None of you will be aware of this because I haven’t seen fit to tell you (don’t be offended, we all have our little secrets) but I started a British Sign Language course four weeks ago. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and, to cut a long story short, I’m doing it now because (by a weird confluence of events) my current novel features a Deaf character and my employers thought it would be jolly useful to have a member of staff trained in sign language and are thus paying for me to do it.
None of this is important (well, it is and I may blog about it all separately later). What is important is that the class runs from 7 – 9pm on a Tuesday. I simply don’t have time to eat a meal before the class so I’m usually famished when I come out.
And this is why, on the long walk home, I find myself frequenting the type of fast food establishment that normally in the cold light of day I wouldn’t touch with an 8ft baguette.
We’re talking greasy joes, truck driver cafes and kebaberies whose window lit meat racks seem to house the carcasses of household pets and the odd horse nicked from a Home County show ground.
I am ill at ease in these places. I’m used to fine wining and dining. Or at least a free plastic toy with my meal.
Take last Tuesday. It was a cold night and I felt like a short sharp unhealthy hit of cholesterol. So I nipped into one of Leamington’s more infamous chip-joints. The Sakarya (pronounced by the hoodies as Zachariah).
I ordered something suitable “street” and “down with the kids”. Cheesy chips.
Yes, I know. Not exactly overflowing with Nigella-esque nutrition or red blooded Gordon Ramsay protein. But, you know, it’s fuel for the fire. A naughty treat.
I order and I wait. The Turkish looking guy behind the counter is monosyllabic and seems to singularize absolutely everything. Cheesy chips becomes cheesy chip. This amuses me greatly but I don’t let this show on my face as his Turkish colleague, shaving great strips of flesh off the kebab spit, is giving me the evil eye. Actually, I say Turkish looking merely because of the kebab. In actual fact I could have easily said Greek looking, Portuguese looking or Eastern bloc looking. The typical unthinking Englishman’s casual racism. I haven’t a clue where they were from.
Could have been Peckham for all I know.
The guy who got served before me has his burger carton open on the counter in front of him and is troughing down his food with one hand and waving the other around as he demands more mayonnaise. Demands, mind, not asks. He makes to hold the mayonnaise bottle himself but the burly Turk / Greek / Yorkshire man behind the counter refuses to relinquish it. He squeezes the mayonnaise out until the chomping pig tells him to stop. “That’s enough, mate.” And off he trots into the cold night air.
When it’s my turn to get served I get offered all the usual relishes – salt, vinegar, ketchup and the ubiquitous mayonnaise. I answer to each “yes, please” or “no, thanks” as I see fit. Stavros hands my food over. I take it and offer one last thank you to the grease filled air.
Both Mr Turk and henchman Turk give me long evil stares.
I leave the building and continue walking home wondering what the hell I’ve done to offend them.
And then it hits me. I was polite. I was quite possibly too polite. In an industry where these guys must see the worst scum of the earth pass through their doors at all hours of the night in various states of advanced inebriation, to have someone – out of the blue and with no apparent reason – say please and thank you must seem like the biggest piss-take the world has ever seen.
They thought I was being sarcastic. They thought I was being patronizing. They thought I was taking the Michael.
Good grief. Is this what the world is coming too?
Well it was either that or the fact I told them that their fathers like to do goats up the arse in sign language... but I doubt it.