Struggling with rent or hideous housemates? Here's a solution you've probably never thought of.

Is this the solution Joe Hockey has been looking for?

One Saturday afternoon I was busy unpacking boxes in my new flat when there was a knock at my door.

It was a woman telling me her great aunt, who I had just moved in with two days ago, had had a bad fall and was at the local hospital. I needed to pack her a bag and get there right away.

Shit, I thought. What do I pack an old lady who I’ve known for less than 48 hours? Oh God… do I have to go through her undies drawer?!

au pair for the elderly
Author Harriet Farkash. Image: supplied.

I walked out of my little flat, across the garden and let myself into her house through the back door. I rifled through her drawers, feeling a bit like a sicko prowler, trying to think what she would want. Pyjamas. Toothbrush. A book. Hand cream? Old ladies like hand cream, don’t they?

As I made my way to the hospital, to be by the bedside of a woman I had only had a cup of tea with, I wondered what the devil I’d gotten myself into…

You see, a few months earlier I had answered an ad looking for someone to live in a small granny flat, rent and bill free, in exchange for 10 hours of ‘light duties’ a week.

au pair for the elderly
The night Harriet moved in. Image: supplied.

Anyone who forgoes $15 salads for lunch in Sydney in order to make rent, knows just how attractive an offer like this is. Add to the fact the house was located in one of Sydney’s most exclusive suburbs, and I had pretty much alerted HR of my change of address even before I was interviewed.

When I met Lol (AKA Little Old Lady, as she became known), we instantly clicked, despite the fact I don’t have grandparents so my experience with pensioners was limited to the three episodes of Golden Girls I’d seen.

Mentally, she was totally with it, but she had a problem with her leg and couldn’t walk easily without the help of a stick, which made doing some things a bit tricky.

That was where I came in.

I was to look after the cleaning of the kitchen (she had a proper cleaner come once a fortnight though) take her grocery shopping, and take her for a walk around the local shops from 8 – 8.30 every morning.

This circuit was only about 700 metres but it took us the full half hour. We would look in shop windows, sometimes stop by the bakery to get her a treat, and occasionally I’d give the finger to the peak hour drivers honking us when we shuffled across the road at the pace you would expect from an old lady with a bung hip. (Not that she ever saw me do that. She would have been horrified.)

au pair for the elderly
Harriet’s morning walk outlook. Image: supplied.

After a few months of walking together every morning, she became my most unlikely friend and ally. She helped me with work problems, gave wise life advice, and sided with me on how ridiculous men in Sydney are when it comes to dating. (“In my day, we were courted properly. None of this Tinder business. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like it.”)

And I think she liked having me around to keep her walking, keep her thinking and keep her au fait with what was going on with young people – although a lot of it she couldn’t understand. (“Why do young women these days wear such ghastly pants? Your crotch should NOT be at the same level as your knees.”)

Sure, living there did inhibit my lifestyle slightly. You try nonchalantly telling a guy you’ve just met at the bar that you live with an 80 year old! And my boyfriend at the time only stayed over once, not because Lol would’ve cared – in fact, she wouldn’t have known given my little flat had it’s own lane way entrance – but it’s just a bit awks getting busy with a grandma a few yards away watching Downton Abby.

Then there’s the fact the responsibility I felt to ensure she was OK weighed on me. Seeing her in hospital that first day was a wake up call that something so innocuous like a small trip on the stairs could, unlike most flatmate situations, potentially end disastrously.

Despite that though, living with Lol was the absolute best and something I recommend to anyone struggling with rent or hideous flatmates.

au pair for the elderly
“You try nonchalantly telling a guy you’ve just met at the bar that you live with an 80 year old!” Image: supplied.

Sharing a ramshackle townhouse with my friends in my early 20s was epically fun, but in many ways, Lol was the perfect flatty. She never experimented with anything harder than Panadol Rapid, didn’t like heavy metal, never took my beloved Alice McCall dress without asking and – surprisingly, given our 50 plus year age difference – was a real good laugh. Like that time she called me in a tizzy because her email refused to send even though she had written her physical address in the address bar.

After a year there, it was time to pack up and leave. I had saved enough money for a deposit on my own apartment and was ready to move in (someone alert Joe Hockey’s team about this alternate option to getting a new job to solve the housing crisis.)

But still, to this day, I miss Lol, and I’m forever grateful for the unique circumstances, which helped two people to become unlikely flatmates, and even more unlikely friends.

Harriet Farkash is a freelance writer from Sydney with a penchant for windmills. She even did a welding course at TAFE to learn how to make one and was devastated to discover halfway through the course they’re not welded, just screwed together like an Ikea table. You can follow Harriet on Twitter here.

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