He’s not unknown to us, our stowaway. In fact he’s been travelling with us in the Knumptywagen, closeted in a tiny cupboard (a little like Harry Potter in his early days) for several thousand miles now. Considering this, he always emerges with a confident smile ready for whatever the day may throw at him. Which is mostly cleaning.
Ever since researching (somewhat naïvely) my 1979 degree dissertation based on the psychology of marketing, I’ve maintained a vague curiosity in what prompts us to make purchasing decisions and why we would choose one particular product over another.
And since first making the acquaintance of a whole battalion of Mr. Propres arrayed on a French supermarket shelf several trips ago, he’s been fuelling that curiosity ever since.
So, our stowaway is a hunky-looking, muscular gentleman dressed in a tight-fitting white T-shirt. He appears to have completely shaved his head (or maybe suffers from complete, premature hair-loss – even alopecia perhaps – although my money’s on the former) and he sports peculiarly bushy white eyebrows which frame entrancing crystal blue eyes. A confident smile twinkles almost as much as his single ear-piercing and although there’s no obvious evidence, it wouldn’t surprise me if a few discreet tattoos lurked within the confines of that white T-shirt. When he emerges, he’s most often put immediately to work and proves consistently effective at removing grease, dirt and general day-to-day grime. He also smells quite pleasant.
So, yeah, you’re ahead of me already as you’ve realised that we’re discussing – slightly tongue-in-cheek – a brand of French domestic cleaning fluid. But the interest here is surely in the creative thought-processes that must have lain behind the cartoon-character development of this potentially metrosexual escapee from the Village People. And as you diverge onto that skewed train of thought, you also realise that Mr. Propre is not alone! To join him in a metaphorical pugilistic standoff in the bright-orange corner, I give you – yes – none other than our very own Mr Muscle! Relying heavily on another proud-yellow background, our own Mr Muscle isn’t quite the developed characterisation you’d expect and in fact, looks sufficiently nondescript for any one of us to be confident where we’d put our money if a fight were to actually ensue.
And then, suddenly, we’re distracted upwards as, sailing gaily overhead and trailing – as I recall – a jetstream of reflective cleanliness, we also recall that moustachioed, leather-jacketed pilot from the 1980s, another jovial cartoon-character, Mr Sheen, who – if his jingle was to believed – shined umpteen things clean.
The point I’m edging interminably towards here is simply ‘Why?’ Why have three separate masculine cartoon-characters each independently been associated with getting things clean? Is it gender-stereotyping taken to extremes? Is it a considered but nevertheless kneejerk reaction to a historical assumption that domestic cleaning was “womens’ work”? Who made the purchasing decisions when cleaning fluids needed replenishing? Would they be attracted to – or influenced by – cartoon-blokes appearing on product labels? Sadly, I have no definitive answers for you (my dissertation was neither that incisive nor conclusive) so I’ll just imbue you with the prospect of a more deeply experiential trip to the supermarket next time you go.
You may also, Gentle Reader, be gratified to learn that there’s a second, slightly less obscure reason for the title of this piece as – somewhat poignantly – it’s that time of year when the Knumptywagen is stowed away for its winter hibernation. In our early days of intrepid exploration, we’d trip out in the darker days only to find ourselves confined to quarters by late-afternoon darkness and inclement weather. The evenings therefore could become more than a little intense as we both watched each other and the clock ticking round until anytime which might remotely represent bed-time. We’d then clamber into ice-cold sheets at about 8:00pm and shiver through the night, unwilling to run the heating as we were frequently off-grid and slightly sensitive to being inadvertently gassed in our fitful sleep.
So this year, for the first time, we’ve negotiated a spot of offsite storage where, in a couple of weeks’ time, we will lay up the Knumptywagen, devoid of as many soft-furnishings as we can remove. She’ll be racked up on axle-stands to keep the weight off her tyres; water tanks and pipes will be drained down (as best we can) and she’ll be SORNED for the duration to save us a few pennies on unnecessary road tax. A small solar-panel will trickle-charge the leisure battery and various security devices (in addition to none of the wheels touching the ground) will be deployed to swing the balance in favour of her still being there in the Spring.
And that’ll be it. That’ll be it for a year where we’ve travelled over 4,000 miles throughout various bits of the UK and Europe, acquiring a unique store of delightful memories as well as phones overloaded with photos. That’ll also likely be it – at least temporarily – for this Blog as, comfortable and homely though it is, there’s sadly not a lot of literary stimulation to be gained from our front room. And who knows how it’ll all work out next year as we hurtle towards the potential black-hole of Brexit, quietly nurturing the hope that it’ll actually reprise the damp-squib of that much-dreaded Millennium Bug from over 19 years ago – and be just another storm in a well-used melamine teacup.
Thanks for reading, thanks for listening. See you on the other side!