Mrs Mop, D Phil

The rise of the dual-income couple has fuelled a boom in freelance and live-in domestic staff, offering an elaborate range of services from walking the dog to ironing the newspaper. By Ann Treneman

Ann Treneman
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:50

Ask Gerry Barton what he does for a living and he does not hesitate for a minute: "I'm a slave, that's what." In fact he is both owner and very willing slave, at Dial-A-Slave in the village of Trefriw in North Wales, and he says he loves every minute of his work.

"I used to be a manager of shops and work in pubs. I suppose, being a domestic, I've probably gone downhill, but I enjoy it a lot more," he says. "What I like the most is getting a result. It's absolutely wonderful when you walk into a house and it's really dirty. There is nothing worse than the woman who cleans up before you arrive."

That woman is getting rarer and rarer these days - she's just too busy for such guilt-ridden behaviour. Mintel's new British Lifestyles Report, published tomoorrow, confirms what surveys such as Social Trends have already shown, and what Gerry knows from how often his phone rings: everyone who can is hiring staff these days.

Mintel shows that our spending on domestic service has gone up by a whopping 294 per cent in the past 10 years, to pounds 4.29m annually. Government figures show that it is the fastest-growing category of consumer spending.

But there is more to the trend than an Upstairs, Downstairs nostalgia. This boom includes a newly professionalised band of cleaners, nannies and even butlers, but it also reaches the parts they do not. In fact, it reaches the parts you probably did not even know existed. Feeling guilty about always asking the neighbour to feed the dog or the cockatoo? An animal nanny will take care of it for pounds 4.50 a call. These days you can hire someone to do the weekly shop and school run, not to mention the cleaning, ironing, child-minding, cooking and gardening.

"I'm convinced that the idea of service is going back full circle, back to the days from before the Second World War," says Ann Jenson, a freelance cordon-bleu cook based in Salisbury. But the difference this time around is the fact that many employers are nothing more exotic than ordinary, double-income couples. Even the world of the butler has changed because of it.

"The English lady never used to go out to work, and now she does," says Ivor Spencer, whose Dulwich school trains butlers who are employed all over the world. "This really changes things for the butler - and now we call them butler administrators and personal assistants."

These waistcoated personal assistants may still iron the newspaper, but they can also end up running two or three homes and overseeing a budget that is larger than your average small business.

It's not only the staff who need training, either. "We do a two-day course for new employers, too, to show them how to handle having a butler," says Mr Spencer, "We start at 7am and go to 11pm. Everything is explained. For instance, the butler shall bow when they see them the first time and then a deep bow at night, but no more bowing during the day."

Not all of us need such instruction, but Leila Potter, of Bunbury Domestic Agency in Cheshire, believes that many people who employ nannies or even cleaners do need some sort of primer. Far too many new employers take it all too personally, or expect too much.

"We often have to advise people on what to ask of their staff. You listen to them, and they want their domestic staff to water the dog and take the plants for a walk and everything else too."

What they want, of course, is an old-fashioned wife. For decades the feminist movement has gone on about wages for housework, and now it has come about, though not as planned. The generation of women who are now in their sixties made their homes the hard way: they cleaned and cooked and walked the dog too. All of this may have kept them too busy for "quality" time with the children, but nobody even knew what it was then.

"In many ways the new currency that people are trading in is time," says Tracy Rubenstein of the Henley Centre for Forecasting. The work-rich and time-poor households are buying the stuff by the hour, and the work-poor and time-rich are only too happy to sell it. Ms Rubenstein sees the sign of timely enterprise everywhere. "On an anecdotal level, you see vans with companies who are organising school runs. In a way, that is a domestic service - it's one of those things that get pushed because of time pressure."

Time is also behind the trend to bring in the professionals rather than hire via the corner shop window (if you still have one). A cleaning company carries insurance, guarantees that someone will show up, and fixes any problems that come up. Christina Laurent, co-owner of London Home Cleaning Services, says: "They know they can complain to me - and they do, they do. We sort it out for them, and this really saves them time."

It saves them trouble, too; for a professional never cleans and tells. Gerry Barton may charge his locals only pounds 4.50 an hour, but for that price they have bought his silence as well as his labour.

"I would never talk about the job," he says. "For instance, I've been working today and I know everything about this lady. I know what colour knickers she wears, but I wouldn't tell you".

