The owners of our boat have brought their maid to join us for the summer. This is great for me because there are differences between galley girls and ladies’ maids. Galley girls don’t lay out clothes and ladies’ maids don’t winch anchors, for one. Galley girls know where everything on the boat is stored and maids know what to do with it all. While I have been trusted to store our umpteen different sets of table linen, the choice is determined by the maid. This pretty dinner for two was arranged a few nights ago by her as a surprise to celebrate the owners’ wedding anniversary.
With the owners dispatched to the shore on a ruse thought up by their daughter, the maid had twenty minutes to arrange the table, sneak the flowers up from her bathroom where she had managed to have them smuggled to during the day, prepare bowls of nuts and fruits on beds of ice, frost the champagne glasses, light the candles and scatter shells across the tablecloth. (Shells because it was a subtle sea-sidey theme – as you might guess.)
Skipper and I gave an extra polish to the glass and chrome, retrieved the poshest champagne ice bucket from under the floor, put the smoochy french music in the CD player and waited on the swimming platform to help the owners on board when they arrived in the tender.
It did all look very pretty.
But that was it. It was a dinner table without dinner. Anyway, the owners duly took in the surprise: the Boss was delighted and the First Lady clapped her hands and became a little tearful. Skipper opened the champagne and we were invited to join them and their daughter in a toast to their marriage. They danced on deck to “I found my love in Portofino’ – but none of the maid’s work was touched. They had already arranged to go out to dinner on shore, so after less than half an hour they got back in the tender, left for a restaurant, and the maid cleared it all away again.
I confess to being fascinated by the role of a lady’s maid. Not in the way that I would like to be one – I’m just in awe of the dedication of time and energy that one woman is prepared to devote to another. The First Lady’s maid packs and unpacks suitcases endlessly, discards the plastic hangers that come from the laundry and changes them for wooden ones; mends and irons tiny garments and keeps an eagle eye on the provisioning of her Lady’s underwear drawer. She moves at the speed of light whenever she is summoned and silently complies with requests for coffee and trays of biscuits and bowls of nuts and prepares meals at all times of day – first for this child, then the next, who has just got out of bed – and never makes a murmur of complaint. She picks up discarded clothes, rushes forward with bathing towels whenever the Boss, First Lady or a child emerge from the water and retreats to another part of the boat when she is not needed. She detangles washed hair, rinses out bikinis and has learned to hang them on the guard rail to dry. She is also psychic: countless times I have seen her burst out of her room like a terrier after a rabbit even before her name has even been called by the First Lady.
What doesn’t a maid do? She doesn’t clean. Not bedrooms, not bathrooms and certainly not the galley. She doesn’t make beds. She absolutely does not empty bins. The maid knows where she is in the hierarchy of service: those are the galley girl’s job. She also never eats either with us or her employers while we are on board. When we are out for the day and drop anchor for lunch on shore our lovely owners will often invite us all to join them. Skipper and I sit down and talk with them. And the maid? She gets out her phone and completes another level of Candy Crush Saga.