Some years ago now, I heard something by chance on the radio that has stood me in good stead ever since. A feisty, lively and very smart woman in her seventies was doing her regular guest spot on some sort of gardening program on ABC radio; it was the week before Christmas and thus the program had a yuletide theme, and the host eventually asked her what she'd asked for in her letter to Santa.
I will never forget her reply. 'Actually,' she said, 'I'd like a great big pot of good-quality slow-release fertiliser. At my age you've got enough vases.'
She then elaborated. 'I don't want any more stuff: I'm trying to get rid of stuff, not accumulate it. I want consumables. Fertiliser, nice wine, chocolates, perfume.'
Now I am nowhere near my seventies yet, though I hope to get to them sooner or later, but even here in my relatively youthful fifties there is no question but that I too have enough vases. (Seventeen, to be precise. Some of them are very beautiful, but still.) So ever since I heard that gardening show, I have emphasised the consumable in my birthday and Christmas lists: champagne, Chanel No. 5, Haigh's butter truffles and Fox Creek wines, Body Shop moisturisers for my pre-Jane Fonda skin, and beeswax or otherwise scented candles for when the power goes off.
Today, however, I have had a radical new thought about what it is that I really want in life. I want help.
Late this afternoon, having done a day's work and a pile of weeding, I spent an hour and a half shopping. Since I got home I have unpacked the car, put away the shopping, washed the dishes, changed the cat litter, put out the garbage bins and paid a couple of aback-taking bills online, one grotesquely large power bill (as they usually are this time of year) and one heftier-than-usual water bill (and what water might that have been, pray tell? Oh I see, they've put the value of the house up again). Do I feel like cooking the lamb and zucchini? No, I do not. I feel like collapsing in front of Thank God You're Here with a large glass of champagne and a cat in my lap.
... LATER THE SAME NIGHT:
So, yes, if I could have anything I wanted in life, it would be a personal staff of nine. I work between 60 and 70 hours a week. This is not the whinge I am making it sound, because what I mainly do for a living is lie on the sofa reading novels, but that takes up as just as much time as it would if I were not having fun. It doesn't leave a lot of time for shopping, cleaning, cat care and household maintenance, much less, you know, the occasional movie or dinner out.
You wouldn't think that a small two-bedroom house and two cats would take much looking after (the Bloke is not in residence, or even much in evidence), but you'd be wrong. There's the huge yard, for a start. And the cats are semi-longhairs who live entirely inside, which means there are siginificant hair, litter and furball issues. So here's what I need.
Three days a week. S/he could answer the phone, do the filing, deal with the snail-mail correspondence, and keep my work diary and social calendar up to date.
A GARDENER, TREE-LOPPER AND HANDYPERSON
Part-time position after the first four weeks, during which s/he would be expected to do something about the bastard bougainvilleas, the garage being pushed down by the burgeoning eucalypt, the bottle-brush whose roots are interfering with ancient plumbing, and the nine-foot stinging nettles down the backest bit of the back yard. After that it would get easier.
A CLEANING PERSON
This one is self-explanatory.
A CAT WRANGLER
Two hours a day. By the time you've kept them fed and groomed, kept the litter tray cleaned out, played with them enough to give them a bit of exercise, marvelled and cooed over the miracles of felinitude and vacuumed up enough cat hair to knit another cat about once a week, that's a working day a week gone.
I don't have that many clothes, which is all the more reason to Keep Them Nice.
One day a week. Each financial year I have between ten and twenty different sources of income, most of them involving tiny amounts of money and paperwork in inverse proportion to the amount in question. And they all have different methods, different templates for tax invoices, different methods of delivering the money and different ideas about what constitutes prompt payment.
A DIETICIAN AND CHEF
Fulltime position, with perks. This sensitive person would plan, shop for and cook my very healthy meals, except when I felt like getting creative in the kitchen.
I would only need this person when I wanted to venture into the Barossa Valley, the Adelaide Hills or the Fleurieu Peninsula -- that is to say, north, east or south (to the west there's the sea) -- because in all of those regions they drive like drunken, brain-damaged cowboys, and in the Hills in particular I just know there is always a bikie on crack coming round the blind corner on the wrong side of the road at 150 kph, with a sheer cliff on one side and a sheer drop on the other.
A PERSONAL TRAINER
Being a traditionally built lady has its drawbacks. Me and Precious Ramotswe, we could use a bit of discipline.