I’m not very comfortable managing domestic staff. It’s not a problem at work; I feel perfectly comfortable tasking my staff, addressing performance issues and ensuring their developmental needs are met. Yet back in my home environment I lose my professional edge and become fearfully apologetic in my requests for quite legitimate tasks. My conversations with the nanny are peppered with “would you mind awfully..?” and “is there any chance you could..?” I am pathetically grateful that her presence enables me to have a career and go to the loo on my own, and feel continually that she is over-worked, underpaid and underappreciated. I am forever thrusting bottles of wine in her hand at the end of the day. It’s probably pushing her towards the brink of alcoholism actually, I must try something healthier instead. Perhaps a pineapple.
My paternal grandparents lived in a rambling manor house in Devon, where domestic staff were part and parcel of the package. Their gardener duly doffed his cap as we crunched up the long gravel drive, and the housekeeper bustled away in the pantry offering up delicious pies and pastries. My grandmother, whilst always gracious in her speech, comfortably tasked ‘the help’ and dismissed them appropriately when no longer required. Having grown up in an era of servants she was entirely comfortable in that environment, whereas I am still battling with the idea of having a cleaner (surely I should be able to keep my own house clean?) and feel desperately middle-class having a nanny.
Last week it came to my attention that the children had eaten jam sandwiches for lunch on three occasions. Call me a snob but I don’t really consider jam to be part of any major food group – there may be some fruit in it, but it hardly represents part of a balanced diet. Once in a while I’m happy to accept it as a bit of a treat, but three times in a week indicates slight laziness and a lack of imagination.
It’s not even as though my children were fussy eaters, forcing us to cater for their every whim. All three will happily chow down on ham sandwiches, cheese, egg, tuna, salmon – you name it, they’ll eat it between two slices of bread. In fact, being the middle-class products of middle-class parents, they’re also quite partial to a falafel and houmous flatbread arrangement with a side order of roasted vegetables. The point being, there’s really no need to resort to nursery food.
Now this is a simple issue to sort out, right? I take the new nanny to one side, I casually mention that perhaps she could try some other sandwich fillings. I make sure the fridge is filled with deliciously tempting options. Perhaps I buy a book on children’s lunches, or jot down some suggestions for her on a cheerful pink Post-it note.
Did I do that? Did I tackle her on this very basic issue?
Of course I didn’t. I hid the jam. That seems to have sorted it.