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  • Writer's pictureKeith Dersley

Like Pharaoh's Slaves Before Us

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

Young man mopping floor.

We were at C&A from seven in the morning. Then at 8:30 I believe it was, the girls would be arriving to get behind the tills. (That was when, having stashed our buckets, mops, and brooms, we would head over to the Gem Milk Bar for a coffee.)

The girls filtered in as we were finishing up, and got on their stools to wait for the clientele. They did not appear to see us.

One in particular I remember, the wife of some fortunate guy, confident in her destiny, heavy black hair. Large-eyed, like Pharaoh's daughter.

Barry and I, the only young guys cleaning there, were enabled to keep our own eyes down on the floor we were mopping because we had absorbed our weekly lessons from #KungFu on TV. We were humble like #DavidCarradine , we were men of peace. ('Yeah? Piece of what?' said one of those who had not learned the Way.)

However, we preserved our modesty. We were not the sort to turn and rend anyone; we knew that 'the taking of a life does no one honour.'

This was the 1970s and pop music played all the time in C&A, such as 'Seasons in the Sun' by #TerryJacks, and 'Jet' by Wings. There was also the song 'She'. In this one Aznavour sang something about the beauty and the beast and this Cleo type said to her friend, 'I'll be the beauty and you can be the beast.'

It was true, man, it was true. Except we the cleaners were the real beasts, with our heads in the manger for a crust.

You could not expect someone in that league to see or acknowledge a cleaner. They had their gods and we had our gods. We were nothing, man. It was a wonder we dared look at them.

This experience made you realize what #KirkDouglas was getting at in Spartacus.

Of course I, like anyone else, can understand the dignity of work. There is a legitimate pride in the way you clean a toilet. George Easter was the guy who had the right attitude to that back then. One morning when everyone was being stopped by security from going in the back way (our route) George demanded to be let through.

'We're cleaners,' he said.

It was with pride that he spoke.

George had a right to be there, he had a job to do. He seriously thought he had arrived.

I don't know what C&A's ideas were about customer psychology, but they ought to have changed the lighting in the changing rooms, the colour scheme, or the angle of the mirrors or something. Because those mirrors made you look short and fat. If you went in there and tried on clothes to make you appear slim, those mirrors were only going to make you look shorter and fatter.

Short and fat and pushing a mop was even worse. It didn't worry George Easter though, who sometimes mopped beside me. He was old and grey and the mirrors in there didn't affect him one way or the other.

Cleo was at work early one day, checking something in the fitting rooms. I happened to catch her reflection. There was no way she looked short and fat.

But those girls ignored us. They could. They were princesses and we were the slaves of the minimum wage. They resided on heights we could never aspire to.

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