"Forgive me if I am a little distracted this week. I am having a crisis of conscience. It began when I hired someone to come round and rip up the ivy that is strangling everything else in the garden. We daren’t let the toddler out there any more in case it all becomes too Little Shop Of Horrors for words.
Still, it’s not a skilled job, hacking back malevolent vegetation. My husband and I could do it. But it would mean working further into the evenings than we already do (you need daylight to garden, not to write, so the paid working day would just have to shift further towards becoming a paid working night) and having even less time to ourselves to read or consume a restorative draught or two of wine and/or Strictly Come Dancing. So we have chosen not to.
Then I realised that I also have a cleaner. I took her on when I was ill during pregnancy but somehow the baby is 16 months old and I haven’t got round to saying goodbye to her.
And then there’s Luke, who comes round every month or so to do DIY jobs – or, I suppose, theoretically DIY jobs as we manifestly aren’t doing them ourselves – that are needed, because there’s only one person more frustratingly, constitutionally, totally impractical than me and unfortunately I married him.
Oh, and there’s Rob, who sorts out our computer problems. He’s round so often he’s got his own key.
The morality of outsourcing so many chores is murky. I think perhaps calling Rob out is OK – he has rare and precious skills we need and charges accordingly. Really, it’s just a modern twist on calling out a plumber or electrician. Yes, I think it’s fine to have Rob round.
"Our motto is 'you clean up your own sh*t in this life'"
Luke – well, that’s almost the same, isn’t it? My mother has tried for over 30 years to beat some common sense and practicality into me, but we must all face the fact that I represent one of her rare failures in life. Luke – again for a fair rate of exchange – fills the void.
But a cleaner is different. I may be an idiot, but I can clean. It’s just that a) I’m very, very busy working and looking after the child and b) I hate it. Now, some people – the very cash-rich, time-poor – would claim a cleaner was a necessity. They might be right in their extreme cases. But for the majority of people for whom it is even an option, hiring a cleaner is at best a luxury and at worst (as my entire family vociferously consider it) the reckless, immoral indulgence of a gross personal weakness. The unofficial Mangan motto is ‘You clean up your own sh*t in this life’. It applies to both the literal and metaphorical detritus of life, and it’s not a bad principle to try and live by.
I’ve tried to ameliorate the wrongness of what I’ve done by employing a cleaner through a firm, which is expensive but means she gets sick pay, holiday pay, insurance and so on. And my husband tells me this is the way capitalism works – if you can earn more in the time saved than you are paying out to save the time, then doing so is A Good Idea. It’s the trickle-down effect in microcosm: those with more money and opportunities create jobs and opportunities for those lower down the socioeconomic scale. Unfortunately, my husband is a dyed-in-the-wool Tory whose every utterance is therefore not just suspect but violently wrong at every turn.
In (my) reality, we – like most people – have what we have because of a large amount of luck rather than pure hard work. Not that we don’t work hard (nor, incidentally, do we earn as much as this is all probably making it seem – it’s just that we never, ever go out or on holiday anywhere but Norfolk for a week), but this is secondary to the fact that we were born healthy, in the right place, at a good time, to happy families who made sure we were given all the education and chances they could muster. Thus we ended up with decent jobs and salaries. (We chose dying industries, of course, so we’ll get our comeuppance.) Unselfishly speaking, I should spend my spare time cleaning and donating to charity until global economic-and-everything-else parity is achieved. Instead, I chose to pay someone poorer than me to do an unpleasant job I’d rather avoid.
Now I’ve compounded the felony by hiring the man in the garden, undoing what mother nature and my own have allowed to run riot. Time to hack away at my own sloth, I think. In the end, it’s only cleaning up your own sh*t that really makes the garden rosy."
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