The Welsh Enchantress approaches – with beef cheeks and a fluffy dressing gown

The last time she came, she took one look at the place and demanded to know where the Hoover was kept.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

The Welsh Enchantress is coming tomorrow, which means I have to swing into action. The last time she came, you may recall, she took one look at the place and demanded to know where the Hoover was kept, and then started using it. This is a damning reproach to my ability to tidy up, but then I am under no illusions about my inability to tidy a place up, or ability to mess it up. I simply don’t see the things ordinary people see, as if my eyes are on a different wavelength to everyone else’s. So to this end, I have hired a cleaner.

Those new to this column may wonder what on Earth I am doing with a cleaner, or how on Earth I can afford one, but a tenner an hour, once a week or so, isn’t going to break even my bank; and also, boy, do I need one. Kelly, who works at the castle, has been assigned to me, and so far all is well.

As I learned with Marta, the first cleaning lady I dealt with, in the Hovel, the trick is not to tell them what to do, but to learn what they are prepared to do and not to do. It takes one a while, for instance, to grasp that they’re not going to do the washing-up. At first I thought this fell under the rubric of “having a dog and barking yourself”, but I eventually grasped the fact that washing-up is considered infra dignitatem, and rightly so.

I tried it with Kelly – leaving the dishes in the sink – and was told after her stint, pointedly, that the dishes were still in the sink, “steeping”. Fair enough. She has enough on her plate as it is. 

She’s only been twice, but the second time she looked around the place and asked: “How do you get it into this state?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s a gift.”

But the true gift is hers. How does she, anyone, do it? She had a go at the place yesterday and after less than an hour it was transformed. And yet, 24 hours later, it looks as though it has been de-transformed, and we are back to square one, and I swear that all I did for the rest of the day and the evening was sit on the sofa, doing nothing except maybe having the occasional sip of wine.

And yet it looks as though eight teenagers have had a party, and run away before doing the tidying-up. And these aren’t the modern kind of teenagers, who eschew alcohol and look with contempt at their parents’ dissolute generation: these are old-school teenagers, who have firm ideas on how to have a good time. So Kelly’s maybe coming in tomorrow to have another go.

Of course, the very idea of having a cleaner puts some middle-class people into a bit of a fix, contortions of guilt, and there may be readers who are right now firing up their laptops preparing to give me a piece of their mind. Well, by all means do so, but bear in mind that Kelly needs the work, and I also give her lifts into town and back. (During these journeys, the conversation flows freely, and I have learned quite a lot about her, not for these pages, as they’re her own business. But one thing I have learned is that a really good way of shutting down a conversation, with a wide range of people, is answering “I’m a writer” when asked what I do. It is as if I had admitted to a hugely embarrassing habit, like compulsive masturbation.)

Meanwhile, since writing the last paragraph and this one I have managed to do something incredibly painful to my back, simply by standing up. Contortions of guilt, perhaps… I had always, until about five seconds ago, been rather smug when listening to my peers complain about their lumbar pains: well, not smug exactly, for I feel for them, in very much a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God way, but conscious of the fact that my slight build relative to absolutely every other man I know might have something to do with it. Only the other day I was thinking about how much healthier I am than I deserve to be; and now I feel I have taken a great leap forwards in the direction of the grave.

The timing could not be worse. As I write, the WE is packing her Audi for her drive up here; she is bringing wine, beef cheeks for me “to work your magic on” and a fluffy towel dressing gown I coveted when I last stayed at her place. (When a woman lives in sole charge of a place, you can be guaranteed two things, bathroom-wise: a really impressive set of shampoos, and a fluffy dressing gown. Bliss.) The thing is that she expects a certain, um, liveliness on my part, and right now I don’t know, now that I have sat down again, how I am ever going to move from this position without howling in agony.

And as for finishing the last bits of the tidying-up, putting on a laundry so that the sheets and duvet cover are clean (unwashed since her last visit, in August), I have no idea. Reader, pray for me.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 26 October 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit crash