A few years ago, a mate told me how they’d hired in a chef for the weekend. They’d visitors over and knew they’d be too busy golfing to cook for them. I thought it an extravagance and truth be told, I was a tad envious. But that was then. When I first went to India, I was surprised at how many people I met referred in passing to their drivers, their gardeners, their cooks. Not bragging. Just saying. I wouldn’t have thought of any of them as particularly wealthy and when I finally gave in and asked the question, the answer knocked me back. In India, there’s an unwritten social obligation to hire in if you have the money to do so, to share your good fortune, to spread the wealth.
I’d spent years (literally) agonising about whether to get a cleaner myself. I couldn’t justify it. There was just me. One flat. And me. Surely I should be able to keep it clean myself? What would my mother say?
But applying Indian logic made the decision a no-brainer. I had the money to pay for someone to come and clean my flat one morning a week. I knew they’d do a better job in half the time than I ever would. I also knew they were in the market for work. So, why wouldn’t I? It’s a decision I’ve never once regretted. In fact, it’s one of the better ones I’ve made.
Fast forward a few years through my adjectival transition from metropolitan to bucolic and the same question arose. When we first moved down to the village, we tried to do it all. Everything. This was part and parcel of country living. I can wield a paintbrush and a roller as good as most. Himself knows how to handle a strimmer and a lawnmower. Of course we could do it all. But if we were working on the house or in the garden, we weren’t working working – as in making money [and as freelancers, we need to work when the work is there]. Believe me, we tried. But neither of us is as young as we used to be and something had to give. A fellow villager does gardening. He got the job. Our local painter had time on his hands. He’s now my go-to guy for when I simply can’t muster the energy or the time needed to do it myself. My latest rule of thumb (the older I get, the more pragmatic I get) is that if I’ve thought of doing it and then not done it within three months, I’m never going to do it. I was planning to paint the front fence and gate for three years until I finally gave in and realized it was pay or nay.
Last week was a particularly busy one. Work had started on the cellar and our mate IZ was down to supervise. Himself and I were taking an intensive online course and didn’t have the bandwidth to pick the pepper from the salt let alone decide what was for dinner. So we did what would have been unthinkable to me just a few years ago – we hired in.
Claire the Baker came to stay. Every day I’d make suggestions and she’d produce something delectable from whatever was on hand. We ate well. Very well. Too well. It was like living in a restaurant for the week. And when she wasn’t cooking, she was baking for the freezer so that when she left, we’d be stocked up and ready to go. She’s big on food sustainability; nothing goes to waste. When I saw her shaping the ice-cream balls to go with the rhubarb and cherry pie (a special request), I wondered why I hadn’t done this long ago. It made life so much easier. Could I have done it myself? Sure. But at what cost? I’d have been frazzled by Tuesday, divorced by Wednesday.
Claire’s ‘thing’ is to teach kids how to bake. A qualified baker, she’s had lots of experience working with children and is a natural. And importantly, she has more patience than Job. If you want to bake a special cake for a special someone but can’t tell your ounces from your grams or your tablespoons from your cups, then she’ll teach you … at your place or hers (website in the oven as I write). And if you’re looking for something to keep your kids and their friends occupied for an afternoon, have her over to teach them how to bake.
I’m grateful that she was ready, willing, and able to come that week and, truth be told, slightly less grateful for the added pounds I put on. And I’m really grateful that I’ve finally realised the true value of sharing the load and hiring in.