Many moons ago, during one of our periods of financial embarrassment I went to work as a cleaning lady. For somebody who fears and despises housework, it truly was the job from hell. My employers were people we knew well, luminaries in our local community, and with whom we shared many social events. We were both involved in the same political and charitable activities, as well as the British Legion. For the monthly meetings, by day I was the cleaning creature only allowed in via the back door, charged with scrubbing the palatial house until every surface gleamed, every window, washbasin and loo sparkled, the Floris soap filled the soap dishes (it was put away after the meetings and kept for the next occasion) and the monogrammed hand-towels were perfectly folded on the tables beside the basins, monogram facing towards the door. Later the same day I was the smartly dressed lady welcomed in through the glossy black varnished front door with the shiny brass knob and letterbox and offered a Harvey’s Bristol Cream and a choice of expensive canapés.
They were unimaginably wealthy and outwardly charming. He always doffed his hat to the local ladies, who found him to be “a real old gentleman,” except one of them who caught him trying to kick his wife’s small dog to death one day and threatened to report him to the RSPCA if she ever heard the tiniest yelp from the poor creature.
They did not know either that behind the glossy black varnished front door with the shiny brass knob and letterbox (apologies to The Matchmaker of Perigord) he complained from dawn to dusk about the noise of the churchbells – he was an apparently devout warden of the said church – the noise of passing pedestrians chatting, the noise of radio, aircraft, in fact noise of any kind at all. His wife had her own sitting room where she could listen to music or watch television. If anybody should knock at the front door and he answered it, having exchanged courtesies with the caller, the moment the front door closed behind the said caller Mr X would flap his hands around his ears and mutter: “These bloody people!” He was absolutely filthy in his personal habits and refused to change his pyjamas or underwear, and threw an alarming and undignified tantrum when (wearing thick rubber gloves and holding my breath) I changed his greasy grey linen sheets and pillow cases before I knew that he preferred them dirty. His grey hair smelled and looked almost black due to accumulated grease as he never, ever washed it, any more than he ever bathed.
I could go on for several hours about him, and maybe I will one day.
Anyway, getting back to the point. As a new cleaner anxious to impress, and having never previously dealt with a wood fire, on my second day I decided to clear out the grate in his library of all the accumulated ash, which I did meticulously so that you could have eaten your food from it. Expecting praise, I was in for a shock, because when he shuffled in cursing because the church bells were pealing, he pointed an indignant finger at the spotless, ashless grate and said:
“Oh you stupid girl. You just don’t seem to be able to learn.”
I suppose I should have been flattered at being referred to as a girl, as I was already a grandmother, but instead I was dumb with fury and shock. He demonstrated how I was to spread out the ash in a layer, draw a wiggly pattern in it using the half-burned walking stick kept for the purpose, lay the kindling, break a firelighter in half and place it amongst the kindling, return the unused half of the firelighter to the box, stack a couple of logs artistically and leave the matches in a specific place on the mantelpiece next to one of dozens of priceless pieces of Meissen that filled the huge house along with several million pounds worth of ivories, oil paintings by the masters and glorious antique furniture of which he knew nothing apart from its value, not even to which period it belonged.
Cockatoo by Johann Joachim Kandler, Meissen Porcelain, 1734 / Rijksmuseum, Netherlands from the website of kaufmann-mercantile porcelain
Yes, remembering my experiences there I shall definitely write more about them one of these days, now that the two of them are safely installed in the great treasure house in the sky.
But the point of this post was his comment that I was too stupid to learn, and I think he was probably right, because I’ve done it again. Got a blog and two websites running, and spending half my time ineffectually trying to organise and manage them. It’s the third time I’ve done so!
So once again, I’m going to amalgamate them into one place – here. That’ll make life much simpler. If any of the kind people who visit my other sites find themselves reading something that sounds strangely familiar, I apologise in advance. Just skip those posts, will you? 😀