like these – there’s never anything to see because, to all intents and purposes, my hands are clean.
I’m not afraid of getting my hands properly dirty. I’ve gardened, digging out weeds and getting dirt under my nails. I’ve changed the HT leads on my car, slicing open an oil-stained finger and breaking a nail in the process. I’ve been horse riding enough times to know that I am just as happy in the muck and grease of a tack room as I am anywhere else. But still there are days when clean is never clean enough.
I wonder what psychological dirt is under my fingernails. And why I can’t get it out.