WHAT DO YOU DO?

Back in the day when I met OH (other half) at a party (See LOVE LIFE IN THESE COVID TIMES, 26/4/20) and he asked what I did, I told him I was a poet.
Much easier I thought than to tell him I worked as a copywriter!
Most people (ie possible future boyfriend material)  looked blank when I said that. I’d ask if they knew what the job was and they would respond,  “yes but tell me more.” I would then explain what the job involved – that I came up with ideas for ads. Ah Slogans they would say.  Not slogans I would explain but the whole concept.  I told them that copywriters wrote for all the media. That I conceived ads and wrote copy for press, posters, TV, direct mail, radio, point-of-sale material and the back of cereal packets etc etc.  Of course today that would also include writing ads for anything and everything digital.  I was fortunate in that I worked at a time when advertising was far more creative than it is now. When TV and cinema commercials were often considered a work of art. Of genius even.  Just think of the Heineken and Levi’s commercials (if you are old enough to remember them) and you will know what I’m talking about. That was a time when you actually stayed in the room to watch the TV commercials and left the room when the programmes came on!  No zapping for us then because we had no way of avoiding the ad breaks other than turning off the sound or switching off the TV altogether.
Once the person I was talking to found out what copywriters actually did, they would then spend the rest of their time with me talking about all their favourite ads ad nauseum (no pun intended). It was the same at dinner parties or any time I met new people. So I told people I was a poet.  Well I was. And I am. I just don’t make a living from it.
It is the same for OH (other half). He only has to say that he works in cancer research to find that the rest of the evening is spent listening to people telling him all about themselves or someone they know who has cancer. There was one memorable occasion when the opposite happened. We were sitting having a meal at a wedding and were introduced to a friend of mine’s new boyfriend. What do you do? He asked.  I’m a scientist, OH answered.  How boring for you, responded my friend’s boyfriend. He turned his back and did not say another word to us for the rest of the evening.
Polite conversation is a whole lot easier nowadays as Covid has freed us from having to meet strangers at dinner parties or anywhere else for that matter. Conversations now usually start with “how are you?” meaning,  “are you still alive and well?” and end with “stay safe.”
So what does one say when asked what do you do? I could just say I’m retired and leave it at that.  I hate those four words, “What do you do?”  Whether we like it or not, whether we think we do it or not, we all tend to judge people on what it is they “do”.  As a woman of a certain age, I still do a hell of a lot.  This blog for a start. And loads of other things – mostly enjoyable and rewarding ones. But in those far off days of dinner parties, no one ever asked about those.  A bit like the charmer who asked OH what he did and then turned away, most men (and it is usually men) show no interest whatsoever in the person you are – only in the persona.  You might be writing the next War and Peace or doing the most incredible voluntary work but if you are not doing any paid work  then you are cut out of the conversation.  I am sure that my female readers will recognise this all too common and ill-mannered behaviour.
As I wrote in my blog of 6/4/17 (Another Year, Another Birthday) once women are over fifty they become invisible to the opposite sex.  Unless of course they happen to be sitting next to Helen Mirren or Debbie Harry (whose real name incidentally is Angela Tremble).
I hate it when women say, “I’m just a housewife.” In other words, I do everything imaginable in the home but am not rewarded for it other than in the satisfaction of knowing that my home is clean and my family are fed. Now we’re in the midst of the Covid Era, many more people are realising how incredibly demanding it is to manage a household, shop, clean, cook, wash, iron, garden, sew and bring up children.  No wonder one of the first things relaxed by the government was the employment of nannies and cleaning ladies! Post Covid will anyone ever again say, “I’m just a housewife”. I sincerely hope not.
At future dinner parties (will there ever be such a thing and will we miss them if they disappear?) will people talk about all the new skills they learned during Covid?  How they can now recognise twenty different species of birds, knit a suit,  landscape a garden and bake sour dough bread.  Or will we return to the old status quo – the snobbery of only being valued if you have some kind of paid employment.
In the meantime those of us who used to entertain people in our home are quite enjoying not having to spend half the day in the kitchen preparing food for everyone. Now all we have to do is
sit in the garden with coffee, cake or a glass of wine. It’s so easy and far more relaxing.  Entertaining is much more pleasurable when you don’t have to tidy up the house or cook meals beforehand. And, what’s more, there’s very little clearing up to do afterwards.  Now that’s my idea of the best kind of brunch, lunch, tea, supper or dinner party.
Off now to do some cooking. Dinner parties or no, we still have to eat!  See you again soon.

