“Could I have more water for the kettle?”
“Give me a mo, I’ll just go and fill it.”
“Sorry to be a pest, but are there any more mugs?”
“I thought I’d left enough for everyone?”
“Oh, yes, but I had coffee earlier and now I want tea, so I need a new cup.”
“Shall I just leave these dirty mugs here?”
“Well, I’ll just move them off these timesheets, and I’ll take them through to the dishwasher later.”
The problem is, my office doubles up as the volunteer’s room, where they come for their sandwiches and cups of tea. As the only kitchen is my own, in my living quarters, they are unable to wash up their own cups or fill their own kettle. I try to leave everything they could possibly need in advance of their arrival at 12 noon. I fill the kettle, leave a spare jug of water, a jug of milk, a sugar bowl, teaspoons, cups, tea bags, coffee, a biscuit tin and a cake.
By 12.30 every cup has been used, the kettle is emptied, coffee rings adorn my paperwork, and crumbs have found their way into every crevice. Used tea bags squat on the side of the desk, infuriatingly close to the bin. If they’ve had their sandwiches too the wastebasket will now be overflowing with discarded wrappers and banana skins. The worst is when they bring fishy sandwiches in a plastic box….that “pfftt” as the lid comes off and the scent of salmon fills my working environment.
It’s not their fault. They do a long stint and need a bite to eat and a cup of tea. And if they see me in the office, typing away at the computer, they find it hard not to pull up a chair alongside mine and ask how I’m doing, tell me how they’re doing, how their families are doing, how their neighbours are doing. They are fascinated by whatever I might be doing on the computer, and show no shame in craning forward for a better look. Otherwise, they’d just have to sit there, quietly, watching me work, and that would be boring for them.
Next week sees the commencement of work on our new visitor facilities. We are turning the old milking parlour into new toilets, complete with baby changing room, accessible WC for disabled visitors and, joy of joys, a volunteer room. They will have their own area, outside the house, outside my office, with a sink and a fridge and a chair! It will be their room, their responsibility. If they leave it in a state, they will have to face the ire of their colleagues. If they decide to carry their hot beverages back to the house I am hoping the distance is such that their drinks will have cooled enough not to leave nasty marks on the historic furniture! They will have to clean their own cups! Oh my. I am quite giddy at the implications of it all. Still, it is quite a way in the future yet, and until then we are still thrust together at refreshment time. I made a small effort to get them used to the concept of separation. I moved the kettle and tea making paraphernalia to the other end of the office, away from my desk. It hasn’t been an unqualified success. One lovely chap came in today, looking in bafflement at where the kettle used to be.
“If you’re looking for the kettle,” I said, “it’s over there.” I pointed to the other end of the room, which I had tried to make inviting, with a chair and a poster. (To be fair, the tyvek and tape repair, billowing ominously overhead, does spoil it somewhat.)
“No, no, it’s all right,” he replied. “I’m just looking for somewhere to eat my sandwich.” And he pulled up a chair alongside mine and asked what kind of winter I’d had.
I have a feeling the new room may take a while to be accepted into common usage.