My dad is a wonderful man. He has his faults, as do all men and women. He has even made one or two mistakes in the 36 years I have known him. But I have to take my hat off to him for his reliability, his faithfulness. Seven children to provide for. He just kept going up and down that ladder day after day. He never let himself get overwhelmed by his responsibilities, he may have had a grumble at times, but he kept doing what he needed to do and most of the time he did it with a friendly wink and a smile and a sweet little chuckle. I am sure I will share many wonderful stories about my incredible parents and how many lessons in life they have taught us.
Right now, I am going to tell you about one aspect of my childhood I am quite proud of as I look back. During our school holidays, we often had to go to work with Dad. Since I was born, Dad has been a window-cleaner. I have very fond memories. I remember having the job of carrying “the little ladder” and always had some “scrims” in my pockets (they were the cloths used for mopping up water from sills etc or for cleaning Georgian window panels). Dad gave us tasks so that we felt useful. During a day of window cleaning we might carry things, or wipe any sills we could reach, or hold back plants away from the window so Dad could clean them easily. Sometimes Dad would ask us to run ahead and ring the doorbell and when the house-holder opened the door we would politely tell them, “the window-cleaner has almost finished and he says it is £6.50 please”.
Some of Dad’s customers have seen his little ones growing up. At the age of five or six, I used to wear red wellington boots and a green woolly bobble hat. One day I lost my bobble hat and was very tearful about it. Dad allowed me to join him on the Friday evening when he visited any customers who had not been home that week to collect any payments they owed him. I asked every customer if they had seen my green bobble hat. Imagine my relief when one lady said she had found it in her garden and had recognized it immediately and had kept it safe until the window-cleaner came again.
Some of Dad’s customers were very kind to us. They might invite us inside to play with their children, or sit us on their sofa and allow us to watch a cartoon film. We were well supplied by Dad’s customers with juice and biscuits. They would even give us some money to buy sweets. One lady gave me £1 and told me it was ice-cream money. Dad crimsoned in embarrassment with my reply to his lovely customer. I held out my hand and said to the lady “have you ever heard of a thing called inflation?” Don’t worry…I now fully comprehend how cheeky I was! At the time, I was just trying to communicate my frustration, because back then it cost £1.10 to buy a Mr Whippy ice-cream with a chocolate flake and raspberry sauce and sprinkles from the ice-cream van…which at the time was the highest form of ice-cream perfection!!!
I have known some friends and workmates who were from families who were clearly more comfortable financially than our own. In some cases, a lot of emphasis had been placed by their parents on achieving educational results. Some of my friends were never asked to lift a finger around the house, just to concentrate on their schoolwork. Those are all fine things in a way. It maybe that having more money, owning more possessions, accruing educational credits are gauges of “success” to many. But my own definition of success has various other markers – learning to love, being a worker, not a shirker, qualities like kindness, respect, patience, loyalty, honesty being your qualifications, and very importantly…can you share? Can you see that you are not the centre of the universe? There is an amazing human family with an exciting array of things to teach you and who want to enjoy life and this planet with you. The more you can share, I think the greater your potential for happiness. It’s ok, it is never ever too late to learn. Everyone can change their personality.
I am proud though that my Dad, and my Mum have taught all of us children to be workers, not shirkers. It is one of many valuable lessons in life I am deeply grateful for. We still gained excellent results at school, we were all in the top sets for all of our subjects and won the highest grades for our work. I won several swimming trophies and medals. I won a trophy for winning a maths competition for the school. But school was just school. Life was outside school. We all had to help the house-hold run. Seven children! Lots of work. I was an excellent dish-washer. I also used to wash the family car each Saturday. As we grew older, more tasks were assigned according to our capability.
Almost everywhere I have worked, I have come across a diverse mix of workers and shirkers. It does often strike me that in some of the individuals I have met, there is such a sense of “entitlement” that has been fostered and sadly not a hard work ethic. An attitude of “the world owes me” and “I don’t need to get out of bed if I don’t feel like it”. And what on earth is going on with phones in the workplace? The workers are run off their feet trying to keep on top of the work that needs doing, the shirkers are unable to master their personal mobile phone addiction. I find it hard to understand. I wish everyone had the chance to go to work with my Dad during their school holidays and learn how to be useful. You see all sorts as a window-cleaner!!!
Life – some have had challenges and trials that have seriously marred their enjoyment of life. But I do believe that for most people work should be enjoyable, working should bring some satisfaction. I love any kind of cleaning for that reason. Instant gratification, with very little stress. I have done various types of work over the years. I have worked in finance, as a receptionist, administrator, legal secretary, gardener, cleaner, laundry, cook, driver, painter/decorator, I have cared for terminally ill patients and those with dementia. I have cared for ponies, chickens, pets, I have walked dogs – (£15 per hour for each dog in case you were wondering – and that was what the clients offered, I didn’t suggest that rate). My favourite job…we had to chase some sheep around a field and gather them into an enclosure. Then we had to turn them upside down on their backs so we could cut their toenails. Poor sheep! Although, it is important for their health apparently.
Then there is an even longer list of different skills I have acquired and tasks I have been assigned as a volunteer on various projects. The unpaid work I have done has brought me immense joy and has enriched my life.
I love variety. I love being outdoors. The thought of being chained to a desk all day frankly terrifies me. I love work. I am so glad my parents taught me to enjoy work, to be a worker, not a shirker.