Life, photos but not the universe

The Char and the cut******.

A while ago I mentioned getting someone in to do my cleaning.

I’ve done this before for the same annual family event and someone said “but don’t you feel guilty getting someone else to do your cleaning for you?”  And yet another person said “aren’t you worried about exploiting women?”

I suppose what’s at the back of people’s minds is the memory of the bad old days when women went into service and became effectively the possessions of their employers.  And the  reluctance to pay out good money for a job you can probably do better yourself.

Well, as I said before, I had no objection to earning a bit of cash by cleaning someone else’s house (only they didn’t want me – um, I think that was because their old cleaner came back after all – though it could have been that they took one listen to my voice on the phone and decided ‘She won’t  do’ – quite possible)

My sister, a full time solicitor, had a regular cleaner and insisted on paying for holiday time and sick time.  The cleaner was slightly shocked, but accepted and then when she retired, her daughter took over and though she didn’t do the job as well, seemed to take the holiday and sick leave for granted while being somewhat offhand and, um, disrespectful!  Sister was a bit taken aback by this since at the time it was almost unheard of for ‘casual’ workers to receive any such benefits .  She was being fair and generous, partly out of a sense of duty and political conviction but also, partly expected gratitude and appreciation for it.

My Mum also employed a cleaner, a char, called Mrs Payne – Pinny.  She had been in service before the war and she was happy to work for a sweet-natured young woman with a highly respectable husband and a nice (!) little girl in a reasonable sized house.   My mother enjoyed her outspoken views on life when they had a cup of tea together and I just loved her – except when she was cross about the state of my bedroom – Dad, I suppose simply appreciated her hard work.  We all had to laugh at the loud and tuneless hymn singing which accompanied her work.  When Pinny retired, she gave me a gold and turquoise brooch that had belonged to her mother* which I still have and treasure because we loved her and because it was such a deeply touching gift from someone who was there for all my small childhood years.  We (and Pinny) belonged to the old school of employers and servants, so of course any job security depended on our good will.  I have no idea whether we paid for Pinny’s time off – probably not – but we would never have ‘let her go’.  However we dealt with her, I know it was ok for her because recently I went through a bundle of letters from when my Father died and there was one from her, very warm, very affectionate and still as kind and genuine as she always had been.  I don’t mind saying that I had a lump in my throat when I read it and trotted off upstairs to find the brooch and  indulge in a few misty moments.

When we moved to Devon, Mrs Westcott came to ‘do’ for us twice a week and she was another kind, no-nonsense woman who became a part of our lives.  Her husband was a retired farmer and they needed our money.  Simple as that.   I have to say, I was a perfectly horrible teenager and it’s quite possible that she often muttered under her breath about me.

Anyway, times have changed.  When I booked Poppins to come and clean my house five years or so ago, I wasn’t expecting two teenage girls, who spoke minimal English, to ring up from half a mile away, lost and needing me to come and lead them here.  On the other hand I wasn’t quite prepared for the athleticism with which they climbed onto my work tops to clean the higher reaches of the kitchen.  Since their original problem in finding the place held the cleaning process up for the best part of an hour I wasn’t quite sure what I was paying their employer for either.  But once I’d pointed out the door handles and the stuff under the draft excluders, they did an excellent job and I gave them a hefty tip in cash – thinking, well if they’re exploited foreign girls they need a bit for themselves.  I hope everyone does that.

Of course all the professional cleaners now have shiny websites and book-on-line facilities.  And anyway, I’m looking for a one-off cleaning job.  Remembering Mrs Westcott amd Pinny, I can see that exploitative or not, the arrangements we had suited all of us but you’d be lucky to get that now.  These days, the girls who sign up for ‘service’ are just joining the great British workforce, two weeks off a year and, one hopes, bank holidays**.  Long hours, low pay, sent here there and everywhere, no chance of developing a friendly relationship with the customer and no job security.  And the customer has to deal with the employer and hope that whoever they send is going to be honest and congenial!  And hopefully, more or less comprehensible.

I’m nearing the end of Vera Brittain’s autobiography, A Testament of Youth, and there are passages about the difficulty of getting good maids during and after the 1914-18 war which made me cringe.  But it’s clear that many middle class families couldn’t conceive of a life in which women worked in their own homes, never mind outside them.  My elderly Father came from a professional family and had aspirations towards his first wife’s social strata – sort of lower-upper?  And Mum, (who,  like Vera Brittain, had been a nurse but during the 1945 war), came from a positively aristocratic Dutch family, so both of them had backgrounds in which a household without servants was simply unacceptable.  Curious constraints people had then!

