Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Less stuff, more staff: the mature woman's wishlist

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.


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.

A P.A.

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.


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.


This one is self-explanatory.


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.


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.


Being a traditionally built lady has its drawbacks. Me and Precious Ramotswe, we could use a bit of discipline.


comicstriphero said...

Look - get yourself at LEAST the cleaner.

I can't tell you how good it is.

After struggling for 3 months with 12-hour days and just about every weekend on the road travelling north to support 'a very sick parent', something had to give.

I struggled for a time with some kind of weird (probably protestant) guilt about having someone else vacuum up the cat hair and scrub the loo. There was also a bit of guilt about shelling out money to someone else to do something I was perfectly able to do myself.

But then I thought "sod it. other people blow their cash on smokes, bourbon and betting. I'm going to blow mine on a moderate amount of everyday hygeine and cleanliness."

They come once a week and, bless their souls, even empty the kitchen bin.

Now, if I have a Saturday at home, I can spend it phoning friends, making cakes or playing with the cat.

Best money I ever spent.

Anonymous said...

Julian's cited reason for getting a haircut: 'Doing the vacuuming I found that most of the fluff was cat hair, Lucy hair, and my hair.' So he decided to do something about his fourth of the fluff. Lucy Sussex

The Devil Drink said...

Comicstriphero, take my word for it, when you've got enough smokes and bourbon, moderate hygiene can be an optional extra. You never never know if you never never go.
PC: I'm available for diet advice for zip. Still waiting on that heart foundation tick, though.
What are the perks?

Another Outspoken Female said...

I love my cleaner and even when it was just me, 1 cat and a very small house - I wouldn't give her up. Now with twice the humans and 4 x the felines (I swear once they have expired I'll have one, non-shedding variety like a devon rex) I wish I could have her every day. Life is too short to dust, sweep, mop...when the sun is shining and cats need to be entertained.

ThirdCat said...

If you are a quiet passenger and won't throw apple cores at me from the back seat ('just to see if I could hit that spikey part of your hair), I will be your driver on said trips to the Barossa Valley.

Kathleen said...

This makes me feel so much better about my recent pondering of the need for household help:

* I'm barely in my 30s, shouldn't I have more energy?
* my job is busy, but at the end of the day, it's over - so why am I so exhausted when I do come home?
* there's only three of us (cat included) in the house, with a half-person presented in the form of my partner's son, half the time - can we possibly generate this much dust, dirt, hair, fur, laundry, half-read books, newspapers, and magazines? (Okay, one of us - no, not the cat, she already has hers - is finishing his PhD, but still...)
* we're only IN the bloody house on random occasions, because if we're not at work, we're going out.
* every two days there's THREE sinkloads of washing-up.
* every two days the laundry basket starts vomiting up its contents all over the bathroom.

I don't understand it. When we moved in, we mocked the idea of the dishwasher-sized hole in the kitchen counter: who would need a dishwasher for two-and-a-half people? Ha.

Answer: we do. And a cleaner. And a cat-wrangler. Don't even get me STARTED on how cats know you've just changed the sheets, so it's the perfect moment to cough up a nice, juicy furball.

At least it's not just me. And at least I now have some modicum of respect for the job my mum did of keeping four kids, a husband, and three cats clothed, fed, cleaned, vaccinated, etc. etc.

Kathleen said...

Sorry. That was a HUGE whinge. So was yours, PC,


Jaycee said...

Aaaah Fox Creek wines. I'm so with you, especially Vixen. Mmmmmmmm......

Kate said...

My Mum gave me cash to pay someone to clean the windows for my last birthday. Now I just need a PA to organise them to come.

genevieve said...

Hehe, Kate, ooh, I know, I know.

Ditto what everyone says about cleaners. I've never ever gone more than about a year without one since my kids were quite small. Otherwise my head would just revolve around material matters and books would never get read at all. Much less any writing done.

Where I fall down badly is getting kids to do stuff. But even that's improving a bit (well, they are quite nice kids actually. And their mother is happy to take the credit.)
I want all those people you have on your list PC. No wonder Leonard Woolf wrote all those letters - but we shouldn't need to be civil servants in the colonies in order to learn how to ask for help, should we.

fifi said...


I has a cleaner.
she doesnt earn too much less than me, now that I think of it. It takes three hours to clean up before she comes.
Her husband just left her for an internet bride from the filipines: the cleaner likes a good vent about this.
In fact, she isn't a great cleaner, but how could I sack her. How could I?

What I need is binary fission. then there could be many of me all doing everything at once.

lucy tartan said...

