Tools of the Trade..
I keep getting everything wrong. When every minute counts, re-arranging the order of toiletries on the plastic disc in the bathroom or slotting the coffee sachets into the exact correct position on the tea tray, folding the duvet just-so, letting no sag creep into your pillows, and placing the hotel pens at just the right diagonal angle on the free notepads can get you feeling a bit manic and obsessive.
In terms of the tools of the job, for a start there are different sprays for each part of the cleaning process. Your bucket and basin contain a toilet brush in a metal holder, a red sponge for the bathroom and a green one for washing the glasses, mugs and spoons. A kettle de-scaler, powdered sanitizer (for cleaning the crockery and coffee makers), thick under-the-rim toilet cleaner, a more targeted toilet power cleaner (for those stubborn 'explosion' shits you find stuck fast to the sides of the toilet bowl), a chrome and surfaces bathroom cleaner, bedroom furniture polish, and a freshener spray (for those musty, sweated-in and condensation-filled rooms that need desperate airing but the windows only open a few inches). *Gag* spritz spritz...
There are different coloured dusters for the different sprays and rooms too. The 'mop' we mop the floor with in the bathroom is actually just a duster, which we swirl around the marble on our hands and knees. We're supposed to use rubber gloves, but many of us don't. They slow me down; my hands overheat and I feel clumsy. Folding the end sheet of the toilet roll into a small 'v' shape and the spare's end into an elegant long triangle gets finicky with taking the gloves on and off, and likewise with folding all the towels into the right neat formation. But the chemicals in the sprays do start to harden and split your skin...
Adhira keeps scolding me. I've put the floor 'mop' together with the room duster and the red sponge in with the green sponge a few times today by mistake. 'You are doing it wrong', she hectors without pausing, eyes and hands everywhere in a human tornado of non-stop cleaning. She's semi-automatic.
'How many people stay on here?' I ask.
'Too many people leave. Maybe 50% of the people who start, they leave, they cannot handle it', she says solemnly.
She winces. 'I have new shoes on today. They are rubbing'.
They're a £20 quid pair from Sports Direct she tells me. 'But they wear out so quick, too quick. And my trousers too, here (she points to her knees) from this', and she shuffles along the carpet, around a giant kingsize bed, on her knees, pulling and tucking until all the linen is crisp and taut.
'We should be given footwear and trousers', I say.
'They do not give', says Adhira.
On your feet all day, pushing a heavy trolley up and down corridors, laden with dozens of towels, duvets, bedsheets and pillowcases, toiletries, bottles of water and garbage from every room; using hoovers, dusters, corrosive sprays, coming into contact with human waste, wearing out our trousers on carpets and marble floors – it's a no-brainer that the agencies and hotels should provide us with 'Personal Protective Equipment'. (PPE). This is a physical job. We are not sat behind desks. This is like a full body work out, with risks from hazardous substances to boot, and on top of that, we're having to pay for the majority of our own uniform (we don't get t-shirts either, we must provide our own black ones) when we're on minimum wage. All the hotel gives us is a branded polyester overall dress thing with pockets for our printed room allocations, a rape alarm (which I doubt any supervisor could hear properly in these hermetically sealed rooms) and keys.
In a way, Adhira, like many of the other workers here in housekeeping, has come to accept and normalise these sub-standards and abuses.
'Come. We must be faster', she says, dragging the hoover out and moving on to the next room.