Thursday 5 March 2009


I woke up this morning fighting my way out from the duvet, still locked in a suffocating dream in which I was crushed under a mountainous heap of laundry, with only my Louboutin-clad feet sticking out like the Wicked Witch of the East. True, it made quite a change from my current recurring nightmare, in which all the hopes of my company rescuing itself from the brink of financial disaster rest solely on my shoulders. I guess I should be grateful for any kind of dream at all, since even my unconscious collapses into an exhausted heap at the end of the day and can't be bothered to serve anything up for me to analyse on the tube into work, Jungian textbook in hand.

Anyway, having fretted all week about the difficult circumstances in which Modern Woman finds herself, I find I have the answer: there is no miracle that can't be worked if one is knee deep in staff. Unfortunately, one also has to be knee deep in cash for this to be an option, but it's an answer of sorts. My real issue is that Nature abhors a vacuum and so do I. The straw that breaks this camel's back is always housework. When I think of dust I immediately think of Philip Pullman, or even Eliot, rather than the ghastliness that lurks under the bed and the sofa and on every surface. Divine VW would never have contemplated starching Leonard's collars. I can't see her ever having a meltdown over the Hogarth presses about his inability to move a coffee cup from sitting room to sink, or a trauma about repatriating socks and pants with laundry basket. Her marvellousness was entirely predicated on armies of people 'below stairs'. So I am convinced I'm living a century too late. I should have been a nice Edwardian lady with suffragette leanings, much in the manner of the mother in Mary Poppins: Chicly campaigning in a costume of green and purple without having to involve oneself with anything ghastly like force feeding or the King's racehorse. On reflection a spot of elegant marching or a little light chaining to the railings of the Houses of Parliament might have been possible. I would have been sustained in any attendant creative endeavours by an army of loveliness. Think how blissful it would be to have someone to do the washing and the shopping and to remember to put food on the table at regular intervals. All these things appear to be beyond me. But if there was a collection of willing helpmeets, imagine how much fabulousness I'd be able to radiate, and how many bon mots I'd be able to offer, and how delighted Mr Trefusis and I would be to see each other every evening instead of snarling in a way that's only ever really mitigated by the consumption of vast amounts of wine. Yes. It all comes down to The Servant Question.

And here I am, struggling womanfully through a life that resembles a king size duvet inside a cot bed cover, horribly peeved at the injustice of being too poor to have a housekeeper, a nanny and hot and cold running maids in every room. I have a reputation for competence at work completely belied by my domestic situation, in which the entire family is often faced with a total lack of matching socks and an absence of essentials like milk, cereal and lavatory paper. My only saving grace is our proximity to the Co-op.

In truth, I do have 'help'. I have a cleaning lady for what is supposed to be three and a half hours a week, though judging by the evidence I can only think that the cleaning takes her half an hour and she spends the rest lying on the chaise longue eating violet creams. But she speaks no english, and I'm unable to offer her any written or spoken instruction. The best I can hope for is that she intuits what needs doing around the house. Mostly she intuits that the orchids need rearranging, and that the bears in Hunca Munca's cot could be more agreeably positioned, happily ignoring the snowdrift of dust and fluff that has built up behind every door and on the bookshelves. The house is marginally tidier when she's been, but certainly no cleaner.

And this is why I'm writing this post at six minutes to midnight, with dirty dishes still stacked in the sink, the last load of washing still unhung, a dusting of ground cocopops underfoot unswept up from breakfast yesterday, Kafka still languishing on the side unread, and another week wading through the blood on the office carpet looming ahead of me.

On second thoughts, what I actually need is a wife.


Anonymous said...

Oh yes.

Anonymous said...

My mother and I often discuss the need for a wife, preferably from the 1950's who comes with her own tupperware and career approach to housework.

I think, though, what I want is someone like Alice, the housekeeper from The Brady Bunch who did all the unpleasant work but was still somehow attainable on one salary that supported 6 kids and a wife who didn't seem to do anything except have a good time.

I wonder how much the Angel in the House has been subdued by modern appliances anyway? VW would have been amazed by dishwashers and M&S ready meals in the microwave.

My wv is rests. Perhaps she will if we will, a little

Waffle said...

Ah, the vexed housemaid question. I would rather have a housemaid than a wife. Wives become emotionally demanding and get depressed and clingy. Housemaids just sleep with the master of the house, thereby cheering him up enormously.

I do not do any of the things that need to be done, and now only work part time, so I fail on all possible counts. FAIL. CFO would concur entirely. You are a paragon in comparison, I swear.

Anonymous said...


- only VW probably never starched a collar, but she did waste hours, days and weeks, time which could have produced such unique work from her hand, on listening to whining servants, wondering if life wouldn't be so much easier without them?

katyboo1 said...

Console yourself with the fact that staff bring their own problems. Once, in the olden days I had a nanny, a gardener and a cleaning lady and it was like having three more children only you couldn't send them to bed when they were naughty and you had to pay them.

I always wanted to be a suffragette but in the manner of Natalie Wood in The Great Race. An emancipated woman with fabulous outfits and a teeny, weeny waist.

Cassandra said...

Katyboo is right. Apparently VW had a lot of probs with her staff - I really want to read Alison Light's book Mrs Woolf and The Servants which is all about Bloomsbury Housemaid Tension. I've never even had a cleaner - the house is too untidy. I wrote a post about it on my last blog called Indiana Jones and The House of Squalor - will re-post it for your amusement.

Fashion Blur said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fashion Blur said...

Firstly, it sounds as if you need a new cleaning lady.

These days’ men either take charge of the cooking or the laundry, his choice! I expect he may be interested in cooking; there is a reason most of the top chefs are men and who were the last three finalists on Masterchef? We love cooking.

I once had a girlfriend who was a food writer and had a theory about this, which stated that men like event cooking, while women practise pantry momentum. So if her theory was correct and he takes on the cooking you can expect lots of wonderful big meals!

However, if he chooses to take on the laundry, I guarantee he will find a good fluff-&-fold service at a local Laundromat.

Regarding meals: sourcing the raw materials it easy these days buying online from Sainsbury’s or one of the other brands work’s so well. Like the shopping list stuck to the refrigerator keep the order form open at all times and stock up on UHT milk, bake yourself bread loafs and cheeses, then in a pinch you’ll always have something tasty to eat…

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

Am knackered just reading this. Must go lie down.

The Unreliable Historian said...

I went through a brief romance with hired help. A very opinionated Eastern European came to my rescue and for a while it was lovely. She cleaned my house with a passion that led to my actually cooperating with the process. But then she began to make some serious changes. She took down ( and it later turned out threw away) the subtle cream and salmon print curtains in my kitchen that match the Victorian wallpaper. She replaced them with sparkling gold curtains with uneven borders, made by loving hands at home. What to say? Then little bits of lace started to appear all over the house, as my own artwork disappeared. I was so appreciative of not having to scrub the toilets that I held my tongue.
But then I got divorced and she hissed at me that I am a " stupid American Woman!", apparently feeling that since he did not kick me down the stairs or pull out my hair in chunks there could be no sane reason for the split up. I had to fire her. Stupid, not relevant and I was able to overlook it. But American? Oh my goodness that is fighting dirty.

Anonymous said...

There's something weird in that- the brief period when we had a cleaner was brutal in terms of house work (one toddler, one new born baby, no dishwasher and me insisting on 'real' nappies). She used to vacuum a bit, spend ages cleaning the kitchen bin (truthfully had never thought of doing that myself) then arrange the teddies on the children's beds. And scowl at me when one of the children cried.
Happy days!