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Friday, 20 January 2012

Reducing tasks, increasing efficiency.

Being an overworked drudge, I am always keen to find ways of getting things done a little quicker or reducing the amount of tasks that need doing. I was therefore interested in a conversation I had with my brother, who runs a micro-brewery, about the need to reduce the times a bottle is touched or moved, as when you times it by a thousand it becomes hugely relevant. I decided to apply it to my own life.

I started by checking the things that the girls slung into the wash basket - at first I had been glad that anything made it into the basket, rather than having to be extracted from the carpet, or removed from over-dressed teddies, but I started spotting t-shirts with only a little Weetabix on going in. A bit of spit n rub, and they started heading back to the drawer.

I then moved my attention to the kitchen. I remembered a Peruvian woman I had spotted a few years ago selling some ear stew on the street. She had been given the bowl and cutlery back by her customer. She bid him thanks, looked around, then wiped the bowl on her pinny and put it back for the next customer. At least she didn't lick the fork clean, like I am now doing...

The best example I have seen was on my Uncle Ronald's fishing trawler. When I was thirteen, our class had to arrange some work experience. I wasn't inspired by my peer's choices - primary schools, local factories or offices, so I did mine on my uncle's massive trawler (well, I didn't really as even early Health and Safety wouldn't have let a 13 yr old girl sail around the North Sea for a week, but I did help load and unload, and spent the rest of the week sitting on beaches with my lovely aunty!).

As they had a work experience sucker on board, the fishermen set me the tasks that no-one else wanted to do. I had to crawl around the engine room, greasing all the cogs  - I thought it was great, they did too... I was also asked if I could tidy up the galley a bit, and even as a 13 yr old scutter, I was pretty traumatised by what I saw. In that tiny little room, one of the men cooked enough food to feed eight hairy-arsed fishermen who worked for 20 hours a day catching and gutting fish in the cold and rain. It looked as if he'd forgotten to write Jif (it was 1984; Cif was still Jif) on his shopping list for the past ten years.

I spent about three hours in that galley, scrubbing, retching and scratching at things. I even managed to bend the net curtains. Finally the fishermen came down to see how I was doing, and I "ta-daahed" my shiny (ish) reveal. I remember it now. In fact, it probably set my whole life's cleaning mantra. A bloke in dirty yellow waterproof overalls, who smelt of fish and hadn't washed his hands for a whole week, let alone anything else, picked up his mug and said, "Oh, you've cleaned my mug. What did you do that for? I won't be able to recognise it now..."

I think of that now as I wipe a mug clean with a tea-towel, or get the baby to lick a plate. When you're cooking soup, it doesn't really matter what was cooked in the pan before - it's all flavour, so there's no point in cleaning the old one out. Glasses? Pah. Toast plates - a quick smooth over with a sleeve and as good as new. Cake mixture - well, the kids won't allow those bowls to be washed anyway. The time I've saved - priceless.



Something else was set in place that day: as the fishermen shared out their spoils in the pub, I was bought my first ever pint of lager and lime. My uncle would surely have been proud that he installed in me that day a value that I have carried with me since. Every time I've stood at a bar, I've muttered those words, "A pint of lager n loime, please..."