Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Nasal Bungee

I have never in my life waited tables or worked in a cafe.

Not even as a Saturday job.

It’s not that I ever thought such a job was too beneath me. Honestly. The truth was I was just too shy to contemplate having to deal with people on such an intimate level. I.E. Actually speaking to them and bringing them food items which they will then ingest in front of me. Add to this dealing with money and till receipts and the odd complaint about cold sausage meat and, as a late teen / early twenty something, it was just a career move that I felt myself far too inadequate to contemplate.

So I stuck to office cleaning and the odd spot of lawn mowing for old ladies. No. There is no euphemism there. Don’t even think it.

But I often wonder about people who do wait tables. I marvel at their self-confidence and stamina. I often wonder if, had someone pushed me into working in a cafe, it would have done my confidence some good and hardened me up to the hard knocks of the work place sooner rather than later. Who knows where I might have ended up as a consequence?

One waitress I will always remember worked in a proper greasy spoon in Birmingham back in the Eighties. Not a cafe. A caff. Me and my mate, Dave, used to head over on the train every Saturday to visit the guitar shops and the record shops of ‘Brum’. We were both new to full time employment – Dave at the Post Office and me at British Telecom – and, both of us living at home, we had assets so liquid we could piss them up the wall as often and as wantonly as we liked without a care in the world.

One Saturday we decided we were in the mood for a proper fry-up. A proper heart-attack-on-a-plate, long-distance-lorry-driver kind of fry-up. The kind running in so much grease and oil you think David Walliams may have wrung out his swimming trunks all over your plate (‘cos they cover his body in goose fat to insulate him against the cold water – just in case you were wondering what I was referring to).

We found a likely cafe. I can’t remember what it was called but I do recall it was near a butcher’s shop that sported the unlikely name of Big City Meat. That amused our young adult minds no end, I can tell you.

I ordered egg and chips – that hardy British nutritional standby – and I can’t for the life of me remember what Dave ordered. But I can tell you now that it wasn’t a salad. That place did not sell anything green. Though as you will discover it may have offered something for free...

We didn’t take much notice of the waitress at first. Other than she punctuated every word she spoke with a sniff. She was rather gaunt looking and was wearing an apron that was far too big for her and looked like it had been nicked from her granny. Dave and I were far too interested in the acoustic guitar I’d just bought to give her the benefit of a quick male-interest once over and so let her be.

When she brought our food over, however, it was a different matter. She held the plates up so high we had no choice but to look up into her face. To peer upwards into the glistening twin-cavities of her nose. And therein at the same time we both spied the biggest, wettest bogey ever produced hanging by the most precarious of threads, waiting to drop its gagging payload onto our plates.

We both tensed nervously as the plates were lowered down to the table top and she bent her head forwards a little. She may have whispered “bon appétit” but I very much doubt it; she was from Birmingham after all. It was probably something like “get yer chops around that”. And then she disappeared back into the kitchen with a dismissive sniff.

But was it an empty sniff – a sniff that luxuriated in a sudden vacuum? Or a sniff that reconnected and re-housed something warm, wet and personal?

We will never know but I can tell you now, no two plates of greasy fried food were ever so furiously and so dedicatedly examined for unasked for greens.

I have never relished greasy food since that day and cannot abide “snotty” eggs. They have to be easy-over and nicely firm, not an ounce of runny stuff upon them. Overly gooey eggs make me want to retch.

I don’t know if working in a cafe ever improved that girl’s lot in life or did her any good. Whether her bravery over my cowardice meant she was fast-tracked to some dream job years later and now she’s rubbing shoulders with Alan the Lord Sugar and running her own business while I‘m here... er... where I am.

I think of her often and wonder who, out of the two of us, had it the worst that day; who the best.

Her memory stays with me always. Hanging there by a moist thread.

Never quite letting go.


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28 comments:

TimeWarden said...

Never mind working in a greasy spoon, you should've tried your hand at serving customers in a record store!

Gorilla Bananas said...

So neither of you had the balls to say: "Excuse me, miss, you've got a bogie hanging from your nostril, I can lend you my napkin you want." It would have sounded polite in a Brummie accent and might have made a man of you. When I think of all the missed opportunities in life...

