|Kitchen Master Frank|
A Gentleman engaged an employment agency to find for him the perfect Gentleman’s Gentleman. Our American cousins refer to these stalwarts of any decently managed household as ‘
Our Gentleman was offered many Gentleman candidates for this honourable position, all of whom proved dissatisfactory in one way or another.
Having been given one last chance, the Agency sent to their frustrated Gentleman client a certain Mr. Hoddle
On his first day, Mr. Hoddle created upon the mind of his potential employer the most gratifying impression. Polite without being servile. Attentive without being intrusive. Notable for our Gentleman was the skill with which Mr Hoddle had motivated the other household staff to produce a most excellent supper, the loving care with which he had decanted the wine and the inoffensive manner by which he had ejected the ‘hanger’s on' from his Gentleman employer's house.
Our Gentleman was satisfied he had finally found his perfect Gentleman’s Gentleman. All that remained for the man under scrutiny to do to secure a lifetime’s gainful and most honourable employment was to draw a bath for his Gentleman. Unsurprisingly, it was perfect. The water, the correct temperature and laced with just the right amount of salts. As the Gentleman sank beneath the steaming, beautifully scented waters, grateful on so many levels, he let out the most enormous sub-aqua fart. Suffused with embarrassment, he glanced at Hoddle who merely fluffed up a towel preparing it for his Gentleman’s inevitable exit from his bath and retired from the room.
‘Fuck Me!’ thought the Gentleman, who was nouveaux riche and inclined to such outbursts, ‘I am going to employ this guy!’
A little while later there was a discreet tap at the door. ‘Your hot water bottle, Sir’, said Hoddle entering clutching the same.
‘But I never asked for a hot water bottle, Hoddle,’ protested our Gentleman.
‘Begging your pardon, Sir, as you climbed into your bath, I distinctly heard you say ‘whataboutahotwaterbottlehoddle’.
Frank is fourteen years old. Frank isn’t his real name but it is close to his real one and he seems happy with the moniker I have given him. His real name is Francisco. My Father was called Francis but everyone called him Frank. So I called Francisco Frank.
Frank’s father is a serious alcoholic. Coming from me, that is saying something. Two years ago, Frank’s mother died, of exhaustion presumably. That left Frank, at twelve, effectively in charge of the household. I did not know any of this when I met him. To me he was just another kid on the street.
I have had many maids in my time and despite the unending Dor de Cabeça (headache) they have caused me, I only change them out when I move house. Even though they steal like magpies, I always thought along the lines of better the evil you know. The only things I had of my Grandfather were a pair of gold and onyx cufflinks and a tie pin. All I had left of my Father was a gold watch and a pair of gold cufflinks. I had to travel light so was happy with these small tokens. No-one knows what became of them, everyone denies knowledge. Suffice to say, they have gone.
I was delighted, therefore, when as a result of this latest move, our old maid refused to move with us. I can look a man in the eye and tell him he is a useless prick and that if he is still on my property in five minutes I’ll beat him to death with the soggy end of the arm I rip off him but I cannot sack a woman. They get all emotional. They bang on about the kids they have to feed, how near to death they all are and how it will all be my fault when they have to start burying the decaying fruits of their prolific wombs. I did not have to sack my old maid, she refused to walk the extra half kilometre to work so I commiserated and paid her off.
‘What do we do now?’ Marcia asked me.
‘I’ll do it, Marcia,’ I said. And for a month, I did exactly that. I washed and ironed. I sorted out electrical problems. Every night there was a meal on the table, a table I had to restore. I rebuilt broken machines and fixed stuffed up cars. I washed and dried dishes and kept a clean house. I finished off the kitchen installation, unpacked all the boxes and found homes for all our kit. I sorted out the plumbing and realigned the satellite dish so Marcia could watch her soaps on the Portuguese channels. Every day I was up at the restaurant site making sure the guys were working and had everything they needed to keep working. Every evening, I bathed my poisoned foot in salt water and wondered when my toe would finally do the decent thing and fall off.
Back in the old days, before I had a pump installed and a generator to power it, in order to deliver clean water to the locals I had to haul the water up out of the well using a bucket, fill the twenty litre containers and load them up onto my truck before making the deliveries. All that exercise has probably added months to my life so I shan’t complain. It was during this time that I first met Frank. He was the only one that would leap on board the truck and help me. Everyone else took it as their natural birthright that a white haired wheezing old codger should deliver them free water without them having to lift a finger.
