I used to be a scrubber.
My very first job, as a teenager, was washing dishes in a hotel kitchen. It was not glamourous work. In fact you could describe it with whatever adjective is the opposite of glamourous. Fetid? Sordid? Some word like that. Working in a boiling kitchen, in the height of the summer, with low-paid, stressed out colleagues was character building.
One of my tasks was responsibility for the dustbins. Separating the edible waste from the non-edible waste was necessary, as you cleared the plates being returned from the bar and restaurant. The food waste went into the pig-bin – barrels of slop sold to local farmers as foodstuff for their pigs. It was only after about a month I realised that I was discarding ham and pork-chops into this bin. Horrified at my contribution to porcine cannibalism I made the executive decision that pork and bacon waste would be discreetly discarded into the non-food waste bin. Purely out of concern for the farm animals. I was never caught.
The hotel was located close to a sports stadium. The days on which an important match fell, were days of high alert at the hotel. Hordes of spectators would descend on the bar before, during and after the match for food and drink. Those were days when you could spend twelve hours straight, on your feed, without a solitary break.
The people who worked in that hotel were a fascinating bunch – in hindsight. At the time my feelings towards them were more ‘mixed’. There was the hotel manager who lived full-time in a room in the hotel. On call 24 hours a day, she rarely escaped. Not a sound was made without her being aware of it.
Her frenemy was the head receptionist – a sharp tongued, stylish woman who rejoiced in making sly comments at her friend’s expense.
My abiding memory of those two women (aside from their rivalry and co-dependence) is both of them sitting in the bar snug, smoking cigarettes and harmonising to ‘A woman’s heart’ which was a big hit around that time.
‘My heart is low, my heart is so low, as only a woman’s heart can be.’
I didn’t know where to look.
Then there was the head chef, an aggressive drunk who considered himself a wit. One of my tasks after the evening service was finished was to clean the kitchen.
I remember one morning being asked who had cleaned the kitchen the evening before.
‘I did’ I muttered. I knew that a compliment would not be forthcoming.
‘What did you do? Lick it?’ he bellowed, before exploding with laughter at his own hilarity.
I grinned inanely, inwardly hissing at him. Silently I responded with that age old Limerick teenager phrase:
I much preferred the other chef – a part timer who was supplementing his day job, with a few evenings at the hotel. I particularly enjoyed it when he’d prepare an expensive fillet of steak, slide it over to me and whisper ‘Have a break, don’t tell the manager I gave you that.’
My employment at the hotel initially ended, after the head chef hired a drinking buddy, to assume my responsibilities. He had just been released from jail and was looking to start afresh.
I am not making any accusations now, as I am sure it was only a coincidence, but the evening he started work, was the evening I had my wage packet stolen from my jacket pocket.
To her credit, the manager repaid me the missing money – four months later true, but it was still repaid.
My replacement was fired after a few weeks. I was rehired – with a salary increase – this time was I clearing £2.60 an hour.
My time at the hotel was brief but memorable. As all first jobs are I suppose.
The reason I am writing about it is because yesterday evening, my family went for a meal there.
None of the characters I had encountered years earlier remained. No-one recognised me. Thankfully.
The hotel was sold some years ago, and the emphasis was redirected from the restaurant to the bar. The restaurant is now used only for breakfast for the hotel residents. The bar is where the food is eaten and the trade occurs.
I had a very pleasant meal of fish and chips and mushy peas.
While it may be true that my work experience at the hotel was gruelling and relentless, it wasn’t that bad a place to be broken into the world of paid employment.
Despite the chaos (which I think is present in any hotel or kitchen) the place was well run.
And we always got paid. Which for a teenager in the 1990s working a summer job, was not always guaranteed.
It took some willpower yesterday evening, but I resisted the urge to stick my head through the kitchen door, to raise a fist in solidarity with the poor soul standing by the dishwasher in the corner.