Ruth Arnison


On being a chambermaid

1. Turn back Instructions

Knock, call out ‘room service.’ Unlock door,
close curtains, turn back bed covers,
refold bathroom towels.

Be wary of males demanding clean towels,
while whipping wet ones from
their bathroom hips.

Be especially alert to bedded men
insisting you turn back
their covers.

2. Naïve

No one on your floor leaves tips. The day
your workmate is ill you collect

Always going ahead unlocking doors
to save you carrying weighty keys,
no longer a believable thoughtfulness.

3. Christmas

There are toys to rival Hamleys. Once families depart,
we wade through passels of unopened parcels.

Antipodean maids lean over mullioned Dower
House windows catching snow and a sighting,

Cliff Richard arriving for dinner. Nearly,
but not quite, the white cliffs of Dover.

4. Living in – the Dower House

January 28. Turkey rissoles, turkey loaf, turkey
wellington, still appear nightly. Staff meals
are not gobbled up.

8pm, a guest wants an evening dress ironed,
now. I carry the silk creation back to my room,
place it on the ironing board,

press firmly with both hands. She is well pleased,
tips me generously.

5. Language difficulties

Madeleine is struggling. She serves shrimps
to a guest and comments, I ’ope you enjoy
ze parsnips.

Chef refuses to allow kiwis in his dining room
until we have elocution lessons, starting
with ‘fish.’

An emergency. Chambermaids are called in
to wait on the hunt banquet. An afternoon
spent with spoons, forks and peas

learning silver service techniques.
Tonight elocution is of no importance,
apart from minding peas and queues.

6. Escape

The Aussies have Joey, a mobile rubbish tip,
for their off days. Butts, empty crisp and
cigarette packets carpet the seats ’n floor.

The English porter hitches a lift into town,
comments, ‘sure looks like the Aussies
won the ashes.’

We laugh, swear we’ll remember that line
forever. I’ve just rerememebered it, forever
is longer than I thought.

7. Entertainment

We occupy an empty room to prove mythical
the hauntings. When bathroom doors creak
and curtains groan we flee.

The night porter releases his sons,
easily earned pocket money
to see kiwis fly.

8. Moving on

The Aussies and Kiwis are checking out
with backpacks, winter savings and
loads of tips.

The housekeeper is suspicious. She had
plans to spring the annual clean on us



Trying to inspire her art class she said,
Girls, think about Vincent, then,
paint like crazy.



Ruth is the admin person for a research team at the Dunedin School of Medicine in New Zealand. Her poems have been published in literary journals, anthologies, and ezines in NZ, Australia, the UK and US. She is the editor of Poems in the Waiting Room (NZ) (