Wednesday, 27 May 2015


I'm starting to keep notes. On who I talk to, on their behaviour. Do they stand up to management? Are they popular? How long have they been here? 

There's one woman I've warmed to instantly. She's Bulgarian and her name is Galina.* A tiny mother of two, 36 but looking older; she's got large green eyes, olive skin, and could be Roma. She wears little dangly gold earrings, dark eye makeup and crimson lipstick. She smiles all the time. Genuinely. Some of her teeth are missing and she's vague about her past, but she throws herself into the work, with a swagger almost.

I like her because she stops to talk when we pass in the corridor, or if we bump into eachother on a dash to the pantry for more linen. We swap fatigue sighs and shaking heads over the empty cupboards, the inevitable Sunday deluge of D N Ds (Do Not Disturbs) where you push your trolley from closed door to closed door to closed door....

                                                No linen, a common sight...

Galina has some kind of rift with Elena, the pretty spiteful supervisor from Lithuania. A couple of mornings now I've seen Galina shout, in Bulgarian and broken English, at the icey boss squabbling over baskets of tea gear, bathroom tat and spare dusters over the counter.

“Hey, HEY”, she's bellowed to Elena and they've tustled over the tray. “I don't speak English, why you speak me in English?” Shouts Galina. Elena will hold back the tray and look at her wearily and disdainfully. Galina will become animated, eyebrows all over the show, and reach over to snatch the tray.

“STOP it”, Elena will say like an icepick, holding it firm.

“Hah? Hah? Yyeeeeah, Yyeeah”, Galina will say sneeringly, tauntingly, returning the waves of disgust that could almost be lapping around them right now.

Elena will eventually give over the tray, but not before raising her hand and pointing hard on Galina. “The last time, this is the last time”, she will say in an attempt to rescue her authority but, the girls have all seen it, and half of us have loved it; Galina's resistance, to the pettyness, to the humourlessness, of all of this.

I back up Galina by standing beside her and fixing Elena with a look of, “That's abusive”, but she barely notices. The term 'face like a slapped arse' fits her well.

I wish I could speak Bulgarian.

Over lunch we try and understand each other, mostly empathising over how much we dislike Elena, saying her name, wrinkling our faces and giving each other the thumbs down.

“We need a Union”

She furrows her brow.

I put my hands together, and clasp my fingers over my knuckles.


It's hard to explain it.

“Us”, I say, pointing to me and her and around the sullen canteen. “Us, together”. I make a fist.

She smiles and shrugs and laughs warmly.

She'd be one to get it I'm sure. We eat, separately smiling together.

Back in the rooms it's just non-stop yo-yo-ing in and out. I almost always forget something and keep clicking in and out, in and out. My knuckles are getting sore from reaching into my pockets for the card key, reaching deep into duvets and pillows, the stiff cotton rubbing on my hands, worn by the chemicals and the towel folding and just the constant motion.

A cut I thought had healed on my finger springs a leak and I'm terrified of getting blood on the perfect white sheets. I try and continue with toilet paper wrapped around the wound but it's too risky. I look for a plaster in the pantry, call on the supervisor, and when noone shows up after 10 minutes I eventually trapse all the way down to the office, 4 floors, and all the while thinking how this is eating into my allotted cleaning time.

I go through a few plasters this day, a combination of sweating in the gloves when I wash up cups and glasses, as well as the dripping sponges and shower water, and just the constant flurry and contact of my hands.

In the changing room at home time, I'm one of the last. I've tried to strike up conversations here but it's not easy. People are partially clothed. Chatting in your undies and over your steaming sweaty shoes and clammy socks isn't something I feel that comfortable with. But the four Romanian room attendants that swing in noisily, pay no mind to my mousey modesty and shed their grey polyester uniforms to reveal really foxy, lacy, super-sexy underwear. Like, lingerie catalogue sexy. I can't help but look. I know I'm blushing. I kind of treat this job as a workout and wear sports underwear. These women, they're made up and sassy and laughing amongst themselves. They're barely aware of me shyly looking over. To me they're a manifestation of resistance to the drudge; joy and resistance to all the dirt and monotony. Under the grey there's a riot and they know it.

I want to talk to them but I know zero Romanian.

I get a text.

“Talk to Jola, the supervisor, she'll be in in a moment”.

It's from Grzegorz, the chef....

*All names are changed for protection


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