I find the ridiculously massive bi-monthly grocery shop helps a bit: like three dozen tins of tomatoes, two dozen bottles of orange juice, a thousand teabags etc.

Sorry, that's all I've got. Not much is it.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I am too ashamed of the state of my house to let a cleaner see it. Also, there's the cleaner admin issue and the 'she can't clean for toffee but how can I possibly sack her' issue.

Lucy S, yes, I can imagine that. When I had long hair and a white ceramic tile bathroom floor, the great tumbleweeds of hair used to make me think I was going bald.

Devil Drink, the perks are negotiable.

3C, I do not throw apples, and anyway I get sick if I sit in the back.

Kathleen, feel free to comment at whatever length you like. All are welcome, as long as they are nice.

Lucy T, I would indeed do the massive grocery shop thing in a heartbeat (my folks used to do this when we lived on the farm -- come over to the city to see my grandparents and buy up half of Tom the Cheap's best loo paper and canned peas and so forth while they were here -- but my problem there is chronic lack of storage space. Not just no cupboards but no space to put cupboards in.

I can't tell y'all how much better I feel for having had that whinge, though.

Cellobella said...

I have a lot of vases but somehow, none of them are the right shape...

Miss Tickle said...

Oh the joy, to come home every Friday night to a clean and tidy house... worth every cent! (even if I do spend Thursday night tidying)

My mum always said that when she got rich she'd pay someone to make sure she had clean sheets on the bed and clean towels in the bathroom every day.

genevieve said...

I have this gorgeous lady at present who cleans really well one fortnight, then loses it the following fortnight, particularly if I have let my end down (most of this centres around one of my showers).
But my place has seen many cleaners and carers, so it's a case of administer it or never go to art galleries or libraries evah again. (Or blog. Or read. Or do anything even mildly spiritually elevating other than whinge to the lovely neighbours, which usually has the opposite effect.)
The trick is that you either give them keys once you get to know them, and are never there - or stay for a brief chat, then always, always go shopping. (Doesn't matter where you are really going of course. Today you're SHOPPING. For your sick neighbour if you like.)

The admin does suck, an agency can help with this if they are genuinely interested in how good their service is - costs extra, but they can give the cleaner the arse rather than you having to do it.

My son goes to less respite than he used to, and I don't miss the admin side of that at all. Which is not actually a very good reason for avoiding help, is it. (Tries to sound like tough granny with posting blogger - fails...)

The Devil Drink said...

Negotiable perks eh? Sounds enticing.
Tsk, I thought I was the one supposed to be doing the tempting.

Kate said...

All those vases as 21st presents, and still, an old Moccona coffee jar is best for most flowers... and no, I haven't ever had the chance to scrub all the glue off it.

Doing the grocery shopping online speeds things up a bit too, especially if you work at home because you can get it delivered during the day (when delivery is cheapest). I found ColesOnline ok (the website sucks a bit but it works) and you can add things to your list as you realise you need them, and then order delivery when you've got enough to make it worth while.

JahTeh said...

This is lovely. I can be half virtuous, I vacuumed the lounge this week. I can be half ashamed, the drawer is empty of cutlery, it's all in the sink but I am getting to it, honest.

Most of the fur in the vac was the cat's. I'm too cheap to throw out the bag until it's falling apart so I empty it by hand and there's fur, fur and more fur. I can't blame him for the red hair in the shower though.

Another Outspoken Female said...

I fell in love with my cleaner the first time i didn't tidy up first (yes i fell into that trap) - there were dishes in the sink, crud everywhere, a total mess. In response to my apologetic note, she said "oh don't worry about that - I clean for someone much, much messier than you" :)

It took about 4 different cleaners with 2 agencies before I found this gem, someone I'm happy to have a key to the house and leave unsupervised. PC it might seem like a hassle to start with but with the right cleaner you can keep in touch with your inner slattern and come home to a sparkling clean house once a week too!

genevieve said...

New category for blogging - shower hair.
Mine is midlength, dark - I have taken to looping it obsessively across the soap holder as I rinse, so less is stuck in the plughole. The winter moults are almost done though.
Terrific review today, PC - OTT I know, but one must note the presence of supple, plangent prose in the paper whenever one can. Such a pleasure to get up and read (and I think I might get the book, too).

seepi said...


My house is too messy to get a cleaner in too....

My two tips - a dishwasher (changed my life!)

- and a Roomba (automatic vacuum cleaner - bumps around the floor like a pool cleaner - great for pet hair)

I love my washing machine too - anything that does all the work while I am uh 'busy' on the computer is alright with me.

Ariel said...

I often think of my mother's comment in times of frustration: 'I need a wife'.