When all our chores are done (by others) are we any freer?

You'll lie there like a big slug while people hose you down and turn you every 20 minutes
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The Independent Online

One's personal cost of living is a pretty arbitrary figure and dependent on so many variables: social class, aspirations and your next-door neighbour's latest purchase (it may well be absolutely essential to build that new conservatory).

One's personal cost of living is a pretty arbitrary figure and dependent on so many variables: social class, aspirations and your next-door neighbour's latest purchase (it may well be absolutely essential to build that new conservatory).

These days, too, with opportunities for work offering a huge variety of lifestyles, from job-sharing to part-time to 17-hour coronary-inducing days in the City, it's no wonder that 2.7 million households choose to live domestically bolstered by staff dealing with the less attractive side of home life. According to last week's 21st Century Housekeeping report from the Norwich Union, those households are spending over £9bn on domestic labour.

If you're upper class you'll be hoping that a few members of the public will come and clean your home voluntarily for a glass of wine and a vol au vent; if you're middle class you'll be paying a cleaner;and if you're working class you probably are a cleaner, perhaps a single mother who's been verbally swatted so many times by the DSS you've given in and got that attractive, high-flying job cleaning lavs.

Many families need domestic help these days, because the good lady wife doesn't stay at home distractedly pushing a Hoover round the playroom as she used to. She wants to ensure she does not arrive home shattered from work, only to have to climb on the hamster wheel of drudgery. Instead, if she can afford it, she will pay a poorer woman to do it for her.

We're also desperate for garden help, despite the fact that there are enough gardening programmes on the telly to make you want to put an end to the career of any aspiring horticulturist with a well-placed thwack of the Garden Claw.

It seems, too, that despite Ainsley Harriott's screen-filling presence, we still prefer a microwaved mess to a properly cooked meal. So not only do some of us not want to do housework, cooking and gardening, we actually can't do it any more.

Au pairs and nannies are part of the domestic equation too, valiantly trying to care for, discipline and teach someone else's children. What is left for these families to do? Eventually, if you have enough money, you'll just lie there like a very big slug and not have to do anything at all, except indulge in life's natural acts, while people flutter around, hosing you down, feeding you and turning you every 20 minutes.

But all these people we are paying to make our lives easier and give us more leisure time aren't receiving the same amount of pay. A gardener's hourly rate is approximately £6.50; cleaners get about a fiver and nannies about £3.50. Maybe these sums reflect the amount of television coverage each job receives.

The oddest thing about professional people is their ability to have someone they don't know permanently in their house. In my book it curtails any natural behaviour whatsoever, be it shouting at your better half, walking round half-dressed or scrabbling through the bin searching for the cheese you threw out the other day that might not have gone past its sell-by date. (Just me then?)

What would drive me completely mad would be having to endure an employee of the nanny or au pair variety. The existence of a sulky 19-year-old with the childcare skills of Mr Squeers would not be compensated for by the absence of squeaking kids for half the day.

Imagine, for a moment, the misery of employing domestic staff if you are a celebrity. The fear that they may grass to the papers with details of the dimensions of your panty girdle or bedtime habits haunts you 24 hours a day. Poor old Posh and Becks must have been gutted when their babysitter/ security man wrote a book with Britain's most convincing Man At C&A lookey-likey, Andrew Morton.

Today's lack of enthusiasm for domesticity is in some part due to men continuing to refuse to be drudges - very sensibly in my book - although a huge majority are getting more stuck in to the traditional housewifey thing than my father's generation,who were entitled to execute their wives if a duster was waved anywhere near them.

But there's no doubt that men's childcare skills are improving, as was ably demonstrated last week on Big Brother by Darren, who performed faultlessly with a doll baby, full of silicone chips simulating, as near as possible, real baby behaviour. The traditional male approach was demonstrated by Craig, whose skills took slightly longer to develop, as he found it more amusing to give the baby a shove and make it cry when no one was looking.

Perhaps the most expensive aspect of life these days is the offspring themselves. Cabinet Office research published last week revealed that it apparently costs £180,000 to bring up two children until the age of 18. Some people may feel this is too expensive and want to change their plans. But what else could £180,000 buy you? Well, some nice holidays, a couple of really flashy cars, or perhaps a third of a photo session with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones with their new baby, Dylan, for OK! magazine. Be honest, that impoverished couple have got to scratch about wherever they can to make a bit of money, or they might be forced to go cap-in-hand to the DSS.

So where will this march towards increasing personal fulfilment end? Once you've got the cleaner, the nanny, the gardener, the analyst, the beautician and the personal trainer, where else is there to go? All you'll need then is an assistant who can follow you around holding a piece of string attached to your digit. Then you won't even have to lift a finger.

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