Sunday, December 4, 2011

1984 - ROOM 101

Blogging has been somewhat light this last couple of weeks as I took a trip back in time to 1984 when I worked in KwikSave as an early morning cleaner.

Asked to help out as cover in a "bank" sense, I thought it would be interesting to get back to mingling with the "normal" people in the outside world in the "normal" job that I used to do before qualifying as a journalist, and test this theory that only we "smokerlooneys" care about lifestyle choice and we are all making a big fuss about something the general offline public don't give a damn about.

I didn't realise, however, until I started work as a cleaner that the location was my own version of Room 101 - GP surgeries. Pretty much everywhere I went with my cloth, dustpan and brush, mop and bucket, and clinical waste bags, were warnings about MRSA and Pseudomonas and of course the propagandist anti-smoker posters plastered mostly in the patient waiting rooms.

Smoke Free shoves appeared on all four walls with just one small poster on skin cancer although the tables were stacked with leaflets warning about every kind of illness or disease imaginable or unheard of.

Worst of all was the fear that I'd go down with something nasty as the surgeries had no ventilation, no open windows, the heating was on full blast, work was done in tropical temperatures, and the regular staff I covered for were off sick with bronchitis which, on the return of one, was blamed on the germs, coughs, colds, flus, and other bugs brought in daily by patients visiting their doctor.

The pay was low at just over £6 an hour and the hours worse which means that I'd have to work for a month before I could afford a week's food shopping. These cleaners who work for the public sector workers are not in a union and they have no protection. And while their masters in the NHS moan about their gilt-edged pensions being lowered, bread line paid and to some extent exploited, domestic staff have no protection from the bosses of these unions said to be on £100,000 a year.

Cleaners can only survive by having more than one job and finding even one job is hard these days.

The lady who took me on was herself an ex-smoker. She was warned not to bring up the subject with me as I have that Basil Fawlty "Don't Mention The War" response when it's mentioned. She did when she asked if I was a smoker and impressed upon me that the buildings I'd work in were smoke free and their grounds too. I told her that the law demands no one smoke in public indoor places anymore but what I did in my own time was my own business. She agreed and said the war on smokers had gone over the top.

She would have no problem in allowing smokers to socialise inside public places with other smokers and tolerant non smokers. She doesn't believe the passive smoking scam either.

As someone who also knows parents of heroin addicts - who doesn't these days - my lady boss is also as concerned as a 20 a day smoker at the dangerous misrepresentation of the Tobacco Control graphic image logo of a heroin needle on cigarette packets. In the real and "normal" world even non-smokers understand that hyping up a tobacco habit as the same as a heroin addiction gives the wrong message to young people. They see their smoker parents quit easily but fail to see that quitting heroin isn't that simple and it is far more destructive to health, socially, and economically for the wider community.

One of the workers who came back after a period off sick was a never smoker. He tried it as a teenager but didn't like it so never took it up. He says the pubs haven't been the same since 2007 and he blamed the exclusion of smokers as the main reason for the pub's demise. He also told me his mum and dad were smokers. His dad quit because of cost. His mum still smokes. He was very interested to hear about The Smoker Resistance and asked if I was back next week to give his mum some tips and contacts.

Unfortunately, I couldn't continue the job for several reasons and mostly because I need to get back to my own profession and finding and selling stories on a daily basis and applying for the usual round of teaching jobs. I also had a massive asthma attack which I think was brought on by the strong chemicals I was dealing with and cleaning won't make me a living.

I completely admire those people who do it and I wonder who looks out for their interests or who protects their health from disgusting germ ridden health establishments. Certainly not the unions which instead of fighting for jobs, call for people to be sacked because they don't agree with them.