I wasn’t sure about Frank when I first met him. He is a tall, gangly youth but decidedly thick, or so I thought at the time. I know my Portuguese is not perfect by any means but Frank’s Portuguese, his mother tongue, was incomprehensible to me. I found my self peering into his mouth wondering if he had a tongue in there so slurred was his diction. Not being in any way politically correct and most mornings a tadge insensitive I decided he was a retard, mentally deficient. Perhaps he had been dropped on his head as an infant or his Creator had not been kind to him when it came to issuing brains. Still, he could swing a
20 litre container of water off the ground
and onto the truck and off again when we were making our deliveries through the
village, and for a skinny kid like him, even if I had to shout at him and dig
him in the ribs to make him understand, he wasn’t bad. I could have 120 containers on the back of
that truck but he knew to whom each belonged and exactly where they should be
dropped off. One volunteer is worth ten
pressed men so even if he had mental issues, I was glad to have him along for
the ride. I respected him, realised that
he had problems but he was a willing young man and certainly not one I would
call stupid even if I could not understand a word he said.
Marcia always got very upset with me when she discovered I had been giving credit in the shop. Or sweets to the kids, powdered milk to poor mothers, tinned sardines and biscuits to fishermen under the usually unfulfilled promise of payment by a portion of their catch. This was why she banned me from the shop. Marcia could not understand why I was going to all the effort to deliver water to what she considered ungrateful neighbours so I could hardly reach into the till and pull out a few Kwanzas to pay this kid for helping me. So I used to pay him with food from the shop. Nothing exotic, just staples; a bag of rice or pulses, sugar, salt, dried meat or fish. That’s all he ever asked for. I’d give it to him when Marcia wasn’t around but usually slip in a few packets of biscuits into his plastic shopping bag. Like I said, the kid wasn’t stupid and he’d figured out the score, I was scared shitless of Marcia so it was our little secret.
Now I have the pump installed on the well. I have piped all the way to the entrance and installed a generator. The locals can come with their containers and help themselves to clean water so my water deliveries have stopped. There’s no need for me to cart water once a day, they can collect it anytime they want. And this presented Marcia with a problem. All the neighbours would see me hanging washing. Visitors would find me rinsing dishes or cooking. This was women’s work and Marcia was embarrassed so she employed another female maid.
The maid lasted three days. Like I say, I don’t like sacking women but I had taken an immediate dislike to this woman. Now I know a lot of people would say that was wrong, a flaw in my character. I just think that people disliking each other on sight is something that happens occasionally. Of course she didn’t help her case by turning up late, leaving early, bitching half the time and spending the rest of it nosing through my stuff. If I had complained to Marcia I know she would have taken my dislike of her choice of staff personally and put it down to me being a grumpy old sod, which I am. So decided I would ‘Constructively’ dismiss the new maid. I loaded the work onto her. Do the dishes. Mop the floors. Do the laundry. Rake the yard. Wipe polish over the floors. Dust the surfaces. Iron the sheets and clothes. Fold them up properly and lay them on the shelves. Not like that, like that. OK, that’s the house sorted, now start on the shop. I wasn’t asking her to do anything I wasn’t already doing.
All my kitchen cupboards are neatly laid out. Theoretically, I should be able to find the utensil or pot I need blindfolded. Not with this one (or most of her predecessors either). They’ll stick an open packet of milk under the sink with the detergents and wonder why I complain about the source of the smell. They’ll jam pots in wall cupboards so the doors won’t close and mix crystal glasses in with cast iron ware and wonder at all the broken glass they have to clean up. Last time I went to the city, the maid took the suit I wore to Marcia’s Mother’s funeral, the only one I could still climb into, and put it through an African hand wash. To be fair, I have put so much weight on in the last couple of years, I need a new suit anyway.
‘She says it’s far too much for her’, said Marcia when I asked her why the maid hadn’t turned up for a week.
‘Fair do’s, I didn’t like her anyway’, I admitted; ‘just another one of those lazy cows who spends all her time emptying our fridges to cook herself a humungous lunch in-between nicking anything valuable’. I could get away with saying that to Marcia now because the maid had left of her own bat claiming overwork and not enough pay as her reasons rather than my irascibility. Here the standard excuse in any kind of labour dispute with a white employer is ‘racism’ so I was doubly grateful that I had not even a finger in her employment or the payment of her salary, and that my hand in getting rid of her had not been recognised.
