The cleaner

When the home help’s free and easy way with the scourers rubs her employer up the wrong way, he turns to dirty tricks…

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“It’s happened again,” Myles called. “She’s damn well done it again.”

“Done what?” said Anne from the kitchen table. Myles raised a sudsy mug from the sink.

“Thrown away the sponge scourer! Every time she chucks it away…”

“Are there any – ”

“No, there are none under the sink. Do they think sponge scourers are disposable in Venezuela?”

“Colombia, I think.”

Anne, after 10 years of marriage, was used to his little monologues. She lifted her toast up in one hand and addressed her remarks to it rather than to her husband.

“Darling,” she said. “These sponge things are about…” she wasn’t sure of this so she guessed “…a pound each or something, and last year between us we earned three quarters of a million, which buys – ”

“It’s a point of principle,” Myles huffed. “It’s not Danone’s sponge scourer to throw away. Next time I’m docking her wage.”

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“She’s not called Danone, either,” said his wife briskly. “That’s a type of yogurt.”

The next day, there was a Conversation between the master of the house and the Lady Who Does. It concerned sponge scourers, a concept infuriatingly hard for an English monoglot to explain to a near‑monoglot of Colombian Spanish, especially in the absence of a concrete example of the same.

The conversation did not go well. The problem was that when the English monoglot, appropriately infuriated, finally got his meaning across – by means of a succession of charades-style mimes and Spanglish grunts – the Spanish monoglot did the worst thing she could possibly have done. Danna – which was actually her name – burst out laughing. She might have sat down on the floor. Tears might have been wiped from eyes.

Apologies were, in due course, dutifully tendered – but the damage was done. Myles was a man accustomed to being taken seriously. You could say he was a little pompous about himself: about 5ft 4 little, in fact. And when, the following week, his neighbour’s Colombian gardener greeted him with a broad smile and an exact replica of his mime of someone scouring out a coffee mug, Myles saw red.

He did on impulse something he had never done before and would – had he not been in such a rage – have considered spiteful in a way that shamed him. He placed a call to the Home Office indicating that a certain Danna Pérez of such and such an address might have outstayed her tourist visa and been working as a domestic cleaner for cash-in-hand.

Immediately afterwards, his conscience niggled him – was it petty, over a tiny bit of cleaning equipment? No. It wasn’t about the sponge scourers. It was a point of principle. It was about discretion. And it was about respect. In any case, what was done was done. Danna took being fired pretty well – he even sweetened the pot by a tenner on her last day by way of appeasing his guilt for what was coming to her.

What Myles could not have foreseen was what was coming to him. It was not the Home Office who surprised him with a call, six months later – the unpleasant episode with Danna then quite forgotten and Perdita now doing very nicely with the dusting. It was Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

They had been passed some information in relation to his status as a non-domiciled taxpayer. A close observer – who was willing to testify in exchange for certain indulgences – had suggested that he might have spent more than the maximum 183 days last year in the UK that would allow him to qualify for the tax status he claimed.

Yes: someone who had first-hand knowledge of his presence in the house. And they had kept a record. No, not to worry. He’d be hearing in writing soon enough. Just a courtesy call, to start with. And there was no need for that sort of language, sir. Yes. Good day.

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A few days later it was a gloomier Myles who received an unexpected parcel in the post. He opened it and pulled out a two-pack of Essential Waitrose sponge scourers. On reflection, it was a mistake for Anne to laugh.

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