I will never forget the day when William announced over coffee that we would no longer be able to keep the cleaner and nanny. I nearly choked on my petit fours.
“You can’t be serious darling!” I exclaimed, “Not keep Tiggy and Potts? Why on earth not?”
He proceeded to explain to me in a most serious tone (usually reserved for discussing important family matters such as the boys’ education and which of the Austrian ski resorts has the best off-piste skiing), that, despite his excellent reputation, long service history and perfect attendance record, he would no longer be in the employ of Abbotts Bank. They were under severe financial pressure and would be letting go of all the Senior Management team.
“I’m so sorry darling, but until I find another job, we just cannot afford the expense of a cleaner and a nanny”.
I gazed blankly into my coffee cup and watched the cream swirl around and around, making hypnotic patterns on the surface. It was most probably the circular motion which caused me to faint as apparently I then slumped forward, knocked my head off the sugar bowl and fell onto the floor. I have no recollection of this, but came to a few moments later with Henry The Eighth, our red setter, licking at my hand and William flapping a napkin frantically over my face.
“Goodness Eliza, you gave me a terrible fright”, he said, loosening his tie and pouring us both a brandy. “What on earth came over you?”
“I’m not sure”, I said. “But I had the oddest dream just now that you told me we couldn’t keep Tiggy and Potts! Imagine that? More like a nightmare!” By now I was laughing hysterically.
“It wasn’t a dream. We can’t keep them. I don’t have a job”.
And with those thirteen words (thirteen – how apt), as the wind howled outside and the rain lashed at our wonderful stained-glass windows, my world was turned completely upside down.
I was now the wife of an ‘Unemployed Person’ with two small children to care for without a nanny and, worst of all, with NO CLEANER! I knew then that it was going to be a tough year for Eliza Plum. Little did I realise just how tough.
Nevertheless, in true Plum family tradition, I dealt with my situation with grit, determination and strength of character probably not seen since the women of WW2 put on their overalls and head scarves and took to the munitions assembly lines.
I didn’t complain more than was absolutely necessary and I didn’t feel sorry for myself – except on Wednesday afternoons when the ladies would still meet for afternoon tea at Betty’s. I did attempt to join them with the children on one disastrous occasion. Let’s just say that although the Fat Rascal cakes look very endearing on the tray behind the counter, they do not look very pleasant when crumbled into a million tiny pieces and scattered across half of the 100% wool carpeting. To top it all, whilst trying to leave with some shred of dignity in tact, Tobias wet himself while I was busy faffing with the straps on the Bugaboo Chameleon. Overall, the outing was not a pleasant one and something I do not wish to repeat at any point in the near future.
However, they do say that every cloud has a silver lining and although it may be more apt to refer to my cloud as having a cheap copper lining (being too poor to afford a silver one), I have learnt an awful lot in the twelve months since that dreadful evening. I can now change a nappy. I know how to make a pasta robot. I know the difference between playschool and pre-school and I can also manicure my own nails.
So, in an act of generosity and selflessness which many would say was just typical of Eliza Plum, I have chosen to condense everything I have learnt in the past year into one extraordinary book on the subject of managing one’s home and children, without any domestic assistance. Some in the media have branded me ‘The Modern Mrs Beeton’ which, I must say, is very charming and extremely flattering!
Stuffed to the rafters, nay festooned, with helpful tips and techniques, this really is - although I might say so myself – an absolute must of a read for world-weary, down-trodden mothers – and the occasional father – who regretfully spend their days under the kitchen table struggling to dislodge Cheerios which have welded themselves to the laminate flooring.
I hope that through sharing my experiences, other women who find themselves in a similar predicament to my own will be spared the pain, suffering and hardship I had to endure.
I might add as a final note that reading this book will not, I am afraid, help you to become a better member of the community, a better dinner party host, a better spouse or a better gardener. However, for any parent who feels that they are the only one who cannot get their children dressed and out of the door in the morning without bursting into floods of tears, reaching for the smelling salts or resorting to screeching at a tone and decibel level usually heard only among fighting tom cats, it will hopefully prove to you that you are not going round the bend. And that alone may help you sleep better at night (assuming your sodding, I mean, delightful children don’t wake you up).