 

 

 

 

 

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems

Exercise? What exercise?

             

 

29 April 2020 DC (During Covid)

Cleaning? What cleaning?

“After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”

Here we are in lockdown and we are all trying to keep up with exercise in one form or another. Those of you who used to go regularly to the gym now exercise at home in front of a screen. I have friends who use treadmills and exercise bikes.  Many are doing pilates, yoga, ballet, weight lifting, tchai-chi, zumba – and these are just the over 70s!

Aside from the official walk we’re allowed to take every day, my exercise consists of running up and down the stairs (to find things one of us forgotten we need), playing table tennis on our wonderful mini table tennis table, gardening and skipping.  I bought a skipping rope for our grandchildren to use and now it has come into its own. I skip in our back garden, feeling rather self conscious doing so, wondering if our neighbours can see me.

The other day I had a lot of exercise shovelling up a pile of smelly, fly ridden shit an unsupervised dog had kindly deposited on the path right outside our house.  A minute’s walk from our home is a field used by dog walkers where there are numerous doggy bins for doggy doings. And there are notices everywhere about what to do with dog poo.  The problem is that dogs can’t read. And some dog owners don’t give a shit.

Then, of course, there’s the housework.  I’m a firmer believer in the quote by Quentin Crisp whose home famously was covered in layers of dust, “There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”

I do the essential jobs around the house but what’s the point in cleaning a room that we’re not using? And I’m fortunate in having OH (other half) who in his student years earned money by cleaning. So he is much better at it than I am.

My late mother always seemed to be doing housework.  I find that I can now empathise far more with what she often used to say to me when I was growing up, “Don’t use the bathroom – I’ve just cleaned it!”

When our three children were small I would put the non essential housework on hold so I could have more time for them.  Unlike one friend who refused to go out until her house was perfectly clean. So she never went out.

When I was expecting our first child I came across this rather twee rhyme by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton (1898-2008) which I decided to take to heart.

Mother, O Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

Ruth Hamilton was an American poet and journalist. She wrote this poem after the birth of her fifth child. It is said that when she was at drama school she was cast as a thorn bush in Sleeping Beauty. The director apparently criticised her in rehearsal, saying she was not brambling properly! She died at the age of 109 so clearly not doing housework does have some merit.

Once I started back at work we had a succession of cleaning women.

The first was stick thin, pale, unkempt and looked very ill.  I asked for a reference and it was only then that I found out she had a drug habit. So she had to go.

The second was fine until I found her helping herself to some alcohol from the cupboard  – cocktail cabinet would have been too fine a word for it – where we kept our drinks.  The third was lovely but she just didn’t stop talking. She would even follow me into the loo.  If we were interrupted she would carry on talking from exactly where she had left off!

Our fourth cleaner was Italian and working nearby as an au pair. She was perfect but far too bright and talented to be spending her time cleaning for other people. So I encouraged her to go to evening classes.  She then obtained a job and couldn’t work for me anymore!

The next cleaner would work very noisily, banging and bashing things around the house, knocking the vacuum cleaner into the skirting and doors.  Very often, after she had gone home, I would find something broken that she had hidden. So she had to go.

Then there was the cleaner who would often forget to turn off the lights. We were prepared to overlook that until we returned from holiday to find she had left the kitchen window wide open. When we next saw her I explained what had happened and that she would need to take more care in the future. “So, you don’t like my cleaning?” she cried and stormed off.

After this I went back to cleaning the house myself. With the help of OH of course. But then a friend recommended someone magical. A fairy godmother who sprinkles fairy dust around the house. Everywhere is sparkly clean and perfect. I can find no fault with her and I believe she likes us too. When we return from holiday we find drawers tidied and everything in the airing cupboard neatly folded. She is a saint. But, sadly, a saint who had to travel on public transport to get to where we live and we are in lockdown. So farewell saint, hello cleaning.

The only (less than perfect) cleaning woman we now have in the house is me. With the help of OH of course. But it does mean that we now get plenty of exercise.

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems