In another way it wobbled and wobbled and wobbled shaking everyone in it. Like a wobble board only it was a house.
I have only seen a wobble board once and it belonged to Rolf Harris, children’s entertainer. He would shake his wobble board wildly on stage during his shows to produce wobbly sounds. It was very Australian although I had never seen one before in my life and still haven’t. Abstract Australian.
Rolf Harris’s wobble board was a piece of good, old Australian board, probably a ceiling panel that had blown off some house in the outback during a storm or a hurricane. It was a musical instrument which intrigued his audiences, gave children a lot of joy and Mr Harris some back-up percussion.
And it was quite like our house. Wobbly. Shaking people. Everyone who lived in it and everyone who came to live in it. After three years that included sixteen housekeepers. Not all at once. One at a time. One by one they came. And left in the same way. One by one.
Some came twice. Others we wished would. But the house was wobbly so you needed sure feet and thick, preferably hardened skin to apply for the job of housekeeper. Like a rhinoceros. Or a shell, like a lobster or an armadillo. The job description ran into many animal metaphors.
Plus kindness helped. It also probably helped – a great deal – to have low expectations. Yet hope. Strong hope. Because we needed it. And so would you if you applied.
The job of housekeeper in our house was the job of a zen priest or God. And there were not enough true candidates.
Each time my father would play interviewer. He would introduce the candidates to us only if he liked them. When they left he would ask: “Did you like her?” and we would sort of groan or grunt as commendation or say yes. And they would be hired.
And then fired or they would quit or not show up or run away. Or stay. A few stayed quite a long time. The number sixteen is mostly indicative of the short-runners. Others stayed – for a while at least.
Once my father had to go away for a few weeks. I cannot remember how long. It was a long time. It could have been six weeks. He had to go overseas for what seemed like forever. Things were always more wobbly when he was gone.
His going coincided with the hiring of a new housekeeper, an older lady with an English accent and an unknown regional dialect. We could understand her perfectly well but pretended not to.
His going also coincided with a trip in the other direction of a great aunt from Scotland – my mother’s aunt. She came to visit her relatives – us – and stayed with us because … actually I do not know why she stayed with us but I guess my mother’s flat was too small.
So there we all were, in a wobbly house with no-one in charge because we didn’t respect either of them. Apart from meals and washing and someone to look after my little sister who was small, we could look after ourselves. And we spent all our free time being hideously naughty to the newcomers. Naughty in a sort-of low key way. In a funny way, sort of. We did it for the laughs. Ours. Not usually anyone else’s.
Once our housekeeper asked my brother to go downstairs and bring up the box.
Nobody took any notice and until my brother appeared at the top of the stairs armed with about fifty old books, piled high in his arms so that you could barely see him over the top. And he could barely see out. He had almost made himself disappear.
“Here you are” he said. Still nobody really took much notice. There was always so much going on, my brother just blended in with the other chaos.
“I’ve brought the books” he said. “There are still some more downstairs which I’ll go back and get. Where shall I put these?”
And so we got dragged in. Everyone did, to the latest joke.
“What are you talking about?” asked the housekeeper.
“The books” said my brother. “You asked me to go and get the books and here they all are. Apart from the ones I couldn’t carry.”
I don’t think anyone has ever remembered what the box she had requested was for. But she never got it anyway.
Everyone talks about how the two older women famously didn’t get on - one an employee, one a great aunt. One from England, one from Scotland. We should have known. But all I remember is that we were equally naughty with both of them.
When my father came home, the housekeeper quit and our great aunt flew back to Scotland. To be fair, her trip had come to an end, although to be fairer, she may have pre-empted it’s ending.
The only other person who was allowed in on our jokes – aside from all our friends – was our mother. There were hard things that we didn’t talk about. But we spared her nothing of the rest.
She would listen to the painstaking details. “Oh dear!” she would say, mortified and slightly entertained but wary of showing enjoyment. Yet sometimes it proved too much for her and her half smothered laughter at our antics gave her away. “Try to be good” she counselled, “try not to be so naughty.”
I do not remember if we ever took her advise. I doubt it. Maybe for a second.
Because we only knew how to be ourselves and in our case, it was to wobble a little but more frantically then our house, to balance.