Brasso metal polish. From the moment I laid eyes on it, it worried me. Who cares about metal polish, and what am I going to write about it? Do I actually have to polish metal? Reckitt Benckiser plc, the makers of Brasso, holds a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as Manufacturers of Antiseptics, Air Fresheners, Polishes, Cleaners, and Laundry Products.
As it turns out, my fears about cleaning metal turned out to be entirely unfounded. I came home from work one night to find a victorious-looking Adam standing in front of the sliding wooden doors that separate our living room and dining room. “Doesn't it look great?” he asked me.
It wasn't immediately clear to me what he was talking about. Most of our condo—a four bedroom, three bathroom, fixer-upper we bought back in March—falls far short of deserving the adjective “great.” It is massive, but that's almost a liability. I feel like I'm always walking circles around here trying to find anything, and it's not unusual for visitors to get completely lost and try to exit through the closet or the spare bedroom when they try to leave.
It's also a work in progress. It still needs a ton of work but, at the same time, what haven't we done to it already? We got new windows and new appliances in the kitchen and laundry room, redid all the hardwood floors, replaced all of the window coverings, removed rusty bars from the back windows, installed new toilets, painted every bit of black trim an off-white color and painted the living room, dining room, kitchen, hallway, and all of the bedrooms. But still I come home to festering projects like this, which involves us removing the myriad layers of paint from the cherry doors with a heat gun. As I run the heat gun—which reaches temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and reminds me of picking a thick, juicy scab—I sometimes fantasize about taking a heat gun to the face of the person who first painted over these beautiful doors.
Adam had noticed that the metal pulls inset into each of the doors were tarnished. He remembered the Brasso and was thrilled to find it did such a great job cleaning them. The sight of the bright, shiny brass hiding underneath the doors cheered us both up a little, and it inspired me to see what else Brasso could do for our house.
The good news about our house and about living with a toddler in general is that you can throw a rock around here and hit something that desperately needs scrubbing. With metal can in hand this morning, my eyes landed on my filthy stainless steel dishwasher.
To use the Brasso, you place a cloth over the bottle and turn it upside down to wet it with just a little of the greenish-brown fluid. Instantly a spray paint-like smell wafts into the room, and your job is to finish cleaning before you faint. The Brasso did a fabulous job on my dishwasher, but the smell was so intense that I decided to actually read the back of the can, which contained bold warnings that it is DANGEROUS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT as well as “Toxic to aquatic environments, may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment.” Huh. If Wikipedia can be trusted, the formula for the Brasso cleaners you buy stateside has recently been changed to comply with volatile organic compound laws. The American version also comes in a plastic bottle, not the traditional British metal can.
Since I've spent the past few months curious if our new condo will ever be anything but a well-priced hovel, it sort of encouraged me to read that Queen Elizabeth once faced similar circumstances. In December 1936, her Uncle David famously abdicated the British throne after serving only a few months as king so he could marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Historical memory has oversimplified his abdication and ignored that he was a worldwide celebrity and already pretty tired of the intense limelight and overwhelming responsibility that came with his job. But his actions still earned him years of bitterness and hatred from the royal family. They also propelled Princess Elizabeth's father, Bertie, into the unexpected role of king and her into the role of heir presumptive. As if that weren't enough change for a ten year-old, her family also had to move from its home at 145 Picadilly, which you'll remember as the kind of home where you'd eat Colman's Season & Shake meals for dinner (Alright, fine. Fine. None of them ever ate Season & Shake for dinner), and into Buckingham Palace. Robert Lacey quotes Princess Elizabeth's nanny, who remembered how much this news stung:
“When I broke the news to Margaret and Lilibet that they were going to live in Buckingham Palace, they looked at me in horror. 'What!' Lilibet said. 'You mean forever?'”
Lacey describes the palace on the eve of World War II as a surprisingly dismal place—long, bleak corridors that were always filled with all manner of household staff; outdated electricity; poor lighting; and, in general, an aura of mandated residence instead of comfortable family home. Even after living in the palace for several decades, Queen Elizabeth is always described as feeling that Windsor Castle is her true home. Buckingham Palace—with its 775 rooms, many of them incredibly formal—is merely her headquarters in London.
In that respect, I suppose Queen Elizabeth and I are different. My own oversized hovel has started to grow on me. With every outdated light fixture we replace, ever ribbon of lead paint we strip, and every door pull we restore to its former glory, I get a little more attached. That's why when our contraband can of Brasso runs out we'll be replacing it with the less toxic American version. I'd like to be alive twenty years from now so I can actually enjoy this place when we finish remodeling it.