Dot writes: this week I have been mostly interviewing childminders. It’s oddly difficult, because after the swift practical questions have been asked – when are you available and how much do you charge? – the task is to invent things to talk about while trying to work out if I, and more importantly Hugh, could trust and like this person. So far I have seen: the woman with the black brick drive and the multiple enormous televisions (no); the formidably qualified woman who lives round the corner and slightly terrifies me (a possible, though expensive); a woman in Dun Laoghaire with whom I instantly felt at ease, meaning I forgot to ask for her CV or references (my favourite, but she probably can’t offer all the days we need); and Sitra. Rather a lot of this week was taken up trying to interview Sitra.
Sitra is from Mauritius. I was a little doubtful about interviewing her out of somewhat incoherent feelings of moral unease at the phenomenon of underpaid immigrant labour. She is one of those brave people who leave their families to work in rich, unfriendly countries: her husband is working on a cruise liner and her baby daughter – only seventeen months old – is back in Mauritius. Still, on the phone she was soft-spoken and pleasant and I reflected that she would rather have a job than not. I asked her to come to see me on Tuesday afternoon at 2pm and told her the address.
Around 12 on Tuesday, having arranged my day so I could be in until late afternoon, I got a call from a woman who sometimes employs Sitra in a pharmacy asking on her behalf for directions to our flat. It emerged that Sitra thought she was coming round on Wednesday. I was fairly sure I’d said Tuesday, but it was a bit late to summon her that day so I gave the directions as carefully as I could and found something else to do. On Wednesday I again arranged to be in and waited for Sitra to arrive. By 2.25 no-one had appeared and it was apparent that something was up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Sitra’s number, but I did have the number of the woman in the pharmacy. So I rang her and obtained the number for Sitra’s mobile. (This would all have been much harder – or, depending on how you look at it, much simpler – in the days before mobile phones.) I was rather worried I had made some stupid error in my directions, such as saying right when I meant left.
I rang Sitra and tried to work out where she was. On coming out of the station, had she turned left? No, she had turned right and gone past the car-park (i.e. exactly the wrong direction). Could she tell me where she was now? She could see a cottage. (Not very helpful). How far was she from the DART station? About three minutes. I asked her if she could find her way back to the station and ring me from there. She said yes and I rang off.
There was another long pause. I called her again. Very sweetly she told me that she was out of call credit but hadn’t liked to mention it. However, she had gone back to the station. I tried to talk her through her walk up from the station: turn left out of the station and start to walk up the gentle slope with the green wire fence and the railway track on your left and the road and a stone wall on your right. Is there a wire fence on your left? No, she said, there was a wall on her left. It could have been the station wall, but at this point I gave up and told her I’d come and meet her at the station.
I decided to take the car, because by this point the poor girl had been wandering around Killiney for the best part of an hour, and it’s a hilly place. I transferred Prawn to his car-seat and drove down to the station. There was no-one there who could possibly have been Sitra. The only person present was the man in the ticket office. I asked him if he had seen a woman of Indian appearance hanging around, and he said no, but he had only come on duty half an hour before. He kindly offered to let her phone from his office phone should she turn up and want to contact me. So I drove back up to Ballybrack, wondering where on earth she had got to.
Just as I was about to turn back down Shanganagh Road I noticed a dark-skinned woman standing by the wall of the Apple Green petrol station. Boldly taking my chance, I turned into the petrol station, leapt out of the car, and asked ‘Are you Sitra?’ And she was. (This illustrates how rare dark-skinned women are in south County Dublin.) She was an hour and ten minutes late for her interview.
I’m afraid I’m not going to give her the job. I suspect the mix up over directions was partly my fault, but the episode does suggest we wouldn’t communicate very well. She was polite and charming, but Hugh screamed when she picked him up, possibly because of the very strong perfume she wore (also she is extremely beautiful and I don’t want to subject Ken to temptation). I said I would let her know. I should try to give some useful feedback without being too brutal. I don’t think it would be too brutal to suggest she buys a map.