The Secret Bedder
What’s it like to be one of the cleaning staff in Cambridge? An anonymous bedder talks tea, tramps and condoms.
For over 10 years I’ve worked as a bedder at one of Cambridge’s most prestigious colleges. And I’ve seen more than you might think…
My colleagues all come from different backgrounds. I didn’t go to university, but at the age most of you are now I almost became a professional ballet dancer. I was ambitious.
But, with two small children to feed, morning hours were attractive. I didn’t have any romantic illusions about Cambridge; I was drawn to the job because it was convienient for my family.
Every day, I work in a team of three, cleaning the student and guest accommodation in college. We also clean the Master’s Lodge and rooms for fellows. But I had to sign a confidentiality agreement so I can’t talk about what goes on there.
They say you can tell a lot about a man by his shoes. I use a different indicator: rooms. Still, being messy doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes. Girls are just as bad as boys and no one really gets better as they get older. Graduates are amongst the worst offenders.
At least once every day, I enter a room that’s impenetrable. ‘Life is an obstacle course’ isn’t a metaphor for me, it’s my reality. If I’m really in danger of injuring myself, I take a step back and leave a polite note on the door.
On the flip side, there seem to be lots of OCD students in Cambridge. I’m not just talking tidy, but rooms that reek of sanitizer, with pens neatly lined up by size on the desk, clothes arranged by colour in the wardrobe and all the furniture arranged at right angles. I’m scared of touching anything.
Then there are those who like to express their ‘individuality’. There was the girl (at least I hope it was a girl) who glued about a hundred sanitary pads to her ceiling. They featured for an entire term, and thankfully weren’t used. Another young man rivals the college bar when it comes to spirits. Dozens of different whiskeys, volumes of vodka, and a huge tequila bottle shaped like a penis. I’ve never been offered a drink.
I’ve nicknamed my favourite student ‘Leslie’. He’s always wandering about in only his towel and is very friendly. When I first cleaned his room I noticed there was a lot of pink decorations and quite a few frilly pairs of knickers lying around. I assumed he was staying with some girl. A term passed without me ever meeting this elusive girlfriend. I’m beginning to wonder whether she exists at all.
Of course, the job can be unpleasant. Scratch that. Revolting. Used condoms just lying in the bin are bad, but worse are the ones that miss and land on the carpet, or those that never leave the bed. You do need a bit of patience.
After bops and nights out, it’s not unusual to find vomit in the sinks. Some drunk students are more inventive, aiming for the fridge or microwave. Students have peed in bins and defecated in showers. We can report it to maintenance but unless we find the culprit and make them do it, the glorious task of tidying it up is all ours. Once a girl was genuinely ill and had even left a note apologizing, so I didn’t mind cleaning up for her.
The majority of the students here can’t cook. In the gyps there’s often exploded soup in the microwaves and just generally stuff we can’t identify. Dirty plates and cutlery are also standard, as seems to be the habit of pouring the milk straight into the Cheerio bag.
Still, I’ve grown very attached to the job. The history and surroundings make the workplace enjoyable, and it’s nice to socialise with students. It’s always very touching when I get cards and gifts at Christmas. I’ve also been invited into rooms for tea and cake. But the best part is working in such a great team. When doing the guest rooms we turn up the radio and sing along to One Direction.
The strangest thing I’ve experienced here so far was when I discovered a homeless man living in the basement of one of the staircases. I’d gone down to investigate the smell of urine. I notified the porters, who helped me escort him off the premises. He was quite young and well dressed. If it hadn’t been for the smell I’d have assumed he was a student.