I am currently reading E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady. It is wonderful, telling as it does, the day to day woes of a house wife whose daily grind does not seem all that different from my own, apart from the servant problem.
She, you see, is always having problems with the servants. The house maid has given notice, cook is threatening to give notice, the French nanny is deranged etc.
I do not share these problems, but it does make me grateful that I do not have servants to worry about as well. I used to think it might be nice having servants. I still think it occasionally as I am scrubbing pooh stains from the toilet bowl wondering where my glamorous life has gone (down the toilet). Jason thinks it would be nice to have staff. I am not so sure, despite my lavatorial fantasies.
In my limited experience of cleaning ladies (when I worked), doulas (when I was younger and had more money than sense), and nannies (when I had the idiocy to have children four years apart rendering all other child care providers effectively useless if I wanted to go back to work), it actually turns out to be more trouble than it’s worth. Of everyone I have ever had in my domestic employ, only Zoe, who was our last nanny, and who was a thing of beauty and a joy forever, and we still miss her, was wonderful.
The rest were a succession of weird and wonderful misfits, who I ended up feeling rather sorry for and looking after. There was the lady who used to lock her husband out of the house if he didn’t wait on her hand and foot, and who used to bring all her woes with her, sitting on the kitchen step, drinking tea and berating feckless waster husbands who wouldn’t go out at four in the morning to source Alphonse mangoes in Kentish Town. There was the lady who was absolutely lovely until she fell pregnant by another feckless waster who probably didn’t care about mangoes either. After that it was all waily waily and me offering inadequate advice and trips to social services. Then there was the lady who used to bring her husband ‘Albert’ to help her. She would sit around in my lounge, shouting at Albert to hurry up and go faster while I hid in the kitchen because both Albert and I were terrified of her. I have to say that Albert was a dab hand with a duster. Fear is a great motivator.
Then there was the aggressive lady with one lung who had to sit down a lot. She turned out to be quite nice in the end, as long as you didn’t upset her unduly, and it was difficult to know what would upset her from day to day. It was a bit of a minefield. Not as much of a minefield as the cleaning lady who fell in love with my kitchen fitter, which caused another drama that meant that my kitchen, and my cleaning got on much more slowly than I would like. When he inevitably dumped her, but then came back to fix the snagging list, it was horrendous and there was no peace to be had for love nor money.
The doula was another disaster. Swedish, with legs up to her eyebrows and a love life so turbulent it’s a wonder she didn’t have revolving doors fitted on her flat, it all went pear shaped when she shacked up with a man who was no good, who it transpires, was also sleeping with her sister. The day she came to work in floods of tears and spent six hours on the sofa wringing her hands and confessing that she had a teensy suspicion he might also be into drugs and running strings of girls from street corners, while I looked after the baby, made copious cups of tea and checked that the front door was locked forty times an hour was the last in my employ.
At least they were all interesting, if not entirely helpful to domestic arrangements. My worst ever employee was our first nanny who came highly recommended, with glowing references, but who was utterly useless on many counts. Firstly it appeared that she was not entirely keen on children, which I always think is a small problem in her profession. She spent most of her time driving to her friends’ houses so that my children could play with her friends’ children despite the fact that neither me or my children were particularly keen on that idea and most of her friends’ children turned out to be thugs. Secondly she was more interested in presenting me with bills for extras at regular intervals which meant that by the end of the first week I had spent so much money I might as well have just hired flights of cherubim and seraphim to look after my children and had done with it. Thirdly she did not like mess which meant that she was not prepared to do cookery, craft or painting with the children in case she got her hands dirty. She didn’t last long.
So, you see, I am grateful I do not have to worry about the under gardener, or the chief cook and bottle washer. I sympathise with the provincial lady. She thinks lack of servants is a problem, but in reality it is a blessing. At least it is, if you’re me. It is clear that I am not cut out for the upper class life. I cannot help but choose every lame duck, budding psychopath and nascent basket weaver in a twenty mile radius, and then I end up waiting on them and apologising that my house is not clean enough for them to have a nervous breakdown in while I whip up a nourishing broth and knit them a blanket lined with twenty pound notes.
I am better off cleaning my own toilets.