Looking for a clean break

PUBLISHED: 09:51 11 July 2014 | UPDATED: 09:51 11 July 2014

Sybilla Hart

Sybilla Hart


Freelance writer and mother of three, soon to be four, Sybilla Hart reflects on her new life in the Essex countryside

I know that employing a cleaner is a massive luxury, so I shall try and tread gently here. When we moved to Essex, I was so enthusiastic about our new house on two floors only, I thought I could look after the children, do the laundry, feed everybody and clean the house successfully. Some other mortals might be capable of this feat of mankind (which it is), but not me.

‘You’ve just got to accept that you’re not that good a housekeeper,’ remarked my husband nonchalantly one evening over a glass of wine. ‘You should find someone else to do it.’

I will admit this was an arrow that went straight to the heart. A bad housekeeper, moi? When I try so hard to be a good one? I decided not to wade in self-pity over such benign an insult. Why? Well he could have told me what a bad writer I was, or worse, a terrible mother. Either of those would have been hard to live with. But a bad housekeeper, I can live with that.

The next day I set about finding a cleaner. I found an agency that worked for as long as we weren’t living full-time in Essex. We did the weekend commute to and from London for one school term and then binned the idea at the end. Too exhausting. As soon as we were full-time residents at our farmhouse, the situation ceased to work. As my husband remarked ruefully, ‘She (the cleaner) was toast as soon as she admitted that she was exhausted.’ But seriously, who comes to work exhausted if they have to tackle a six-bedroom farmhouse? And do they have to speak on their mobile phone while they’re ironing? Surely the quality — and pace — of the ironing is reduced if you’re doing it with one hand?

So, the agency was binned and muggins here took over once again as housekeeper. After too many evenings spent poring over the ironing board, I emailed everyone I had met in the area to ask them if they knew of a cleaner with any spare hours. They did. And now we have a marvelous lady who even cleans the kitchen sink with baby oil — she says it comes up so well.

When we lived in London we had a series of cleaners, some good, some, well, downright dishonest. I made particularly good friends with one lady from Madeira until it became blindingly obvious that she was shirking her hours. Again, my husband told me not to make such a fuss, she was doing her job and all was well. Again I told him how she was certainly not doing her job and that all was not well.

After several unsuccessful attempts at getting her to confess that she hadn’t been able to do all her hours, I went with my gut instinct and sacked her. I gave her every possible excuse in the book, maybe she was having a tricky time at home or maybe the husband was being difficult?

By this stage I had introduced her to practically all of her clients who wanted to know why she was with us no more. You can tell they all thought I was over-reacting. But one day came vindication. And it was a big day for a hopeless housekeeper like myself. I got a phone call from one of my friends whom I had introduced to Madeira lady. ‘You were right. We got home and Sam checked the alarm. She had only been here for 30 minutes instead of the agreed four hours. We’ve sacked her.’

I suppose it’s only a housewife who gets excited about this sort of thing. It’s detective work at the very lowest level.

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