Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Still Digging For Dignity.

This was originally written for the, now defunct, site hosted by Mr Pike Bishop.
Mister Anna posted something which inspired me to re-post it here.

Absolutely gorgeous she was, even by local standards, and she kept my money.
Not the first time a woman has kept my money, and probably not the last.
But why this time?
The Glasgow man beat her to a pulp to get his cash back, and then asked her why she should have kept the change.
The answer surprised me. It turned out, I had said 'thank you' as I handed her the note to pay for my beers.
'You foreign guys never say please or thank you. Polish guys the same'.
'You did thank me, so I thought it was a tip' she said, and went on 'It is unusual to get someone who actually sees me as a person'.
My first thought was that Poland is indeed a strange country. This wouldn't happen in Britain, or would it?.

there's a man i meet walks up our street
he's a worker for the council
has been twenty years
and he takes no lip off nobody
and litter off the gutter
puts it in a bag
and never seems to mutter
and he packs his lunch in a ";sunblest"; bag
the children call him ";bogie";
he never lets on
but i know 'cause he once told me
he let me know a secret about the money in his kitty
he's gonna buy a dinghy
gonna call her dignity

by Ricky Ross

Came back here after ten years away and found a similar attitude in a different area of work.
The attitude that says 'people that serve us are not people at all'.
Started with a little bit of work I did helping a few of the local Council workers. Guys working outdoors (including bin-men, gardeners and car-park wardens).
All they were looking for was 'a bit of dignity' in the sense of being treated as people - similar to those who work in the Council offices.
First came a victory, a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. The boys who work outdoors, in the sun, are to be given free Sun Block.
Fantastic. First time in the UK.
Excellento – these guys are now in the same league as the super-models (an equally motley crew, it must be said).
Next, was water. 'How about access to some clean (potable) drinking water?. Same as in the offices?.
Not so easy.
The suggestion from the Council was bizarre.
'Take 'bottles of ' FROZEN WATER ' with you in the morning when you leave home'.
Jeez-oh. Do you really mean ' FROZEN WATER'?.
'Yes, it will have melted by the afternoon'.
Question?. Can the boys with the hand-carts drink the chilled water at the Council offices - there are no hygiene certificates for storage of food-stuffs on the handcarts?.
The Official reply?. 'We will consider that in due course'.
Ok, what next?.
Training. They asked for permission to go on training courses that may be relevant to people who come in contact with the public. (Relevant, as the responsibilities of the householder or commercial landlord become more onerous).
In particular, they wanted one course on 'dealing with difficult people'. (More and more, these guys meet the collective anger of a public who have no other contact with officialdom)
The un-official, Official reply was 'You are a fuckin' bin-man, you don't need any training'.
The official, Official reply, when it arrives, will be interesting.
It gets better, though.
The Big Event of the year here is the Highland Games Festival.
In previous years, the workers doing compulsory overtime (16 hour shifts) were welcome to use the facilities of the Games Organiser to get their breaks in the Visitor's Tent.
Not this year, however.
It was pointed out, the impracticability of going home, at lunchtime, to escape the rain and get some hot food.
The Official response?. Simply, 'Here's a voucher for a burger at one of the vans, outside'.
Where can we have our breaks - our own bothy has been taken over by the private Security Contractor?.
'The bin-men should use the Ladies Toilets for food breaks'.
So, that's what the guys had to do on a rainy West of Scotland weekend.
Queue at one of the burger vans and eat it in the Ladies Toilet. No subsistence payments, by the way.
(Needless to say, those, and such as those, were able to have full use of the Visitor's Tent - even those people who would usually rather have a heart attack than do a weekend shift).
The following week a story appeared in the local paper praising the 'clean-up' crews without whom the event couldn't have gone on. The 'Unsung Heroes' of the day. ( It must be noted that the Council considered their work to be sufficiently important to arrange a Police escort for the bin lorry as it travelled the main street. Obviously, the work was important, but not the people doing the work).
'If a person’s job involves any contact with human emissions such as sweat, urine, faeces, or spittle, such as sweepers or washer men, then they too are considered to be Untouchables'

Are Barmaids in Poland or Bin-Men in Scotland equally part of a caste system?
People who serve us without really being people.

Postscript :
After getting comment from the doyen of Reconstructed Bin-Men, our host, I had another think about the nature of 'Dignity'.
Thought of a story to show the fine difference between dignity and contempt.
One night I am in darkest Wroclaw, waiting for a tram, at the stop.
I am carrying a guitar and some other gear – I am going for a gig.
There is a tramp going through the litter bins trying for a touch of something.
He asks me if I can help him out and I say to him 'Do I look as though I am flush?'.
We start talking about music – I have a guitar – and it turns out that he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the sort of Rock that was my heritage. Conversation-a-plenty.
He is ages with me but looks ten years older – which is saying a lot.
I give him a fag. He offers me a swig of his bottle.
I gratefully accept as I see my tram in the distance.
He starts crying and I ask him if I have done something to insult him (very Polish).
'No', he says, 'You took a shot of my bottle without even wiping the top. First time anyone has done that for a long, long time. I thank you for that.'

Be sure, his dignity spoke volumes through my guitar, that night


trousers said...

Good to see this posted up again merk. There are some evocative posts floating round the blogs tonight.

Merkin said...

All of a type.

kyklops said...

You took a shot of my bottle without even wiping the top.

I'm hard-pressed, imagining a situation, an honestly realistic one, where I would fucking wipe the bottle/glass/etc. of someone offering me a drink...

Imagining people who would do it is somewhat less taxing on my mind...

Pixie said...

I agree it is a story worth telling to a wider audience.
And you despite the illusion are a good man!!!

szwagier said...

Definitely worth putting up again.
Thank you.
(not a tip)

Merkin said...

Thanks for the comments guys.
As I said, it was in response to something posted by SteamboatAnna, so see it in context.

Kyklops : you obviously know a better class of down and out than I do.

There was one guy in Wroclaw who had a particular M.O. (or two).

Sometimes, he would come to a table and take out his glass eye and plonk it in your drink.
The better man than me would actually finish his beer.
I would rather donate.

One time I was in a queue at the supermarket and he came to stand next to the check out.

While I was outside throwing up at the stench the cashier was slipping him some money to leave the shop.

I can still retch at the very thought.

Stef said...

I worked for a (labour-controlled) London Borough Council back in the 90s and never really did get my head around the differences in the working conditions and treatment of the staff. The more contact you had with the general public and the more unpleasant or downright dangerous your job the worse your deal

Mind you, it's no different in most businesses. I've been fortunate/ unfortunate enough to see how management in many organisations view their front line staff - as retarded lowlife to be chiseled at each and every opportunity

Good post...

Merkin said...

'....many organisations view their front line staff - as retarded lowlife to be chiseled at each and every opportunity'

Well said Steff.

The problem with the Single Status Agreement seems to be as follows :

When the Gov proposed this some ten years ago one of the Unions asked for Opinion on the detail.
The particular union chose a QC who was very Gov friendly.
Done deal.
The Conspiraloon should not even have to ask why this should be.

The Merkin, meanwhile, has found the holes in the ongoing project.
The locals are flummoxed as are the national leadership.
Worse still, the software company concerned is an Israeli company which has produced software which will collate all your info if you have any contact with a Council.

Check out Pilot software, Israel.

zola a social thing said...

After the Heart of Gold a Neil Young can find sense from the ditch.
Samuel Becket digs down in mud.
Merkin is a snorkel on the run?

Merkin said...

Nice to see you back, Zola.

zola a social thing said...