Woke up this mornin’…. to find it was the real new year, not a holiday and that it was grey and raining.
The only remedy – work. Having retired from salaried employment I no longer have a commute to an office (unless you count climbing the stairs to the study, which I do every day), but there’s still plenty to be done.
First, the physical kind of task. So, despite it not being the Twelfth Night, down come the decorations and out comes the Flash. I am old enough to remember the Scottish lady in the Flash TV advert, who always wore rubber gloves, so the rubber gloves come out too. Tinsel is completely removed (at least until I find more shiny bits down the back of the sofa or in carpet crevices), bells and baubles packaged until next year and cards consigned to the recycling. There is much wiping and cleaning. I wield a vacuum cleaner nozzle with a viciousness entirely foreign to my usual, mild-mannered self.
House work is time-consuming and boring – in literature characters have servants. Though, initially, I am hard-pressed to think of a novel told from a servant’s point of view, I recall Griet in Tracey Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring who is a house-maid and Stevens and Kenton in Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day. Historical fiction is, unsurprisingly, the genre where servants appear most often, even fiction set in the recent past, like The Help, but the only servants I can think of at the centre of literary novels are Sam Weller and Sancho Panza (pretty important ones, it’s true, though they are still the ‘sidekicks’) and, of course, Jeeves. There must be others.
There are, I admit, plenty of servants in folk tales, Cinderella chief amongst them, and housework does get a mention in some stories, like those of Angela Carter which re-interpret the traditional tales and roles. But, otherwise, housework features mainly in books of The Politics of Housework¹ type.
Second the mental kind of task. It’s Tax Return time and I have to do mine. Oh, the joys of You Gov and electronic returns and, as I wait for the system to re-load once more, my mind wanders.
Tax isn’t really a subject for literature either, if you discount the ‘publicans, tax gatherers and sinners’ quote from the Bible. There are, however, a number of Tax Inspectors in literature, most notably the 1991 novel of that name by Peter Carey, but also H.E.Bates’ Philip Franks in The Darling Buds of May (1958) and, intriguingly, Bradley Pearson, hero of Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince, is a former tax inspector.
In my time at the Inland Revenue (as it was then known) I discovered a real-life link between a, then very senior, Tax Inspector and the north London circle which included Murdoch. As a lowly Grade 7, I plucked up the courage to ask this eminence about it and was amazed to find that those elements of the book which referred to the Revenue (and there are not many) did indeed come from him. Not that he claimed that the character was based upon him, or was in any way like him and, as far as I am aware, he didn’t turn to writing fiction once he retired, but I congratulated myself on making the connection.
My electronic connection now restored I input my figures and ‘Saved’ them for another day. So, now I can do something more congenial to me. Like real work and that means reading or writing…….
N.B. This post was written on 2nd January 2018.
If you enjoyed reading these musings you might also enjoy Warp and Weft
¹Pat Mainardi (Redstocking 1970)