Sunday, 31 August 2008

Dishing the dirt

I've been cooking at festivals all summer. I worked for this big Welsh woman and her skinny little husband. They were ok but they had this daughter, same age as mine but three times the size.
Amazingly they allowed her to work front of house. She stood there, with matted hair and squeezed into an unwise mini-skirt, glaring at all of the customers. The kid ruled the roost. And she nicked out of the till, while her mam accused the staff. Everybody was terrified of the no-neck monster.
From time to time you'd hear her voice..."maaaaam"
This kid loved to lord it over the staff and her mam let her. Working mother guilt.
One time the Welsh mam came up to me and said
"this hummus isn't good".
This was exactly the same recipe as I had made the day before, when she loved it.
I could see the kid standing in the background, smirking.
Welsh mam dips her finger in, wrinkles her nose and says "something wrong with it. Erm, not enough garlic I think"
I taste it. Plenty of garlic.
"Not enough cumin maybe" Welsh mam tries again.
The last time she told me not to put too much cumin in.
The kid stomps up, joins in "maaaaam, tell her it's disgusting."
I am seething. I am being told how to cook by a 14 year old chav.
I hold it in.
"Maybe more lemon juice" I say.
When Welsh mam's back is turned, eyes narrowed, I look at the kid, she looks back at me and mutual hatred is established.
I mention the kid's drug taking, an argument about Ketamine, on a post about festivals on my other blog. I don't know how but they find out about it.
The entire staff put me 'in Coventry' for the whole festival. I work alone from 6 a.m. My shifts are getting longer, I am taking more and more responsibility as the rest of the staff, including Welsh mam, skinny dad and fat slag teenager get more and more wrecked.
I am told I must apologize to the chav monster kid.
"But I told the truth, and anyway I didn't name her" I say.
Chav no-neck monster plonks herself next to me, she starts with the psycho-babble she no doubt learnt off 'Trisha':
"I'm feeling hurt, undermined"
What can I do? I apologize.
One morning at 5 a.m. I get up and start cooking. I can't sleep because of the banging techno all night so I might as well get a head start.
Skinny dad is pissed. He is weaving around the kitchen holding their favourite drink: tequila and ginger beer. I'm chopping potatoes.
"Some people can't be trusted" he slurs. "Some people are spies, grasses".
I lose it.
"Well never mind, this'll be my last festival with you" I spit, hacking at the potatoes with spite.
A while later, I am washing vegetables over the sink. I am weeping quietly. One of the crew, a guy who I haven't really talked to, comes over. He sees that I'm crying and says
"Ah, they've been tough on you haven't they? They are all sheep you know. Terrified of [Welsh mam] and her horrible kid. My girlfriend's the worst. A total suck up. That's why nobody would talk to you."
"I'm leaving" I say "this is no fun for me. I'm not enjoying this festival. I'm not getting drunk or wrecked. Nobody even likes my food."
"You are kidding! They love it. You are the person keeping this going. Without you, there is nothing to sell. You write the shopping lists. You make the menu's. You cook it all. Don't go. We need you. Don't mind them."
"Everybody thinks I'm this snotty London cow" I sob "but I'm not. I'm normal, have feelings like the rest of you."
"Aw now, that's not true" he says sweetly.
But I know it is, I can see it in his eyes.
His kindness makes me cry harder.
You know up to then, I almost thought I had imagined it, nobody talking to me, the cold shoulder. Almost worse when you find out you are not paranoid.
The next day, after working five 14 hour shifts, Welsh mam pays me exactly the same amount as before, well below minimum wage. She won't even pay all my petrol to get there which she had promised. I'd seen how much cash went through those tills, and how much was pocketed by the underpaid staff. Not that I would, but as the cook, I was never near the tills and so was guaranteed not to be a thief.
I quit.

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