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On Speaking to The Cleaning Ladies
Noblesse Oblige and Petty Sedition
READERS may be aware that since being released from prison for benefit fraud I have been employed at the local council as an administrative assistant. I did not find this position myself, having never had any ambition to work for the state. Instead it was found for me.
Before I was even halfway through my prison sentence, Mother informed me that she had contacted her cousin Adrian (who pertains to the last middle-middle class branch of the family) in order to secure me employment upon my return. Cousin Adrian occupies the position of City Council Chief and, with some clever manipulation of my DBS certificate, was able to slot me in.
At council headquarters, I am largely responsible for approving housing extension applications from elderly residents, and rejecting building proposals from construction companies. While I have referred to myself in previous posts as a “minor civil servant”, I am informed by the Local Government Association that my role is properly named council officer, given that I have no direct influence over the operation of government, neither national nor local, nor over anything at all which is considered “consequential”.
This to me seems a petty distinction. In Mediterranean countries, any and all persons employed by the government are permitted to call themselves Civil Servants, regardless of the relative importance or triviality of their role. In any case, Mother is already under the impression that I am a Civil Servant, and has said as much to her friends. I would hate to disappoint her, and will continue to refer to myself as a minor Civil Servant both in these pages and at her dinner parties, regardless of the perceived accuracy of that term.
Being, as I am, only a minor Civil Servant, I have developed a silent contempt for my superiors (the major Civil Servants and the local Politicians), and a gentle paternalism for my inferiors (the cleaning staff). To the latter I have made my affection clear, frequently greeting them with a chirpy “Good evening!” in the corridors as they pick up the crisp packets which my coworkers and I have strewn on the floor, or otherwise encouraging them with a hearty “there you go!” as they rub a particularly tough coffee stain off my desk.
I have taken pride in my friendliness toward the cleaning staff, given that it is a completely unnecessary extension of kindness on my part. I have often thought that, had I been born under completely different circumstances, with no natural ability, with little intelligence, and without an influential uncle, I too might have found myself in their lowly position. This thought alone has been sufficient reason for my continuing to treat them as ordinary people.
The reader can imagine how wounded I was, then, when I overheard one of the cleaning ladies refer to me as “that creep that always grins at me”, and how that knife twisted when her coworkers laughed in apparent approval of this appellation.
What thanklessness! On many occasions I had even stayed behind late, pretending to read some form or other (which had already been rejected) so that I might be able to greet the cleaning staff when they arrived. I even had the decency to point out what needed cleaning (and to what degree) so that they might make better use of their time and be back home for their chippy dinner.
When we were on more amicable terms, I noticed that the cleaners would often pass over some mess or other, or otherwise neglect their duties. I would graciously overlook this, and when it was obvious to them that I had noticed, intimate to them that mum was the word, feeling that my deliberate oversight would strengthen our comradery.
I realise now that this was irresponsible.
Anyone who knows the Civil Service will tell you that the only way to rise in the ranks is to assassinate the character of those above you. Knowing now their duplicitous nature, I believed that this may have been the intention of the cleaners, as they occupied the only wrung in the hierarchy below mine. I had frequently witnessed them break protocol, though never testified against them. But I had failed to consider the very real possibility that the cleaners may be agents of the council, deliberately planted to test me.
I decided, then, to report every infraction of health and safety which I observed. This was not out of a sense of maliciousness, but rather self-preservation. I soon gathered evidence, both written and photographic, of disregard for fire safety regulations (leaving a heavy rubbish bag in a designated fire exit) and of one serious health and safety oversight (failure to notice an opening in a wall which may have contained asbestos.)
These infractions just so happened to have been carried out by the cleaner who called me a “creep”. Several days after I submitted my evidence anonymously to the council, she no longer appeared on site. Since then, the morale of the other workers seems to have improved enormously. Now it is the cleaners who greet me with a smile, calling me “Sir” and offering to make me coffee when they find me at my desk. I had suspected that this cleaning lady’s influence on the other cleaners might be somewhat pernicious, but I had little idea of the extent to which she had corrupted the good nature of her coworkers.
They are, without that seditious witch, a rather lovely bunch. What’s more, they are highly efficient. In the last few days I have seen little to nothing reportable in their behaviour, and envisage for them a rather long and productive career cleaning the Council Office.
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