A street cleaner named Josiah

It’s not a bad job, there are worse. I could be cleaning toilets for a living. No thanks, who’d want to do that? Up to your ears in shit all day, watching people pissing on your polishing… Sewage plant that’s another shite job, excuse the pun. Going home stinking of your work? At least I’m outside, in the fresh air.

People tend to think that you’re a little bit thick when you do a job like mine. Well, anyone who knows me will tell you otherwise. You can ask me anything about the Russian revolution and the abdication of Nicholas the second, what I don’t know about Greek mythology you could write on the back of a postage stamp and I can name every ruler of England from Egbert in 802 through Edmund, Edred, Edwy and Edgar, up until our beautiful Royal sovereign Queen Elizabeth the second.

I have a thirst for knowledge, a need to know things. And strolling round with me cart all day gives me plenty of time to get all me thoughts in order.

I get kids from the school up the way there, and they deliberately drop litter right in front of me, then they stop and wait for me to pick it up. I say to them, ‘what did you learn today son? Did you bring anything home that will enlighten the rest of your life?’ And they laugh at me. I blame the education system; kids just aren’t taught in the correct way. There are so many interesting things to learn that aren’t taught in an interesting way. Off the top of my head… The battles: Aginourt, 1415, quarter past two and Waterloo 1815, quarter past six. Their details and cock-ups are far more exciting than any Stephen Segal film. Inventions, discoveries – the splitting of the atom… What Enric Fermi did in splitting the atom – releasing a nuclear energy that was more powerful than a million steam engines, was as exciting, if not more so, than the film Speed with Keanu Reeves.

I don’t tar all of the kids with the same brush though. No, yer can’t. Some of them, most of them, in fact, are bonny and I’ve helped a fair number of them with their homework. Not all fifteen year olds can get their heads around quantum physics and they often find it sinks in easier when they’re leaning on my cart rather than leaning on their desk.

Soap opera, that’s my Achilles heel. If you want to bring me down ask me who shot JR. Or how many times Elsie Tanner got married. I couldn’t tell you. My face would go blank; I’d hold my hands up and say, fair do’s. But I could tell the tale of Icarus, who flew with his Father from Crete but the sun melted the wax with which his wings were fastened and he fell to the sea, and from then on those waters of the Aegean Sea became known as the Icaranian Sea. Is that not as romantic and far more interesting than any episode of Emmerdale Farm? If ever they make a motion picture of the tale of Icarus I bet my cart that Wesley snipes plays the lead and Morgan Freeman would be ideal as his Father, Daedalus.

No, I’m not thick and I’m not super bright either, I do have a bit of common sense, and you’d be surprised how many people I come into contact with who don’t have any. Living on me own I have to have a certain degree of ‘common’. I have to balance me own books, keep me life in order, feed meself, clothe meself and make sure that I get from A to B when I should be there. Nobody kisses me on the cheek before I leave for work in the morning. Two things in life are certain, death, and the knowledge that when I walk into my flat at the end of the day me pots will still be in the sink where I left them.

People often say to me, “Josiah…?” I’m called Josiah after Josiah Wedgwood; I was born in Burslem, y’see, within a stones throw of where the great man popped out and so my father, god rest him, named me after him. Anyway people say to me,

“Josiah, how many miles do you walk in a day?”

And I can tell them that I walk on average one and a half marathons that’s roughly thirty-nine miles. Put it this way, if me and Paula Radcliffe swapped jobs for the day she’d be leaning on the cart puffing like billy-o before she got round the precinct.

We had a time and motion man come down from head office with his stopwatches and clipboards and he fitted a pedometer to me leg. He was looking for ways to improve the way I work. They get these bright ideas every so often. If you ask me it’s a conspiracy against us older ones. They’re always looking for ways to improve our efficiency and if they’re not doing that they’re asking you to take voluntary redundancy. ‘It’s the way forward’, they say. The way forward for who? Losing my job isn’t the way forward for me. What would I do without my job? My work keeps me active, I live for my work. On paper, my job is the best job in the world. They have this poster at the depot it says, ‘would you like to meet people and travel? Then become a street cleaner’. Aye, they want us to move over and let the younger lads in. Well, tell me, when did you last see a young lad doing my job? Young lads don’t want to do my job; they may be forced into doing it later in life but not when they’re young. When you’re young you want to change the world. Unfortunately, all too soon we find out that the world is too big a thing to change. And so to make ends meet we end up doing things that we mightn’t want to. No, young lads don’t want to do my job. They want to be testing their wings, getting as close to the sun as they can.

No, they can’t get rid of me, not when I’m walking one and a half marathons in a day. The chap from head office was surprised.

“Thirty-nine miles is a long way for somebody of your age”, he said.

I wanted to say to him Aye, and it feels even longer for a man who’s waiting on a hip replacement. But I stopped meself.

In Josiah Wedgwood’s day they had to walk, there was no other way of travelling. William Wordsworth used to walk ten-mile a day just to get his post!

I get a bit of a twinge from me hip every so often, but nothing to write home about, nothing a painkiller won’t put right. I keep me painkillers in one of those Tic-Tac containers so as not to draw attention ‘cos rumour has it we’re watched, y’know? . I’m told they drive around checking that you’re pulling your weight. Well they won’t ‘ave any worries about me not pulling me weight. One and a half marathons a day I think Jesse Owens would be ‘ard pushed to beat that.

Pheww! Me without me job? It can’t ‘appen. I don’t know what I’d do. I’m not one for gardening, I ‘aven’t got a garden anyway, and wouldn’t be interested even if I did. I’m not a great reader, I like a good encyclopaedia but I ‘aven’t got the time for fiction. Life’s too short for fiction. I can’t give hours, days, weeks of me life to a 500-page book that has an unsatisfactory ending – that you have no way of knowing has an unsatisfactory ending until you get there? No, reading’s not me. Life’s too busy to read and I’m too busy to retire. I haven’t got the time to do nothing. The way forward? My armpit, the way forward for who? Is thirty nine mile a day not enough? My giddy aunt.

Besides, this isn’t the job for just anyone. You can’t be squeamish; I had to pick up a dead cat the other morning, down by the playgroup. I had to get rid of it before the kids showed up. Its innards were all over the road. Well you can’t leave that, not for the little ‘uns to see, otherwise you’ve got the tots asking their mothers why that cats lying in the road with such a strange expression. Young lads won’t want to be doing that, and it’s a regular occurrence. I’m always scraping up flattened frogs, hedgehogs and those little voles. I had a badger last year; I had to call the van out to that one, great big thing with a big round belly, beautiful creature. Yer can’t shift that with a spade. He was too big for me cart anyway, his head would’ve been sticking out the top. No, you can’t be squeamish. Can’t be afraid to get yer hands dirty.

Anyway, in answer to your question, No. My six million pounds lottery win will not change my life at all. I’m gonna buy myself one of them DVD players, have a nice holiday in Greece then come straight back to work if they’ll ‘ave me.


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