A tale of redemption (and pregnant nannies)

I can fully understand why people go to extraordinary lengths to get a Filipina nanny
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The Independent Online

Apropos Filipina nannies did I ever tell you about ours? Her name was Redencion which means Redemption, not that it matters much because we called her Reddy. Unlike some, we didn't need to get her a fast-track visa or indeed a visa of any kind because she already had one for which she had waited patiently for three years at home in Quezon City, a suburb of Manila, with her seven sisters and three brothers.

Apropos Filipina nannies did I ever tell you about ours? Her name was Redencion which means Redemption, not that it matters much because we called her Reddy. Unlike some, we didn't need to get her a fast-track visa or indeed a visa of any kind because she already had one for which she had waited patiently for three years at home in Quezon City, a suburb of Manila, with her seven sisters and three brothers.

It was less a visa than a work permit entitling her to stay in England for as long as she was employed by the hotel chain that had advertised for Filipina chambermaids. This was twenty-something years ago when things were different, especially the law.

Like all her friends, on leaving school Reddy had applied for a work permit to the UK and then pretty much forgotten about it. Sometimes it took 10 years to get a work permit, she told me later. Her cousin, Consuela, a state-enrolled nurse at the old Charing Cross Hospital, had waited eight years for hers, but by golly it was worth it. Every month Consuela sent all but £5 of her wages home which not only paid all the housekeeping bills but provided sufficient slack for a good friend to buy a bus company of which Consuela was now the majority shareholder.

So anyway, there's Reddy in Quezon City, aged 18, doing all the things that pretty young girls do the world over which basically means going out, meeting young men, finding the right one and getting married. The week after she married Benito, Reddy got her visa issued, of course, in her maiden name. Take it, said her new husband generously, and when I get mine (for of course he too had applied for a UK work permit) I'll join you.

The reason I'm furnishing you with all this apparently inconsequential detail is that without it you might presume, as I did, that when Reddy came to work for me she was, to quote the Reverend Mother of the Berkshire convent, "a sinner, a fallen woman and an unmarried mother". She wasn't, she was a perfectly respectable married woman who just hadn't realised she was pregnant when she landed at Gatwick. If she had, she wouldn't have come because foreign females with work permits are definitively not allowed to be pregnant when they arrive in Britain and, if subsequently discovered to be in a delicate condition, they're unceremoniously bungled back on to the plane and sent home.

I can only suppose that Reddy was so recently impregnated that she didn't know and it didn't show. Immigrants, as we all know, are given very stringent medical examinations. To cut a long story short, when her employers at the hotel chain discovered she was pregnant they kicked her out. Thanks to Consuela she had her baby, a daughter, at the Charing Cross Hospital and then moved with Annunciata to the convent in Berkshire to wait for a kind employer to take her and little Annie in. That's me, folks. I'd just had my first baby and, couldn't afford a pukka Norland Nanny and was vaguely making inquiries about sturdy school leavers from Yorkshire mining villages who might want to work as a mother's help in London, when someone told me about Reddy.

What can I say? Reddy was wonderful, hardworking, resourceful, unflappable, good fun. I can fully understand why people go to extraordinary lengths to get a Filipina nanny. When Annie was two and my second was on the way, Benito got his visa and Reddy left to live in a village in Hampshire. Nito got a job as a postman, the smallest, smartest postman in the West, Reddy got three jobs - school cook, carer, shelf-stacker - and I threw myself into the business of finding a replacement.

First came Margaret, a big Yorkshire lass who had been in the Army before being "done over", as she put it, by a married squaddie in Germany. She was a great ironer but had attitude. One day on my way to work I asked nicely if she'd wipe the kitchen door. One of the three resident infants had smeared jam all over it. "Wipe bloody door tha self," said Margaret. We gave up having unmarried mothers mother's helps, we had four of our own and were running out of space. Rachel, a quiet, chubby 17-year-old from Llandudno seemed fine, her parents came down to interview me to see if I was suitable. One evening when Rachel was late home from evening class I got a call from the hospital. Rachel had had a lovely little boy they said, would I bring in her towel and toothbrush? I've always been short-sighted.

I could write a book about nannies but I understand there's one coming out, by a Filipina nanny. That should be interesting.

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