I promised some sunshine.  No, not now (fat chance of that!) – from the canal.

The sun did appear occasionally – usually as we approached moorings for the night.  Sometimes it was still there in the morning.   On the other hand, the night after we moored at Penkridge (above) it was washed out by flash floods.  ****

*I do wonder where her mother got it from – a gift from an employer perhaps, from the days when she was in service herself?  in which case there was a nice symmetry about the gift.  Or maybe the family had known better times?

**Another job I applied for a few years ago was assistant manager of a clothes retail shop.  I was told in my interview that I’d be expected to work Christmas, New Year, Easter and all other holidays.  Two (other) week’s holiday a year.***  And I remember feeling slightly uneasy when Sunday opening was made legal and for all that it makes life easier sometimes, I still feel uncomfortable that the shoppers’ (my) convenience deprives people of one reliable day off a week.

***No I didn’t get that one either.  Just as well.  I wouldn’t have liked it and the shop closed down after a few months.

****That would be around the time when we were being terrorised and entranced by a continuous half hour of thunder, lightning and yer proverbial torrential.

****Ok it’s not proverbial but it’s ever so English!

******vernacular for the canal.


July 10, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. If you need to assuage your guilt, Mig, feel free to come round and clean my place top to bottom anytime during the next three days. Payment in kind guaranteed on Saturday…

    Comment by Tim | July 10, 2012 | Reply

  2. You’re so thoughtful Tim but I couldn’t take advantage.

    Comment by Mig | July 11, 2012 | Reply

  3. Oh, the one of Bodymoor are spectacular!

    And I know nothing about maids or hired housekeepers. Zilch….no history to look back and refer to, nothing of the kind. I don’t have anything to draw from on that one–though himself tells me his mum had a housekeeper for years –until she recently moved to a smaller community of retired folks. Little did I know! It’s apparently such a part of life that it didn’t seem odd to NOT mention it apparently.
    We’re just getting into house cleaning services here–a part of what’s evolved since working women simply don’t want to spend their time doing that on the limited time off. I can’t fault them one bit and I think it’s great if you can reconcile yourself to employing a cleaner to come to your home. The funny bit for me is the folks who actually do that are straightening prior to their arrival–they don’t want them walking in to a mess, dontchaknow. LOL I can soooooo relate to that!! ‘Zackly the a piece of the reasons I won’t reconcile myself into hiring one. I’m too much of a control freak and I LIKE cleaning.

    Yes, some of us are sicker than others……….. :-/

    Comment by Mel | July 11, 2012 | Reply

  4. See I read that last night as the char and the cat and awoke in the night wondering where the cat featured – cut eh?!
    I hope your “do ladies” do you proud.

    Comment by Zig | July 11, 2012 | Reply

  5. My brother is trying to persuade his wife that they will need a cleaner when their kids are older and she goes back to work full-time. He used to house share with a couple of other (very messy) blokes and tried to convince them to have a cleaner, but they didn’t like the idea.

    One of my old school friends, who still lives in Lincolnshire, goes cleaning for a living. She is the old fashioned sort of cleaner who works for herself and gets all her jobs on recommendations from previous clients. Her mother used to clean as well and when her mother retired, she picked up some of her customers.

    Gorgeous photos as usual. My favourite is the one taken in the evening at Bodymoor Heath, through the bridge arch. Wonderful.

    Comment by Liz | July 11, 2012 | Reply

  6. It was a lovely evening Mel, all the others were showering and falling asleep so I had a nice wander along the towpath by myself : ) And I am planning to do a huge amount of tidying before the cleaners come – just so they can reach the walls and floors!

    They’d better Zig – and of course the cat features since she will certainly have deposited vast hairdrifts between my last hoovering and them coming. I just forgot to mention her.

    When I had a job and three children I yearned for an old fashioned cleaner of my very own Liz but I couldn’t afford it. And one of my friends, just up the road did cleaning herself – we both had part time jobs and it seemed quite ironic that my job didn’t pay enough to pay her!

    Comment by Mig | July 13, 2012 | Reply

  7. okay, now I know what book your reading!
    maybe instead of trying to catch up in order I should just read from the top down..

    Comment by 4ceiba | August 2, 2012 | Reply

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