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Chore Wars

October 13, 2014

All last week, Radio 4 Woman’s Hour had a running (sore) topic on Chore Wars – who does what and why. I felt tempted to write about it then, but it’s taken me until now to sort out what I feel about it.

Here at Remarried Towers we have a curiously 1950s arrangement. TL brings home the bacon, I iron it.

That’s it, more or less. I do worry, as it’s not a great example for my girls. Every now and then, when I’m working a bit more than usual, I have a cleaner, though in fact I haven’t been able to face getting anyone in since the tragic death of our lovely Asia. She was a wonderful person and, what’s more astonishing, a wonderful cleaner. She knew without telling which bits needed scrubbing with toothbrushes and bleach, and was never happier than when creating a mirror shine on my beloved granite counter tops.

I got my first cleaner when living in a one-bedroom flat with Mr X. I realised that if I didn’t, I’d probably stab him. We were both working full time at those early-20s jobs you stay at forever, but even so, the place was tiny and the cleaner must have been cackling all the way to the bank. Nowadays it would take me ten minutes to whisk round.

I’ve learned a lot from cleaners over the years. One, Debbie, showed me how to fold clothes so they don’t need so much ironing – I bless her daily for this – and how to get tiny babies to stop screaming and sleep – another wonderful trick. Eva was a doting slave to my children, though her husband (who had to be employed as part of the package) broke all my ornaments and even managed to destroy a chandelier.  Having a chandelier sounds terribly grand, but I was living in Brussels at the time and even the shacks have chandeliers there.

I’ve done things for my cleaners, too – I made a large set of gold-covered initials for a wedding service, I’ve translated things into French and out again, I’ve assessed other employers’ text messages for hidden nuances, I’ve spoken to mothers and brothers and lovers and even chatted to policemen.

Having said all that, it just is much easier to do it yourself. I don’t love it, but it gets done. Mostly I do it when everyone’s out. Sometimes, if I’m feeling under appreciated, I’ll hoover ostentatiously under TL’s feet while he’s sprawled on the sofa. I think of it, usually, as cheaper than a gym membership, and a lot more useful. TL’s contribution is to take the bins out.

Both Child One and Child Two have said they’re definitely getting a cleaner when they’re older. Good.

Cleaning: suck it up

Cleaning: suck it up

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  • Clare Taylor October 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    So glad I’m not alone in the 1950’s. Now, where did I put my pinny? (If my 21 year old self could see me now she would be horrified.)

    • Dulwich Divorcee October 15, 2014 at 11:18 am

      I think you’ll find your pinny is behind that feather duster! Yes, I know, what on earth did we get degrees for?

  • Expat Mum October 14, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Have been following the discussions and mulling things over too. Ours is also a very “traditional” arrangement although I haven’t always been happy about it. We both started off working in the same corporate environment, but after the first baby came along, it was just assumed that the husband’s career was on the trajectory and he was expected to travel almost all week. With no support system whatsoever, it soon also becomes very obvious that a full time job was impossible for me, and even a part time job was a struggle. I was not happy when I eventually gave up working outside the home and have since carved out a “nice little career” as a writer, although it barely pays the cleaner.
    And yes, I have a cleaner; not for as many hours as I really should but I don’t feel any guilt either. I was not put on this planet to serve other people all the time, even if I did bring them into it. It would take me hours (per day) to keep this place in shape and after almost 25 years of marriage, someone else can do it!

    • Dulwich Divorcee October 15, 2014 at 11:22 am

      That’s the spirit! And quite right too. There shouldn’t be any guilt at all attached to having a cleaner – though tell that to my friends who clean before the cleaner comes!! I was in a similar boat to you with small babies, and we were in Brussels to boot so it seemed easier for me to be at home …. there were some couples who both managed to stay working but it always seemed a very perilous arrangement (I’d be interested to know if they are still together now). Well done you with the writing. I find it hard to make it pay!