Names changed, etcetera — some work done (not done) on the job in Ireland

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Cleaning a few windows at an old Irish hospital

Very few

The name of the hospital and the names of people are invented.

Years after this episode, "Diarmuid" had his own business, and in the course of operation spoke with the man who had been at "Saint Patrick's" at the time in question, and had managed the account with our employer. Dairmuid had to take special care to disassociate himself from the "work" we did on this job.

We had stopped off at a pre-arranged spot to meet the window-cleaning supervisor. There, he'd given Diarmuid a packet of information about the Saint Patrick's hospital complex. "I was afraid it might be Saint Patrick's," Diarmuid said.

Diarmuid had already told me about the St. Patrick's job, and the work that his friend Charlie had done — hadn't done, really.

He'd had gone there and "made himself seen" during a few days over a couple of weeks. He'd set up the ladder. He cleaned a few panes on the outside. He knew about — and told Diarmuid about — a set of windows in the back that were those of the offices of several administrators.

He'd gotten the signature.

It's a semi-annual clean. Six months later; Diarmuid and I got the job.

We were following a tough act. We knew that we'd have to pull something cheeky. We didn't like that, but it was true. We'd both be happier to do the work as billed — but the job has to be set up that way. This one wasn't.

Many are not. The jobs pay well enough, if you cut corners; but if you don't it's not worth your time for the money. That's the way it's set up. The supervisor, in our tour of the site, said "you know yourself — don't do every window."

On the first day, an annoying little man came and started talking to me. He stood too close. He was the maintenance supervisor for the St. Patrick's complex. I refered him to Diarmuid, who was around the corner. Shitty, I know. Diarmuid was the de facto supervisor, between himself and myself — But he didn't get paid for it.

Diarmuid came to me, after talking with the fellow. This was really bad news, he said — we'd have to get a signature from every ward in every building.

"Did you hear the mouth on him," Diarmuid said. Which is funny, because the Irish curse a lot.

Anyway, he gave us a packet of sheets which listed the wards, including space for a signature at each of them. And he was adamant — the old one-signature-and-you're-off wasn't going to be good enough.

This was, indeed, bad news. In even the moderately-sized "Sacred Heart" orthopedic building, there were ten wards.

We fretted about this. The implication was that we'd have to clean every window; or at the least that we would have to "chance the arm" in every one of the many wards throughout the whole raft of individual contracts. The mere act of chasing down signatures would make the job last considerably longer. And one fussy old woman could set us into a world of complications.

Diarmuid asked our general supervisor. The supervisor said the contract stipulated that we need one signature — one for each building. Never mind the ward supervisors.

We made the appearance on two days, and did most of the work at Sacred Heart — but not all of it. The maintenance man encountered us a couple of times around the place during the work, but we didn't see him or look for him at sign-off time. Diarmuid got the receptionist's signature on the docket, and we moved on.

At the Community Care, a smaller building on the other side of the complex, I tried to get the signature, but the head nurse refused it. We had to finish the building — at least, almost all of it. She signed the docket.

It's kind of bad sometimes, because you feel like you want to clean the windows for the old people who live there. You know that it would make their lives better, and in fact they sometimes just enjoy you being there, cleaning their windows like that. "Lovely day, isn't it?"

But you can't clean every window — and you have to act like you did. Sometimes, you feel stuck between an endemic Irish corruption, and the sweet little old Irish nuns who really don't understand corruption. The sister at Community Care had noted that the mortuary was included on that docket, and we'd have to come back and do that. (High windows, some behind a wall and a hedge...the door was locked. We left it. The docket had been signed....)

The other smaller buildings went without a hitch.

Then it was time for the dreaded St. Patrick's. Patrick's is big, and it's complex. Just looking at every window takes time. This is the main, old hospital building. It's a big old building with bizzarre ammendments that have no aesthetic relationship to the old grey limestone original.

Out back, in one of the set of awkward protrusions, is a four-story-tall section just full of windows made of small panes — too small to fit a squeegee, and extending higher than our biggest ladder. There are other ongodly contructions back there, too, and some awkward-looking glass.

There are many ways to think about every factor, and you find yourself at every turn comparing the work you can do with the work you have to do just to get that docket signed. Of course, some of it's a "health and safety issue," and we can't reach it. A lot of it, we're just going to skip. It's a head-wrecker.

We agonized over Patrick's. We showed up there for days, hardly motivated to work because the fraction that we could finish would be too small anyway. We spent a bit of time in front of the building; we did some inside windows. Diarmuid did a real good job on the general office, and we naturally did all the windows in that area. Somebody said that the wooden ones upstairs were going to be replaced, so we didn't go near 'em.

It was a terrible process, of doing a slight bit of the work, against the resistance of dis-motivation, and without the incentive of a "job done" goal.... only the docket.

We agonized about it at The pub. "Just don't do it," Charlie told us. Do the offices — if you must. Go up on a ladder in back and get the offices there, too.

Some of the windows in Patrick's were manky Some looked as if they hadn't been cleaned in years, and probably hadn't. And there were hundreds. There were more than hundreds.

We made our way about the building in an un-organized fashion.

Then, after a time, Diarmuid suggested I get the signature. I didn't like the idea, but couldn't really argue with it. He would normally care for that procedure, and wasn't paid a supervisory wage. Plus, he provided transport. As a request, it was more than fair.

I took the docket book to the receptionist's desk. It was a Sunday. She would have referred me to the office on a weekday, she said.

She didn't know whether or not it was okay for her to give her signature. She went upstairs to find somebody.

An older gentleman came down the stair, and brought me up to the room where he'd been sitting. He brought me to the nearest window, which had not been cleaned.

It overlooked the front of the building, where we'd just been working. He couldn't sign the docket. He was friendly about it.

We cleaned some more windows. For a couple more days we made an appearance. We worried more. If we had to do every window, we knew, we'd be screwed. We considered turning the job away. We had that option. It would only have meant losing the work we'd done.

It was a close call — we nearly walked away.

At the end of the next business week, Diarmuid decided he'd give it a try. We had all our gear packed up to go, and he went into the building while I waited. When he got back to the car, he looked disappointed. No, huh? Nah.

Heading out of the parking lot, he said "look in the docket book." Why? Just look. A little irritated, I did so. There was our signature.

"It was brilliant," he said. He'd caught them at the head office when they were leaving for the day — for the week. A head manager, on the way out, had had just enough time to chat briefly, and to sign the docket.

Later, at the pub, I told the story to a friend of ours, with special attention to the part about the guy who'd shown me the uncleaned windows.

The guy hadn't even seemed upset about it, I told him. If that had happened in America, I'd have expected real trouble — indignation, at the very least.

Liam said "That's because Americans have the strange idea that you should do the work that you get paid for."

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