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The invisible hand (le main inconnu)

Somewhere in all this thicket of Posts is another labelled ‘So, what do you do?’. It gives you an idea of what I do. Basically, I look after other people’s property.

This Post, then, is a bat-squeak of protest, following the arrival of yet another seemingly arbitrary rejection note, to ask what more, in God’s name, could I possibly have done in my lifetime, to be granted a modest living now in exchange for all my proven skills, experience, carefulness, ability to add value, and my offer of hard work?

Towards the end of  that long Post is a description of the impossible job I had until lately, in which I was engaged to manage a rundown ‘stately home’ here in Wales for nearly seven years, largely singlehanded, while the owners jetted around the globe looking after their other business interests. My job description ran to eight pages of A4, and I more-than earned my keep.

And, when I realised that my job would inevitably become redundant as soon as the hotel conversion work was finished, I started looking again.

Registered with no fewer than fifteen central London agencies specialising in placing butlers, nannies and cooks to the Russian oligarchy, after more than three years of applying I succeeded in obtaining my first interview, with a lady landowner near Llangollen. I drove the 70 miles and, bursting for a pee and, not thinking I would have time to find the bathroom, went behind a large beech near the entrance to the driveway; only to realise, when confronted in the estate office with a battery of closed-circuit TV screens, that one of the cameras was also pointing at the tree….

I don’t suppose it made any difference. Not only did I not hear from the lady again, even the agent could not be bothered to let me know my application had been a complete waste of time and petrol. Rudeness is, of course, the modern fashion.

Then, last April, I was invited to London to meet an elderly Indian woman whose husband had died, leaving her with a rambling estate in deepest rural France, that she could not bring herself to sell but did not wish to live in. Fifty overgrown acres, maybe eighteen bedrooms, were too much responsibility for one person, even me; and from the photos the property looked like the proverbial can of worms, so I turned it down

Towards the end of June, however, she rang in a panic to say there had been a break-in and would I please, please go over for a few days to help? She had no-one else to turn to, who could speak French! Having quite recently gained an Intermediate-level certificate and – after seven years of learning French in school, fifty years ago – an O-level, I said I would try my best. I have never had a problem getting by in French-speaking countries. I bought a car, four road-legal tyres and the mandatory red warning triangle, checked my dog into a home, and set off on the 300-mile journey to the coast.

We could not stay in the house, the heating didn’t work. After two years of being tightly shuttered-up, all the upstairs rooms had gone mouldy. A procession of Keystone cops and security alarm men paraded through the rooms, marvelling at the period furniture, and I was immediately expected to interpret their rapid-fire colloquial French. The break-in turned out to be just minor vandalism, but the lady was insistently demanding the addition of more pointless security products, for which I did not know all the French words. She and her daughter could not agree on anything. Eventually, my head spinning, I went and sat in the conservatory.

Finally, it was arranged that I would stay on for three months, to help out until they found someone permanent, if that wasn’t to be me. She seemed delighted and relieved, and paid me a week’s wages. On our return, I prepared to mothball my house, had the dog inoculated against rabies, found a new home for the cat, packed-up my studio, said goodbye to my gardening clients and sat like an idiot for three weeks, waiting to hear when I could start. Eventually I twigged, she didn’t want to tell me she had readvertised the job.

And now this, a minor setback, but still another one, who – what? Doesn’t believe my CV? Thinks I will steal the family silver? Has found my Special Branch file from the 1970s? Loathes modern jazz? Honestly, I have absolutely no idea what to do. I’m at my wits’ end. I’ve had years of experience of caring for period homes and gardens, many of them my own. I have practical and administrative skills, creative vision… . What more can I possibly offer to an employer who will allow me to do the work again, that I am astonishingly, perhaps uniquely, qualified to do – apart from my obvious lack of fluency in modern languages?

It’s as if some invisible hand is preventing it from happening.

Mine, possibly?


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