Shazia Mirza’s Weekend Column

It is incredible the things people will tell a total stranger in the most unlikely situations. I had just finished a gig a few days ago when a man approached me. “Yeah, I’ve had loads of sex,” he said. “I really used to be an addict. Couldn’t stop. I did it everywhere with everyone. I even paid for it, but that wasn’t nice – just aggressive.”

I don’t know if he expected me to agree with him, encourage him, or make him an offer, but what bemused me most was his audacity. He had no shame. Addiction was like a trophy to him.

I can sort of understand. My mum is addicted to praying, clairvoyants and parking cars. She and my dad are addicted to parking their cars inthe same spots outside the house every day. If they can’t get a space, they will go inside and wait, constantly peering through the window, checking to see if one becomes available. At which point they will rush out in their slippers to rearrange the cars. When I go home, they come out of the house to check where I have parked, and if it’s more than three doors away, they order me to go back outside and move it closer to the house.

I fear being addicted to anything, but recently I have had to come to terms with my own addiction – cleaning. I have spent all week looking out of my window at weeds growing between the paving stones in my garden and thinking about cleaning them away. I go to bed at night thinking about the little patch of weeds I haven’t yet got around to clearing, and how I must pull them out by the roots so they never grow back. And whenever I go abroad to work, I always pack my suitcase tidily and then, when I get to the hotel, I throw out all the contents and leave them on the floor just so that I can have a little tidying fix at two in the morning when I get back, to help me sleep.

The extent of my addiction dawned on me only recently, when Iwas on a live radio show and halfway through the presenter stopped and asked if I was OK. It was then that Irealised I’d spent the previous two minutes cleaning the studio. I had been putting empty paper cups in the bin, rearranging the microphones and lining up the pensin order of size. It’s like all addictions: you’re the last person to be aware of it.

Later that day, I went swimming, and while I was in the pool I noticed that people had left floats and arm bands scattered all around the sides. I thought this was disappointing, so I interrupted my swim to get out of the pool, clear them up and put them in the correct basket. I was just admiring my handi work when the thought suddenly struck me: “I have a problem. I have a craving for cleaning.” It’s not on a George Best magnitude, but it’s still a problem. And there is no help for people like me. It’s not as if I can ring up Cleaners’ Anonymous and ask for counselling. Whenever I go to people’s houses, Ifeel a need to wash their plates and clean their toilet. I wasn’t like this as a child. I wasn’t a filthy trog, but I didn’t clean on a community level, either.

Addiction is the disease of our times. Consumerism, alcohol, drugs, sex, co-dependency, painkillers, cleaning, love, work, Pringles. We are all capable of being addicts. My brain has clearly evolved apleasure and rewards system whereby if I get rid of weeds, floats and dishes, then I feel rewarded (the Tesco Clubcard has clearly had more of an effect on me than I thought).

There is no family history of obsessive cleaning to make me genetically predisposed to it. The only addiction I had as a child was stationery. While my friends were smoking weed, I was buying paper clips. By 15, it had become a fetish. WH Smith was like Ann Summers to me. Even now I can’t pass a Ryman’s without having to go in and feel up the ring binders.

The conclusion is that there must be something missing from my life, and this sad behaviour is a replacement. The only consolation is that no old woman needs to be mugged or shop robbed in order for this dependence to be maintained.