There’s a fair facsimile of pandemonium in the cleaning room. An event is about to get under way and the cleaning squad is mobilising with a sense of frayed precision.
People are stepping left and right of each other trying to get to various pieces of equipment — mops, buckets, cleaning chemicals, rubber gloves, bin liners, toilet rolls.
Pass me the air freshener, shouts someone. Someone else asks for a set of cloths: “Get me one red, one green and one blue.” Each colour is assigned a particular task — green for table-top counters, red for toilet top counters and so on ...
A joke is told on the fly, scattered laughter patters all round like stray raindrops in a stray shower.
A more serious voice — one not given to jokes at this hour — shouts: “Come on, move it, you’re all on my time now, not yours.”
A few thousand are expected this day according to gate forecasts — around 12,000 is the target. Everyone knows it’s going to be a sharp demanding shift. Just outside the massive gates, in fact, the crowd is building, waiting. Ten minutes before the hour, a posse of security guards descend on the area and in their green jackets, look like a swarm of locusts taking up their places.
Once the gates are open there’s a surge because everybody wants to get in first to reserve their tables closest to the finishing post. Women wearing hats and feathers, men with hats minus feathers, women in impossibly high heels challenging their ankles and their spines in the initial sprint for the halls. Mercifully there’s an absence of children.
This is a day at the races, a day when horses are going to be bet upon where money is going to exchange hands at a furious pace, one area is heard to take no less than 2,000 upward.
It reminds one of a humorous quote, which is: “Horse sense is what keeps horses from betting on people.” But today is all about people sense and one senses the people have come in loaded ready to blow it all or make it big.
In 30 minutes, the show is under way, everyone has got himself or herself a place they’re reasonably happy with. The cleaning squad is on the move, attempting to be obtrusive while at the same time being intrusive, a dexterous art that comes with experience. Pieces of paper — torn scraps of betting slips that didn’t bear fruit — are swept up into pans with brooms and deposited into bins. Within minutes the bins themselves are groaning with overload — because one must not forget the Australian public loves a good drink or seven when out at an event. This aside from other snacks and nibbles that come in disposable boxes. Teams begin wheeling the bins out to bigger skips stationed behind the main facade of entertainment.
Sometimes, money is found on the ground, sometimes an identity card, sometimes a bracelet, an earring. Sometimes these things find their owners, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it will be heard — a complaint, a grumble — that someone hasn’t come this way for the last 15 minutes and the table has been unattended. “There, that’s her. She’s only attending to the others. Someone should tell her ...” Or, “Someone was here about half an hour ago, a guy with ginger hair, but I haven’t seen him for some time and I need to have this spot cleaned”.
There’s a generality in the air, which is a generality one encounters at public events. There are a lot of somebodies gathered together. Most of us don’t know most of them and vice versa. We are like tiny human planets orbiting each other, trying not to collide. Yet, each of us possesses an individuality that shouldn’t be, mustn’t be, overlooked.
As someone said: “To the world you may be some person, but to some person you may be the world.”
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.