Oh people, I am reading the most charming little book!
Written by Charles Dickens granddaughter, Monica, "One Pair of Hands" tells the tale of this debutantes foray into the world of work in 1939, starting with her hilarious spell as a cook-general in the middle class homes of central London.
Frivolous and hilarious by turn, Monicas writing provides both an intimate sense of the period it describes, while at the same time remaining utterly timeless and as a result, thoroughly engaging:
"I think Miss Cattermole must have refrained from telling the agency what she thought of me, for they rang me up a few days later and offered me another job. This time it was a Mrs Robertson, who wanted someone twice a week to do washing and ironing and odd jobs. As I had already assured the agency that I was thoroughly domesticated in every way, I didn’t feel like admitting that I was the worlds worst ironer.
They gave me the I went along there in a clean starched apron which I hoped made me look crisp and efficient. the porter of the flats let me in, as Mrs Robertson was out, but she had left a note for me, and a pile of washing on the bathroom floor. I sorted it out and it was not attractive. It consisted mainly of several grubby and rather ragged pairs of corsets and a great many small pairs of mens socks and stockings in a horrid condition of stickiness.
I made a huge bowl of soap suds, and dropped the more nauseating articles in with my eyes shut. I washed and rinsed and squeezed for about an hour and a half. There was no-one but me to answer the telephone, which always rang when I was covered in soap to the elbow. I accepted a bridge party for the owner of the corsets and a days golfing for the wearer of the socks, but did not feel in a position to give an opinion on the state of cousin Mary’s health. "
It’s just a lovely little book, with no depressing political commentary to sour the carefree decadence of pre-war Britain. And of course it is stuffed with the kind of domestic detail I adore and tonally is not unlike our own dear Rita Konig, who’s writing is always a pleasure and who herself comes from the same hallowed streets of London to which Monica brings her own inimitable methods of keeping house.
You’ll love it.