By RICHARD GLOVER
It's hard to get good help these days, particularly around the home, but many young Sydneysiders have come up with an ingenious solution. They have a middle-aged couple who they allow to live-in.
"It works perfectly," said Phil, a 22-year-old man, interviewed for this article. "They are on-hand to do all the practical work around the house – cooking, cleaning, gardening and so forth – but have each other for company. The pair I have are really quite sweet together."
Phil's middle-aged couple live in the main bedroom of the house and have full rights to come and go as they please. "As long as all the work is done, and the place is neat, I really don't care what they do. I give them complete freedom."
In most cases, the arrangement has been in place for as long as anyone can remember. "They've been around since I was born", said Marco, 32, another young householder, "Come to think of it, the two of them brought me home from the hospital. On occasion, I've even left the house for a couple of years, but, when I return, they are still here, and everything is in working order. I love the way I can walk out knowing that everything will be taken care of."
In most cases the middle-aged couple do all the shopping, most of the cleaning and pay all the bills – including electricity, gas, council rates and sometimes even the cost of the internet.
Says Tim, a 21-year-old from Concord, "I have some friends who don't have an middle-aged couple living in their house and frankly it's hard for me to know how they cope. I mean who pays the bills? Who handles the dirty dishes and stuff? What do they eat when it's dinner time? It really has me beat."
Of course, like all domestic arrangements, there are occasional problems. Amy, a 28-year-old from Menai, says the only negative is the way her own middle-aged couple sometimes behave as if they own the place.
"Of course," she says, "technically speaking they do. They bought it when I was five years old. But that's no excuse for them roaming around the property at will, especially when I have friends over."
Amy enjoys watching edgy comedies such as Girls, Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer with a group of what she calls "gal pals". "I'm open-minded, and so are my friends, but there are shows which are just not appropriate for an middle-aged couple. It makes us self-conscious to have the two of them in the room, especially when they laugh at the jokes."
Amy paints a disturbing picture of herself gathered with a few friends in the home's kitchen/living room. "It will be 8 or 9 o'clock at night and the two oldies will come out three or four times – opening and closing the fridge, trying to find their reading glasses, getting a glass of water, sometimes even making conversation with my friends."
Amy groans with embarrassment. "I think people should treat their middle-aged couple with respect, but respect is a two-way street. They have a perfectly nice front bedroom in which they are free to spend their evenings."
Tim, 23, from Bondi, agrees it's not always plain sailing. "No really, my two are great – except when they say that I treat the place like a hotel. I always reply: 'well, helloooo, if you think you're running a hotel, you'll need to try a bit harder with the thread count on the sheets. And where's my room service?'"
Dig a little deeper, though, and there's a real affection among many of these young people towards their live-in help.
Tina, 39, seems particularly fond of the male half of her couple: "Occasionally I have to remind the old bloke about the state of the garden – especially if I'm having guests over – but most of the time he's a real self-starter. And what a loveable old dear. The middle-aged lady pretty much supervises herself. She's great. Sometimes I think she has even higher standards than myself!"
So what's in it for the middle-aged couples? I attempted to interview several for this article, but kept getting the brush-off. "Love to speak," said one, "but I'm just too busy cleaning up after last night. Amy had some friends over to watch the DVD of Broad City. Don't tell her, but Leo and I are catching up on it today. It's wickedly funny and actually a little bit sexy."
I could tell the woman couldn't wait to get off the phone.
"Maybe," she said, "we could talk once the kids leave home – sometime around January 2026? In the meantime, I don't want to keep Leo waiting."
She hung up, with what I took to be a lascivious giggle.
I suppose that is the thing with these middle-aged couples. Sure they have a busy household to run, and all the expenses to cover. Just occasionally, though, they do get the house to themselves.