Life in the cleaning business yields a tale or two

October 5, 2015

Shortly after I moved to Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada in the late 20 Century (I just love referring to the 1990s in that way), I got a part time job (despite my university degree) cleaning rooms at the Harbour House Hotel.

One day, a middle aged woman staying in one of the rooms, asked me to clarify why people with university educations were willing to work at jobs on Salt Spring Island for which they were well over qualified. Apparently, she had just been chatting with a guy, with a Masters or Ph D, who was pumping gas for a living.

I told her that myself and many others were willing to work at something less in order to live in such a naturally beautiful place overflowing with creative and interesting people.

In order to make ends meet, I was in and out of that cleaning job several times before I , to put it crudely, gave it the final proverbial finger.

I did enjoy learning how to clean and make a bed the proper way, though, and this is a help with all the housesitting I do.

Yet I am not passionate about cleaning. I am passionate about giving people psychic readings and I am passionate about writing and I am passionate about caring for animals. Passionate about cleaning? Nada.

Still some people are and I have a theory about this. Most of us, I believe, find out while we are still small children what it is we want to do with our lives or part of our lives. When I was young I flip flopped between wanting to be a teacher and then wanting to be a nurse, back and forth, up and down.

I have taught many,many writing courses and tea leaf reading workshops…I am a reiki master which is an energy healer…As a kid I was a mother’s helper, staying in a cabin off the main residence for a judge and his wife while helping with their kids at their Victoria Beach (where I lived until I was 18 years old) summer home. Not unlike housesitting, I think.

This brings me to the following article:

Gulf Islands Driftwood

Wednesday, December 1, 1999

by Tanya Lester

Charlene Sharratt was nine years old when her grandmother taught her how to make a bed.

After pulling the sheets off for a second time, the older woman told the young girl, “If you can do it right,don’t do it at all.”

Sharratt went on to learn how to make a bed “right” and then some. These days she works as housekeeping manager at the Harbour House Hotel.

“Charlene makes a great boss,” said Barb Buckler, who has worked with Sharratt for two and a half years. “While she encourages everyone to be a team player, she’s also flexible and allows each team member to contribute in their own way tensure the common goal. That goal is get the rooms done to an exceptionally high standard as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Sharratt learned young that the work of a housekeeper — making hotel beds, scrubbing bathrooms, vacuuming carpets, dusting, doing laundry, folding sheets, etc. — is not as easy as some outside the hospitality industry might think.

“Not just anyone can do the job,” said Sharratt. “I train in stages, not the whole thing at once. It’s too overwhelming. It takes at least three months to be comfortable in this work and to establish a good routine. The hard part is not getting sidetracked. There are the small judgement calls like leaving curtains open or closed if the sun is pelting in. Leaving extra soap, shampoo, coffee or giving an extra blanket for a guest who you think might have been cold.”

You might say Sharratt married into the housekeeping business.

Her first housekeeping boss has been her mother-in-law for the last 21 years.

Fresh out of high school in Vancouver, Sharratt found herself in Port Hardy in June of 1978. That is where she met her future husband Bud and his step-mother Madeleine.

The two women “hit it off’,” according to Sharratt, so Madeleine got the young woman a job where her furture mother-in-law was working as head housekeeper at the Thunder Bird Inn.

Sharratt maintains that it is acceptable to hire friends and family “if you have a strong understanding that business is business and after work is after work.”

She enjoys the “comradery” that can develop between thouse “working the hotel floor.” One time a special connection with another employee may have saved Sharratt and her family from serious harm.

The other employee lived in the same apartment block in Port Hardy where Sharratt and her husband stayed.

The co-worker found a burned pot holder by her chesterfield one day. At the same time, in the hotel, Sharratt experienced burning smells in the laundry room and in the kitchen.

Neither could get to the source of these incidents. Yet the smell of something burning continued several times over the next week.

They became convinced they were being warned about a fire. Other hotel workers thought it was a big joke.

Sharratt even became convinced that there was a need to move their car from its parking space in front of the apartment. Just to humour her, Bud did do.

Then the day came that Sharratt found herself racing home when she heard her co-worker had gone back to the apartment block because there was a fire.

Young people had been playing with matches in the storage room and a mattress caught on fire. Firefighters had thrown the burning mattress out a window. It landed where the Sharratts’ car would have been if she had not insisted on having it moved.

Then there was the time Sharratt was working in the kitchen and cleaning rooms in a construction camp at Tumbler Ridge mine near Dawson Creek. On her first day on the job the cook had to chase a bear cub out of the kitchen while the mother bear tried to get in through the back door.

There were about 200 men and only eight women at the camp. Sharratt has many stories about this time, including one of a man who slept with a machete near his bunk.

Another man came out of the shower “in the buff” while Sharratt was cleaning the bunk room area and asked her to find his towel for him.

Yet it was the quiet, somewhat shy man that turned out to be a murderer. All that Sharratt can really remember about him is that he came and went often. He played cards occasionally with Bud and others but he generally kept a very low profile. When news got out that he had committed murder prior to coming to the camp, Sharratt was shocked.

“It was a very hostile environment,” Sharratt said, remembering those times at the mine. “I grew up fast.”

Sharratt enjoys her work and likes many of the staff she has worked with in the past as well as in the present. One that she singles out is a man who worked for her when she was cleaning supervisor of housing units in Whistler. He used a brush to clean off the end of the television cable cords on every set in the hotel rooms. He even took the faucets off tapes in his thorough pursuit of cleanliness.

Over the years, she has learned a cleaning trick or two. For carpet stains, she suggests placing an old towel over the stain and pressing a steam iron onto it. This draws the stain out.

Sharratt believes the Enviro-cloth is the best product for cleaning mirrors. Developed in Sweden, the cloth is made of a material somewhat similar to Velcro. After wetting the cloth with warm water, it picks up dust particles right off the mirror without the use of a cleanser.

Sharratt is interested in doing consulting work for managers in the hospitality industry who might be establishing housekeeping departments or need information on how to make existing ones run more smoothly.

Noth that Sharratt is dissatisfied with working at Harbour House Hotel. “I work with a great team here,” she said. “I look forward to going to work just so I can be part of the team. I feel if we treat each other with respect and understanding of our wants and needs, there is little room for animosity. When the going gets tough and the stress is high, we pull out our humour and pull together.”

— END–

Tanya Lester is a writer, tea leaf reader, tarot reader, art model, reiki master and a housesitter.

Her books are: Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader— available for purchase from the author or from where you can read its first several pages–, Friends I Never Knew, Dreams and Tricksters , and  Women Rights/Writes. All books are available at some Canadian libraries and the last three are in the Legislative Library of Manitoba.

For more on Tanya  go to this blog or to the first part of it as   web:        Faceboook. LinkedIn. Twitter. Google.


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