I can’t tell you how much I miss my cleaning lady.
I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.
– Joan Rivers
At first I missed my husband. Not any more. Anyway, after he took off, my cleaner stayed. Even when our financial position became very precarious because my investment banking husband never refused to but never actually gave me any money for me or the children or the house, I asked her to stay. She refused payment; I refused to let her work for nothing. A compromise was reached and she worked fewer hours at her normal rate. I had lodgers and was worried that they would leave if we descended into the squalor that surely would ensue if she left me, too. Remember, at that time I was crying all day every day. I was helpless. I was like a baby. A skinned baby. Flayed. Shocking to remember.
Some of the rent had to go on a cleaner. And to pay for just about everything else I sold stuff and eked things out and spent nothing I didn’t have to. But divorce lawyers are expensive (especially if the other side has deeper pockets or is completely insane) and we were all heading for hell in a handbasket. And every week when she came, our lovely cleaner tried to refuse to take any cash from me. She said we were family. She had been with us for over 20 years. Stayed with us through various house moves, watched the children arrive and grow, and loved us all with a fierce pride. She cried too and was incredulous at what my ex did. But then she used to remind me ‘they are all the same, men’ and tell me stories about other bad men that would have made my hair stand on end if it hadn’t all fallen out already at the loss of my own bad man.
We still chat from time to time, and sometimes meet for tea. Because we are friends if not family. We are very fond of one another, have always enjoyed each another’s company and laughed together (the crying only came later). Our lives had seemed very different at the start: me, an educated career woman at first; she, a refugee who barely spoke English but mothered me in some ways while I helped her in others. We were always kind to one another, and fair, and honest, expecting the best and not being disappointed.
When I hoped recently that I might actually be getting a reasonably paid job I entertained thoughts of asking her back. I don’t know that she would have come. It’s a long way. And she is a grandmother now, who had long given up all her other cleaning jobs. She and her refugee husband, for all their modest jobs and lack of education, own two London properties and have retired now. Most of my new neighbours are domestic cleaners, so I would have been able to find someone locally I suppose. But it’s a big thing, letting someone into your home, with access to your stuff and secrets. I’m not sure I could do it again. Not with a partner, and not with a cleaner.
Anyway, I didn’t get the job.
So I live in squalor, and feel guilty. How hard can it be? Our cleaner kept a house over twice this size in order: dusted, vacuumed, tidied, did the ironing, and changed the sheets. I feel so inadequate. I don’t have a routine, as she did. Instead it feels as though I am forever dusting, sweeping, wiping, ironing, and never, ever getting it done. The sinks are always grimy. Dust appears in my bedroom daily. The stair carpet is often filthy (so unwieldy to vacuum). It depressses me to sleep in manky sheets; but to change a superking sized bed alone in a loft room where you can’t even stand; most days it seems an impossible task. The ironing basket overflows. I can’t seem to remove limescale in the loo the way she did (I must ask her). I manage to ruin all my clothes with bleach. It’s boring and depressing and I’m unable to get on top of it. Not a career, not fitness, not mental health, not even this. Big fat fail.
There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.
– Quentin Crisp
Image: my ancient duster, which with its long handle might be a pleasure to use, if it didn’t deposit little bits of ostrich feathers in corners of the ceiling, more visible than the cobwebs it removes.