The battle of the padlock

3 December 2019

Many times in my peripatetic working life have I bemoaned the triviality of the daily tasks that I engage in – from emptying the mail bag to filing the bank statements to printing and assembling name tags. One of these tasks in my present job is replenishing the milk in the office fridge. I had no idea this was my job till one morning, shortly after I started, a group of people standing around the coffee machine called my name in unison. When I looked up from my computer screen enquiringly, they said “the milk!” with varying degrees of exasperation. Only then did I figure out that I was to fetch the key from an obscure place in the office, go over to an annex where there is a little dark room, of which I’d previously been unaware, unlock the padlock on the fridge and extract our weekly milk allowance. Coffee is an important part of most of my co-workers’ daily lives so I accept their exasperation at finding no milk in the office fridge, though I don’t accept responsibility for the lack of milk that day when no-one had bothered to inform me of this particular duty. So I can add getting the milk to my list of trivial tasks.

This week the question of milk became a bone of contention in our office. You may have heard of the Battle of Poitiers or the Battle of the Potomac. What we have here is the battle of the padlock, which is not important enough to warrant upper case letters but is heated nevertheless. A person who is new to our office opened the fridge on Monday morning to find there was no milk for her cuppa. Instead of calling my name, she stomped over to the annex and was outraged to find the milk fridge padlocked. After locating the key, she unlocked the fridge, extracted the milk and removed the padlock. This was considered a revolutionary act by the person who stocks the fridge – the word “theft” was used regarding the missing padlock. They had an argument in the office over the rights and wrongs of locking the fridge. After a mild intervention by the boss, the padlock was returned and the annex fridge once again firmly locked against any wandering thieves.

But that’s not the end of it. The padlock remover has taken the matter further and emailed the chief administrator saying, “Surely the days of using locks to ensure other departments can’t touch any milk that ‘belongs’ to your department are long gone?” and “the fact that we are already acting as grown-ups when we collect the milk; the fact that milk does not come out of our own budgets and so does not ‘belong’ to a single department , surely negates the need for retaining this lock.” She’s not going down without a fight, which is an attitude that sustains all good battles.

While I am the first to applaud insurrectionary acts where they improve the day-to-day lives of ordinary people, I can’t help feeling that there is something else behind the actions of the padlock remover. Using a key to unlock the fridge before getting the milk is hardly an onerous task. So why is she dead set on getting it removed? I hope to find out in due course but I may never know. Never mind. This week has been enlivened by her actions and perhaps that’s all it was about. Maybe her job is as tedious as mine!