I’ve always found myself confused by office cleaners. They work for the same company as you, but, by their very twilight existence, they are not entirely part of the same workforce. This is reflected in the slightly offish relationship between the office staff and the cleaners who tidy after them, the words “miserable bastards” bandied about by both sides.
After years of working in an office environment, I have come to the conclusion that, in the main, office cleaners fall into three groups:
a) Slightly older women who would screw you to the desk given half the chance, providing they know the rules of the “Dear Fiesta” letter. In fact, this is the only reason they took the job.
c) Normal ones who only last about three weeks before something better comes along, away from that creepy looking guy who appears to be taking notes.
I’ve seen my fair share of category c), who come, empty your bins, might chat a bit and then leave, never to be seen again, until they try to run you over in a bus.
Now, category a) – there was this time when I worked in the head office of one of the country’s major tyre dealers where I had to lock myself in the computer room on evening shifts. I believe that particular lady became the template for those “Norty and Forty” magazines you might see on the top shelves of newsagents whilst purchasing “Private Eye”, and fed bewilderment into my young, impressionable mind and easily confused swonnicles. She was, like all other cleaners of her generation, called Brenda, and give you a clue here, this was simply so she could have the word “Big” put at the front of her name.
Luckily, I managed to put her off the scent by accidentally leaving a paper cup full of urine on my desk for a whole bank holiday weekend [a tale of mank I am certain I have told before]. But - you know how it gets in the office when you’re working to a deadline… you just forget to throw your piss out of the window like normal people.
This was a faux pas so bad, that she left a note. “Plese empty you’re cups plese”. We could never have swapped bodily juices. That grammar.
Which brings us onto the lunatics. I’m a normal, well balanced person as you all know. I can put up with enormous levels of idiocy, rudeness or office cleaners before I even think of writing it up for a blog post.
I’ve even done cleaning jobs myself – our school actually paid older pupils to do the job after hours, saving themselves huge amounts of money by paying slave wages, and simultaneously freeing up the caretaker to scrape greenies off the toilet walls. I’ve been there, and only saw teachers snogging and touching each others’ wobbly parts on the one occasion, and names WILL be named unless I receive certain payments, pretty damn pronto.
Which brings us to Zombie Dave. Oh yes. Dave.
Zombie Dave was our office cleaner. First impressions count, and I’m afraid that the first time I clapped eyes on Dave, the word “git” sprang immediately to mind. And I was right! National Health specs, held together in the Jack Duckworth style with a knob of sellotape. Hair cut by his mum, who wasn’t allowed sharp objects. V-neck tank top, and always, always the bike clips and ill-fitting cycle helmet, which he never took off. You guessed it – he rode a Raleigh Shopper with a big basket on the front.
Uncharitable types simply wrote Dave off as “touched in the head”, but to dismiss him so simply would do him a disservice. He was, simply, not on the same planet as the rest of us. We would do the work more than adequately, but did it in such as way that you were convinced that he was eyeing you up for cuts of meat, sexual favours, or both.
At that time, I worked in the laid-back world of the Radio Telegraphy section – literally intercepting news agency copy as it was radioed from point-to-point in the days before they had the internet, I pulled the early shift tuning in the receivers and watching as the news chuntered out slowly from a batch of printers. A primitive system, but the section came with an impressive bank of receivers and decoders, each with its own flashing LED display, which would light up like Knight Rider if you had a good signal.
With all twelve receivers locked in, it was a reasonably awe-inspiring sight to the easily awe-inspired, and you could sit, feet up, listening to local phone calls on the research receiver. Not that I would do that kind of thing, you understand.
To Dave, it was the most incredible thing he had ever seen.
He would stand in front of the beast, transfixed as the LEDs lit up his milk-bottle glasses, and would stand there for up to ten minutes at a time, just staring, rubbish sack slumped by his side. As a special treat, I’d sometimes turn the speaker on for him, the warbling sound of the RTTY signals adding the extra dimension to whatever went on in his head.
Then, suddenly, he’d snap out of it, and would simply walk off. He never spoke.
Except on the one occasion.
He stood there, eyes on my throbbing monster on that sunny Sunday morning, watching the lights speed across the displays with his usual vacant stare, as his day-glo cycle clips sat uselessly on his ankles and the bike helmet saved him from any unexpected head injuries from flying fax rolls.
Then, suddenly, a light came on inside his head and he articulated the contents of his mind.
“It’s all space,” he said he said to my total indifference.
"It's all space," he repeated.
“It’s alllll space.”
And the floodgates opened.
“It’s all space. It goes up into space, goes all the way round the universe, round the stars an’ planets an’ comets an’ galaxies an’ spaceships, gets beamed down here an’ it’s all from space. Space. That’s what it is. It’s all space.”
I didn’t quite know how to take this sudden, extraordinary revelation. So I laughed. Long and hard.
Luckily, this inappropriate interruption didn’t end in my instant and painful death, and he simply picked up his rubbish sack, and ambled from the room, still saying “It’s all space” to himself. If I had known about tin foil helmets at the time, I would have made him one, and then knocked one out for myself. It might have helped.
Alas, Dave’s time with us was limited. New technology had arrived, and the News Agency Section was combined with other departments and eventually scrapped altogether as satellites and internet took over; while the cleaners were expected to operate the latest cleaning, polishing, and blanco-ing machinery. All except Zombie Dave.
“Zombie Dave”, he was told in no uncertain terms by the fearsome ex-army Sergeant-Major who kept the building running, “touch the new floor polisher and I’ll have your bollocks off.”
The next day, they separated him from two grand’s worth of formerly brand new floor polisher, gave him his cards, and heaved the smouldering wreck into the skip. Why pay good money to watch a rodeo when you get the real thing in the comfort of your own office? Nice of them to let him keep the mains lead, though – mainly because they couldn’t get the knots undone, and the fire brigade were laughing too much to be of any help.
Zombie Dave has now defected to become the office cleaner’s natural enemy: the hospital porter. Never get ill.