The butler

Nigel Duncan-Adam,40, spent

25 years in the Army before

training as a butler

My job in the Army was intelligence and weapons training instructor, and when I was looking at my strengths I couldn't see much of what I used with the Army that would be of use in civvy street. So I went back to basics, and one of the main things I had was that I was British.

I met a butler at one of the embassies in Berlin. He was a gentlemen, a real nice guy, and you don't see a lot of that nowadays. I liked his politeness and his manners. I decided that I was going to be a butler.

I read an article about the Ivor Spencer butlering course and contacted him. I was nervous at first because I knew nothing about the service industry, but I got there and found that the others were people who worked in banks, accountants, managers, car salesmen and all sorts.

The key thing about being a butler is to be ever-present but not visible. The easiest way to describe it is that you know what's wrong just before it happens, so when the problem occurs to your employer, you are already dealing with it. You attend to things without a lot of fuss.

It's a bit like being a swan. You look really graceful on the surface, but underneath you are paddling like hell.

The first people I worked for were new to having a butler and it just didn't suit them. They gave me a brilliant reference, though, and then I filled in on a temporary basis for a butler in Dallas. That was one interesting experience. It's all-encompassing - from laying out the breakfast things in the morning to making sure the meals are served properly, to greeting at the door, to organising the security panic buttons.

Nowadays there are so many more women working. A butler can take away a lot of their problems. He can deal with things like bills, car servicing, house maintenance.

I like organising people, and I like working for nice people. It's not like I've left the Army then, because you've still got the discipline; you still have to dress smartly. People are still polite - and that's a rare thing these days.

In America, a fair wage for a butler is about pounds 30,000 a year. My goal is to find, preferably in America, a family I can work for and become attached to. That is how you build a bond of loyalty.

I don't feel that being a butler is being a servant at all. To me, it's more like being a line manager.

Animal nanny

Jane Raymond, 24, is an animal

nanny based in Kilsby, near Rugby

I've always loved animals - I have two dogs myself - and this just fell into place. I was looking after a dog who was having puppies, but it was just through a postcard in the village shop. It was hard to fit in another part-time job, but then I saw an article on Animal Nannies.

It's a franchise, and now I've been doing it for more than two years. I'm still taking care of the original dogs - there's been another litter now. They are long-haired dogs, Briards, and so there is grooming, too.

No two days are ever the same. Dogs and cats make up most of it, but I've done all the little animals - hamsters, gerbils, birds - and one house has fish, lizards, iguanas and snakes. We do horses as well. We were taking care of rabbits once, and when the clients came back there were twice as many. We do anything that people have as a pet. If a dog doesn't like me, I just keep going round for as long as it takes.

The first time, a lot of people are wary. But once you've done one job, they're fine. A lot of people feel a lot happier paying somebody to do this. Otherwise it is just asking the neighbours.

In a week I have five or six regulars - say, where I take the dogs out at lunch while people are at work - and this week I have nine or 10 on top of that. It could be anything from a one-off because they are going out for the day, or doing several days and staying overnight. At the moment I've got two people with dogs who are away, so I'm staying with one and doing late-night visits with the other. We charge by the half-hour - pounds 5 for a dog half-hour and pounds 4.50 for a cat. There are special deals, too.

At first my dogs would give me a good sniff when I came in, and there have been times when I've met them in the village when I've been out walking another dog. One of mine in particular does not like that at all.

You can make a living, definitely, but you have to be willing to work hard. You can't work just Monday to Friday, nine to five. My mum helps me and I've another helper, too. Before she started it was difficult to get any time off at all.

It is fun. There was the time we were looking after four cats who were fed outside, so we didn't have a key to the house. But when we got there the first day we spied one cat inside, so we devised a way of feeding it through the letter box with paper plates and hosepipes and a saucer. It was quite a mess when they came back, but they were just grateful!

We have one client with a cat who collects worms, and we have to be careful to keep all the doors in the house closed or else the cat will bring in these worms and pile them up on the bed.

I walk an Irish wolfhound, but taking it to the field in my Fiat Punto is a real picture.

I really love being with the animals. You see them sitting in the window, waiting. When they see me, they go mad. There's a lot of fresh air, too. You're not in an office. You're out. I think it is my ideal job.

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