A minor incident

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‘You should’ve tried harder in school, shouldn’t you?’

The white-haired, middle-aged man leaned out of his van window to make sure I’d heard him. Apparently surprised by my lack of response - I was staring incredulous, trying to work out whether I’d heard him right – he then added; ‘or perhaps you did well?’

‘I’ve got a degree actually. I’m working on a second and thinking of going for my masters.’ Between my confusion, the hint of rage building in the pit of my stomach and the fact that I was still standing halfway up a hill, laden with heavy bags, it’s a miracle I managed to spit out that many words in such a logical order.

‘Oh! Something’s gone a bit wrong then!’

He found this part particularly funny, and I was spared from answering him when he spun his wheels and disappeared back down the hill.

I should give you some context.

It was a grey afternoon in September, and I was carrying cleaning supplies from one property to another as part of my day job. Freelancing and authorship have yet to give me a bank balance to rival J.K. Rowling and hubby and I are fond of eating and having a roof over our heads, so I’ve got a day job. Oh, the apparent horror… Worse still, I work as a cleaner. Seemingly still seen as one of the lowest rungs on societies’ career ladder. It’s neither glamourous nor the best wage in town, but the hours suit me, I love the people I work with, and it keeps the wolf from the door. I have no need, nor desire, to go after anything “better.”

None of this was known or even relevant to the man who felt it necessary to stop his van, impeding my progress up the hill, to share with me his amusing comments about why my life had gone so obviously wrong. Luckily, I worked in customer service for 15 years before I got serious about my writing career, so very little actually offends me anymore. My colleague and I had a good laugh about my encounter once he’d caught up with me at our next property and “you should’ve tried harder in school” has become one of our catchphrases for when we hear each other moaning about the job. Van Man didn’t know that either however, and it frightens me a little how clever he thought he was being, when his deliberate and unnecessary comments could’ve caused someone else a lot more pain and embarrassment.

Instead, I spent the rest of my shift amusing myself with a mental list of accomplishments this man had no idea I could boast: I’ve travelled to five European countries, the north island of New Zealand, been to America three times. I’ve taken six-week road trips on my own, met the love of my life in Arizona at 22 and married him in Las Vegas at 30. I’ve helped raise the two best boys on the planet (my brothers) and am always the friend called in a crisis. I have that degree, aswell as diplomas, A Levels and a wide variety of work experience. I’ve written two books, copy-written another, am a member of two commercial writing groups and was published as part of an anthology for one. I have my own website, a social-media following, have trekked the Grand Canyon and Kilimanjaro for charity, and I really am saving up for that Masters. All of this, as well as what I choose to do for work, just scratch the surface of who I am as a person or why I do the things I do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m somehow special or the exception to an unwritten rule. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the lowest paid and least valued workers in society are the ones who keep it moving for everybody else. Everyone I work with in my cleaning job are kind, busy people with full lives and no reason to feel anything but good about how they spend their time. Van Man, and others like you, please check yourself before you go thinking you’re above anyone else. If you’re not careful, next time they might believe you.

One more thing... If it had been my colleague, Pete, who’d been laden halfway up the hill at that moment, would he have been accosted instead? Or does my small size and femininity single me out for such enthusiastic attentions...? Just a thought.


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