People work very long hours. Work has been extended through demand, insecurity and various bits of technology. And I was brought up very short in an interview the other day when the interlocutor commented admiringly on my workload in the days of paid work. But there is more to work than hours. There are different demands, different kinds of input and output, differing responses. I learned that I would never see that kind of energy again the first time I worked with Pam the Painter. Once the brush is in her hand, she is demonic, a driven Virgo and I couldn’t even interrupt her for a tea break because she doesn’t drink it. This is not a criticism, she’s wonderful. It’s just a different way of working, when you realise that what you have been doing may be perfectly enjoyable but it’s also tiring.
On Friday afternoon I shifted a lot of heavy and beautiful books from the inbuilt shelves in the corner because Pam was coming to repaint the wall stained by damp. She had previously filled two offending exterior holes with cement and we had waited for the walls to dry, which took ages and was eventually passed as acceptable by the local old school jobbing builder. I covered the patches with stain blocker and watched the wonderful Neil Brand’s programme on The Music That Made The Movies (BBC4), definitely nothing like watching paint dry!
On Saturday morning I went off to the street market I love and walked back via to the supermarket I love less and less, ready to make a late lunch for Pam who will occasionally admit to hunger. I am the commissariat – a word reminds me of my pa who would have been 120 this week – I cater. Pam’s method of working involves hesitation, nit picking, worrying and finally a beginning, after which there is no stopping her till paint needs to dry. That done, we ate and drank prosecco which is guaranteed to make both of us feel a lot more positive about numbers of things.
She had been back to where she used to work and discovered that there really was no going back – it was all changed, she had the best of it and surviving colleagues told her so. After an insistent second coat (by which I mean she went at it till it was beaten into submission), we talked about equity release and the future and then she departed.
I cleared space to move, had a bath and, tired, waited for sleep to come.
It didn’t. Neither an old favourite book nor half a proprietary sleeping pill worked. So by Sunday I felt and looked like hell, lumps on skin, hair like bat wings, leaden. But hanging about doesn’t help – I find waiting more tiring than ditchdigging.
So I went walkabout to an imaginative hardware store where I thought I might find spider spray. And I did. Before me loomed the door of Christies the auctioneers and because I was drawn to something in the window, I wandered in. There was a woman in black with a clipboard and I enquired if I was permitted to just walk in. “Indeed” she smiled “encouraged” and told me a bit about the sale. There was a lot of stuff that leaves me cold (I hear my mother’s disapproving voice in my ear saying “And who’s going to dust it?”) but there were some lovely old copper pans, a table, a chair and a jewellery department, Cartier eat your heart out. The security man offered me a pass, “I don’t have light fingers “ I said with a smile and in I went to things of beauty – how lovely to be able to admire instead of wrinkling your nose. So I wandered around and came home to join battle replacing the books, which occupied me very happily till fish pie not of my making and Downton , both equally benign and digestible.
It may be hard, if you spent most of your life working Monday to Friday and occasionally extra, not to think of the weekend as special time, time off – but the living room wall has had a facelift, the books are back in a more thoughtful arrangement, the autumn has arrived (infinitely preferable to the sweaty hectic last throw of summer) and everyone should have a friend like Pam. And last night “golden slumbers kissed my eyes”. Lucky me.