Heroes come in many different guises and from unexpected places.
A new hero of mine is Julie Cousins, a 64-year-old cleaner. She cleaned branches of HSBC for 35 years but walked out leaving a note behind for the manager.
The note went viral. The manager, she claimed, was 'aggressive and cruel'. Her note said: “In a world when you can be anything, be kind – because you are all no better than the cleaner.”
It is easy for successful people to believe that they are 'superior' to others they deem to be less successful.
But life is about more than a good income and a successful career.
One of the greatest privileges from working in Torbay was that my patients came from all walks of life, from the wealthy to the homeless.
And I learnt how impressive people can be regardless of their status.
One of the most important parts of my education was the numerous holiday jobs I had during school and university holidays.
When working as a care assistant at a long-stay geriatric hospital, I learnt how challenging the job can be.
The long-stay hospital closed many years ago but the vital work continues in our residential homes.
When the GP visited he only spoke to the matron and ignored the rest of us. A 'good morning' would have been appreciated.
Throughout my career I tried to remember the staff, smile and say 'thank you' but I may have failed sometimes.
I also worked stacking the shelves in a supermarket. I still have dreadful memories of 'facing up' the baby foods. At the end of the day, the tins at the back had to be moved to the front.
Baby foods came in very small tins making the job time-consuming.
When prices changed we had to put new price tabs on every tin.
I now see the massive advantage in bar-codes when only the notice is changed.
But my worst job was on a production line. We were making small electrical transformers for model racing cars.
As they came past me, I had to put each one into a press and pull a lever; 2000 times a day.
I became so bored that I pulled the lever without putting the transformer into the press and smashed the machine head. I was not popular.
I was also told that, although the pay was poor, there was a generous bonus scheme. I pushed to increase the number of transformers through my press.
At the end of the week, when I collected my pay, I was told 'students don’t qualify for the bonus'. I resigned and reduced the production rate to 1,400 a day.
I also learned that the company refused to allow anyone to join a trades union. If any worker started encouraging union membership, they were sacked.
After this job I understood why people need a trades union. I also understood that I am extremely lucky. For the full-time workers this was their life.
The final irony was that when the factory eventually closed, the site became the headquarters of the NHS health authority.
My next job was an introduction to the NHS. I became a porter at a large mental hospital. This was the old Victorian 'lunatic asylum' and, again, has closed.
As a porter I travelled around the hospital and met the amazing staff. There were wards with 60 confused patients being cared for a one charge nurse and a nursing assistant.
And, despite the pressure, they cared. It was as though the long-stay patients were family.
I also saw the bizarre bureaucracy of the NHS. Wards needed orders in triplicate for extra biscuits.
How can we ensure that the bank managers do not see themselves as superior to the cleaner?
Perhaps holiday jobs should be compulsory for all students.
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