‘I need a boy to help me clean up the garden,’ I told Marcia, ostensibly changing the subject, ‘I was thinking of Frank.’
‘Frank, Francis, Fransisco, whatever he is called, the boy who used to help me with the water, I like him.’
‘But he’s deaf!’
‘Is he?’ I asked genuinely surprised as hell.
‘You mean you never noticed?’
‘No, I didn’t,’ I admitted, ‘I used to just slap him round the head when I thought he was ignoring me. But I would like him anyway.’
‘How long do you want him for?’
‘Well, as long as it takes. The garden looks like a building site and is strewn with builder’s rubbish and litter. Also, we need to cut the dead palm fronds off the trees; they are a real fire hazard. There’s loads he can do to help me.’
Marcia considered this for a moment.
‘I don’t need a maid, Marcia, I need an extra pair of hands’, I said, risking buying back the deal.
‘I think that is a good idea,’ Marcia said, ‘but I will pay him his salary in food from the shop. He has two younger brothers and a baby sister to look after. If I give him money his father will steal it to buy whisky.’
‘Now THAT is an excellent idea!’ I said, closing the deal.
So Frank came onto the payroll (food roll).
Never mind all the other things this lad can do well (the garden is getting towards immaculate, his timekeeping perfect), boy can he keep a clean kitchen! Everything is in its place. There is not only a dustbin in the kitchen (a recycled
20 litre paint container he had the sense to
retrieve), it has a plastic liner. It is
these little touches that count for so much.
He never greets me in the morning on his punctual arrival by enquiring (like
a cloying sycophant) after my health or whether I enjoyed a good night’s
sleep. A fresh packet of cigarettes
always appears on my desk yet I never seem to be able to either fill the
ashtray or run out of whisky. He ALWAYS
knows where I have left my car keys, telephone or sandals yet I never see
him! How can a boy who I now know to be largely
deaf, learn how to creep about the place the way he does?
I hated it, you have no idea how badly I hated it, when maids helped themselves to anything I had in the fridge and scoffed the bloody lot. If I complained, I was being unreasonable. What right does an employee have to eat off my bone china using silver cutlery when we make do on a daily basis with Chinese porcelain and stainless steel? I wouldn’t have minded if they had fed me and Alex a slice or two but all of them happily watched the little boy starve.
Frank asked for permission to gnaw on a day old bread roll. I wasn’t having anything of that. He likes eggs I discovered. So does Alex and so do I. So I taught him how to make scrambled eggs on toast. Not the scrambled eggs they make here, merely tossing a few into a vat of oil, stirring them around a bit and then serving a heart attack on a plate. No, I taught him how to whisk the eggs nicely in a bowl, adding a bit of salt and ground black pepper, a little bit of milk and then introducing the fluffy mixture into a pan only lightly greased with butter, banging the lid on and letting nature take its course while the bread, neatly sliced in half, crisped up in the oven. I showed him what a cheese grater was and how with its product we could dust the omelette before slipping it out of the pan and serving it and how much nicer it all tasted if one was sitting at a table with a pot of decent tea, full cream milk, sugar and a bit of indulgent tomato ketchup. I only had to show him once. Goodness, if this lad can encourage Alex to sit at the table every morning and eat a decent breakfast he’s worth his weight in gold. I might even be tempted to eat breakfast myself if he added a few mushrooms.
Entirely separately, Marcia and I had come to the same conclusions. Maids are generally useless and this boy deserves a bit of a bunk up to look after his siblings.
As an aside, I am beginning to think Frank's deafness is psychological, a device against his abusive father and everyone else who took the piss out of him when he was a scared and very lonely little boy. I have snuck up on him a couple of times and softly called out his name, ‘Frank’ I’m the only one who calls him by that name, and he has turned round every time. Others can scream ‘Francisco’ until their lungs turn inside out.
He knows I know. But that’s Ok. So long as he keeps my kitchen cabinets in order and sneaks the odd bottle of whisky out of the shop for me, it can stay our little secret can’t it?
Being selectively deaf is a huge attribute for a Gentleman’s Gentleman.