Helen Martin: Time to scrub up on key skill

A clean stair used to be more important than a career
A clean stair used to be more important than a career
Have your say

THERE’S an apocryphal story about a wee Scottish “wummin” who had been decanted out of her tenement slum and rehoused on the 20th floor of a shiny, new tower block. After the first three days, her friends and family panicked because she was never home and they couldn’t contact her.

She was later found on the stairwell between the ground and first floors with her scrubbing brush and bucket. Such was the tenement tradition of taking one’s turn to “do the stair”, she felt compelled to make a good impression on her new 

That, allegedly, was back in the days when the status, integrity and worth of many Scottish women was defined not by career or income but by whether or not they kept a clean home, a good line of washing and a tidy stair.

It was hardly the epitome of equality and feminism, but by God they knew how to clean with a sense of thoroughness and pride, at home or anywhere else. For if they did a less than scrupulous job at work, folk would think they let their families live in a “cowp” and that would be shameful.

Today that sort of cleaning is rare, but cleaners are still recruited and paid as if it’s a job any unskilled fool can do.

In our hospitals and nursing homes, exacting cleaning standards are crucial. Yet over the past few decades we have failed to get it right. The ERI has had its share of criticism and in the last week a nursing home in Livingston and the Sick Kids have both fallen foul of cleaning inspections, both exhibiting some stomach-turning lapses.

The fact is that we don’t value or pay good cleaners highly enough, even though they are probably just as rare as good doctors and nurses. We can’t just assume folk know how to clean like their grandmothers any more than we can assume they can cook like them.

What about a hospital standard cleaning college course? God knows we have courses for everything else. And paying cleaners a whole heap more than the minimum wage with the proviso that selection will be much tougher? The best are genuinely talented and possessed of skill and knowledge we desperately need and we could get rid of the amateurs who go through the motions of waving a mop around without having a clue what they’re doing.

I have a cleaner at home. Fortunately she’s good, otherwise we’d never rub along together. A dusty table to me is like an itch that has to be scratched. I can’t leave it alone. In between her once-weekly visits I spend hours doing day-to-day 

If I’m a tiny bit obsessive, so is she. I am told which kitchen towels, detergents, etc to buy because she knows which ones work best for her for which jobs. The bottoms of taps are cleaned with an old toothbrush every week and polished to avoid nasty grey or green build-up. Even the bath plug has to be gleaming. Worktops have to be done with disinfectant as well as cleanser, then 

Oh yes, you may scoff. But if you ever had to go into hospital, you’d wish people like us had cleaned your ward.

Good cleaners could not pass dirt, dust, body fluid stains, faeces marks and all the other grim discoveries inspectors made recently. They work on initiative, not just instructions. They know about cleanliness. They prioritise. They are professionals with pride. And that’s what we need on wards.

Jog on, folks, it’s not for you

HAVING had a pop or two about rogue cyclists who refuse to use cycle ways, it’s only fair I should this week sympathise with them having seen joggers, women with buggies and dog walkers with extending leads use the cycle path instead of the adjacent footpath.

Why can’t folk just go where they’re told?

‘Virtual’ officer is not a policeman

POLICE Scotland says front desk closures in police stations are justified because nowadays people prefer to interact in other ways such as e-mail, Twitter or phone. RBS said the same thing in the face of immense customer resistance about closing my local branch which, despite online banking and phone banking which customers allegedly “preferred”, still had queues out the door most days.

What both mean is that THEY would prefer they didn’t have to deal with us in person because it’s more expensive. A “virtual” policeman is no policeman at all. The whole job is based on human interaction. If they can’t be bothered, I can see a boom time for private security firms.


I was seriously “hacked” last week, as in having had my e-mail address “stolen” and my mail and contacts removed by a fraudster. How glad I am to be a Luddite who neither banks nor buys online.