Radio review: A cleaner sees the seamier side of life

Nuala McCann

Maid Book of the Week Radio 4

Having missed a trick with Michelle Obama – her autobiography, Becoming, was broadcast last November but alas, is no longer available on iPlayer – I keep a keen ear open for books coming up.

Chambermaids, I've known a few – we all did stints with mop and bucket when we were students.

You never know what turns up in the poshest of bathroom bins or who opens the door to maid.

A friend said she once tapped on the door of the hotel where she worked many moons ago only to come face to face with Tina Turner.

“Tina is tiny, truly tiny and the hair's a wig,” she used to say with true authority.

This week's Book of the Week, Maid, was familiar territory. It was the tale of how Stephanie Land – a single mother - struggled as a cleaner in modern America to support her daughter, Mia, and fuel her dream of becoming a writer.

Write what you know, they say, so she did. She wrote about tearing up her college application after she found out she was pregnant.

There were harsh and ugly times when her daughter was small. There was desperation - a life lived on peanut butter sandwiches, boiled eggs, rationing the coffee to save money.

“It was just Mia and me,” she wrote – there was no-one to rescue them.

So she became a cleaner and quickly learned the new girl always got the bathrooms.

She found out that you could have all the beautiful pink fluffy towels and curtains covered in pink roses as you like, but that didn't mean the toilet wasn't horrific.

She had nicknames for the houses she cleaned – the cigarette house, the porn house complete with a bottle of ‘lube' and a copy of Hustler.

She detailed the receipts for rugs that were more expensive than her car and the bill for the dry cleaner that could have paid for half her wardrobe.

Some of her employers were nameless and faceless but others were like Wendy.

This was a bittersweet listen – keenly observed, funny, dry, direct, unflinching.

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