They feature daily in headlines and TV debates. But how often do you hear their own voices? The OWL has spoken to Ruta, 40, an immigrant from Lithuania. She told us about her Mondays and her life as a cleaning lady
Mondays I am rested because I’ve had Sunday off. I get up at 6 and have breakfast, 3 duck eggs and a slice of toast. I live in a nice flat in Kentish Town, which I share with only one other girl. It’s two bedrooms and a patio and it’s the nicest place I’ve lived since I first came to London.
When I arrived ten years ago, I was in a house in Barking with eleven other people. Not that I needed much space, I only brought my clothes, a set of cutlery and some personal treasures; a silver necklace with a pendant and my christening mug. I have a degree from university in Vilnius, but at the time my English wasn’t very good, so a lady from the village back home put me in contact with a cleaning agency and helped me set up a bank account and find the Barking house. She charged £100 for her services, almost all the money I had.
My first jobs were horrible, hotels where you only got treated nicely if you slept with the boss and agencies that took almost half your wages. The houses I lived in were grim too. In one place, we had a burglary and my silver pendant and christening mug were stolen. There was no insurance. In fact, there was not even a lease. Eventually, we all got thrown out because our landlord had not paid rent to his landlord.
Over the years, my English improved, partly because I speak to everybody and partly because I read whatever I can get my hands on. Metro and The Evening Standard are good, because they’re free and keep me up to date. If there are things I don’t understand, I ask my clients. There is always somebody who knows about the particular topic.
After a few years in London, I started finding my own clients via mouth-to-mouth referrals. (Some of them test me at first, often by laying out small amounts of cash randomly around the house. I collect it and leave it on the kitchen table with a note. If somebody persists, I sacrifice a few pounds of my own and add to the little pile they have casually ‘misplaced’. That normally sorts it out). But nowadays, I have a good relationship with all of my clients. They care about me and I care about them, the only downside being that I tend to take their problems home with me. They also give me lots of things, furniture, and clothes and money for Christmas, which I save. I would like to buy a property one day and now that I no longer send money to my parents, I manage to put aside a good deal every year, which I save in an ISA.
I have sixty-nine scheduled ours of work every week, spread across fifteen families plus the baby-sitting. Sometimes I’m offered more regularity, like four hours a day in one household and although it would mean less commuting, it would also mean I’d be more dependent. I prefer the freedom. Mondays, however, are easy as I only have three places to go. A large house near Hampstead Heath, an office in Kentish Town and a small flat in Kilburn.
Unless I have evening babysitting, I am normally home at about nine pm on a Monday. Then I pick a meal from the freezer (I cook for the whole week on a Sunday). I eat my meal whilst watching a bit of television. I like MasterChef and Bake Off. And documentaries as they help me improve my English. Bedtime is ten. I have to get up at 5.30 on a Tuesday.
One thing that hurts me is when I hear people on public transport or in the media talk badly about Eastern European immigrants. It’s a myth that we come here to get benefits. In fact, the opposite is true. We come here because London represents incredible opportunity to progress and achieve things. If you adapt to local rules, work hard and treat people kindly, then after the storm you meet sunshine.
Out of discretion to her clients, Ruta didn’t wish her real name to appear online. But the OWL knows her identity. If you have any questions for her, you can submit these via our comments section. We will then pass them on.