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No happy ever after beckons for poor relation Effie

For many years Effie Education had been a maid to her sisters, Heigha and Schola. She sat by the kitchen fire in rags and ate the scraps from their table. She did not know why she was treated this way, but she was used to it, and too busy to indulge in bouts of self pity.

In 1992, however, an astonishing thing happened. Effie received a visit from her fairy godmother, White Paper, who brought with her an invitation to the Corporation Ball. White Paper explained that Effie had become indispensable. She would be given her own budget and would be able to get through even more work because she could buy Hoovers and central heating to help her.

It seemed that the king had only recently noticed that Effie's cousins in other countries were treated much better than she was. Their houses were spick and span and the housekeepers even had time to go to evening classes instead of working all day to achieve an indifferent result. Effie would be given better food and clothes and everyone would appreciate her importance.

Amazed, Effie went off to the ball in her new clothes. There she danced and enjoyed herself - she really had cleaned up a treat - and everyone wanted to talk to her. However, her fairy godmother had warned here to leave at midnight so that she could get up next morning and assume her new position in the household.

Sure enough, next day Effie took delivery of a number of household gadgets designed to make her work more effective. Her sisters were furious because they were used to giving her all their leftovers and all the nastiest jobs to do. Now Effie had time to do the jobs and make her own clothes and meals, so she didn't need their leftovers. Indeed, both her sisters had to bargain with her because she wasn't prepared to be looked down on any more.

Effie had her own chequebook and a larger budget to buy the latest gadgets to help her with the work. Her reputation as a housekeeper meant that she could take on extra work outside her home, for which she was well paid. She was as busy as she had ever been, and it looked like turning into good business.

That is until she noticed that the housekeeping budget seemed to be shrinking. She was more driven to take on extra work to earn enough money to keep her house in order. In the past she would wash out the cleaning rags and clean the grate herself, but she now needed extra money to have the washing machine serviced and the central heating mended. And her sister Schola became especially unpleasant.

Schola seemed to have more money than she knew what to do with, and took pleasure in taking from Effie the household tasks which Effie had found most rewarding. These were the tasks that visitors to the house noticed most. So Schola began to establish herself as someone who could do Effie's jobs just as well as Effie could. She even convinced some people that she could do them more cheaply.

But all Schola's polishing the gold plate and arranging vases of flowers didn't help get the real work done. The chimneys needed repointing. Someone had to dust behind the radiators. Effie was kept busier and busier trying to maintain the house and was also having to go out cleaning in neighbouring houses to pay the bills.

Sometimes, when she had a moment to spare, she would try to tell her father how she felt. Since the visit of her fairy godmother she had gained self confidence. She now felt that she ought to explain to her father that things were not going well. But he wouldn't listen. He said that he was very disappointed if she could not manage better than she had done in the past. She had been able to buy new household gadgets and Schola and Heigha were giving her a hand, he said. What was she complaining about? He had great expectations of her and would be reducing her budget even more to show his confidence in her.

Poor Effie didn't know where to turn. Oh dear, what should she do now?

Anne Smith is principal of John Ruskin College, Croydon.

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