John Gray said...

what a delightful post
(and I mean that!)
I enjoyed it

Nota Bene said...

Yep well blow me down, definitely not a good thing when the waiting staff get snotty with the clientèle. Suggest you just try and wipe away the memory of it snot the sort of thing you want to be thinking about too much

Steve said...

TimeWarden: I would have taken my work home with me.

Gorilla Bananas: a napkin? We would have needed a baseball glove at the very least.

John: would you like seconds?

Nota Bene: my trouble is I like to chew the fat.

Being Me said...

And you can add boogers to my list of things I cannot stomach, along with spitting and vomit. I've just made myself sick thinking of them to type them here.
Do you ever wonder why more of us don't save instead of pissing that liquid disposable income up against the wall? Sigh. Those were the days.

Steve said...

Being Me: I know. When I think of how much money went through my fingers at a time when I didn't have a clue as to how to put it to good use. Why didn't I travel? Save for a place of my own? Invest? Instead I own approximately 500 records. When there's a world vinyl shortage I shall be quids in.

Hannah Denski said...

Steve, eeew, that is really off putting... snotty waitress! But really funny at the same time! I often wonder about that profession ... what becomes of them in the future...I'm sure they all disappear into stardom (never seen a old/er waiter/ress)! : ) x

vegemitevix said...

Oh gross! I did many a years as a waitress and all I'm saying is never piss your waitress off before she gets your food. That's all I'm saying. *snort* Maybe she was pissed off you didn't give her the benefit of the male once-over?

Steve said...

Hannah: old waiter's never die; they just wait God's table. Or get
into the porn industry. One of the two.

Vix: one of my mottos in life is "be nice to the waitress". I always think it's better to leave a restuarant you're not happy with than complain and stay. You just never know what they might do to your food. There was a documentary on TV about it once... revolting what the spycams picked up. People throwing burgers against walls, spitting into food and one awful woman deliberately blew her nose into a customer's cup of tea because she thought he'd been rude!

English Rider said...

Eeewww! here too. I don't think I would have eaten that food.
I was the same as you, too shy to serve tables. I worked part time as cook in a pub kitchen but never showed my face to the pub-lic. My sister hired on as a "Silver Service" waitress in England and France. Lied her way in with no experience and no worries. My daughter's got that same ballsy approach and has been Hostess and waitress. Different tolerances, I suppose.

Steve said...

English Rider: it takes all sorts. I imagine waiting tables must improve your social skills and make you good with people... but you need to be confident in the first place to even contemplate doing it.

The bike shed said...

Made me laugh. It's odd the things that stay n our memory. I remember a lady who used to serve in the school tuck shop who always wore gloves, and a man who had the town sweet shop who had hooks for hands - as kids we go there just to stare.

Steve said...

The Bike Shed: hooks for hands? Did he sell Polos individually?

The Sagittarian said...

Many moons ago I worked for NZ Rail, there was a staff cafe on top of the building and a delightfully grumpy old lady worked there. Rumour had it that she would take her teeth out to crimp the pie edges....

Steve said...

Amanda: I won't ask how she made the mince.

Jon said...

"Green eggs & ham!"

Hmm.

Steve said...

Jon: I am sick I am.

Trish @ Mums Gone To... said...

Just think of the extra protein you'd have ingested- she might have charged extra.

Steve said...

Trish: if it was pre-warmed they'd put VAT on it.

Katriina said...

Ah Steve. Eloquent as ever. Eggs will never be the same again.

Steve said...

Katriina: or mushy peas.

Owen said...

What was that old margarine advert in the US ? The tag line said :

"You think it's butter, but it's not..."

Say it out loud for full effect...

Steve said...

Owen: euwww...!

Wanderlust said...

I think you've just put me off food for the rest of the day. For the record, I was a waitress and lousy at it. It didn't help my confidence, either. I was a better house cleaner. The life of an introvert...

Steve said...

Wanderlust: funnily enough I'm pretty good with a hoover too...! ;-)

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

That image and your subtitle took me instantly into NZ premier night of the Two Towers (which like the er Shed, opened in London). Not just transported into the little half-full Rangiora cinema (where most of the patrons were Riders of Rohan disguised as local horsey types), but transported to that very moment evoked by your lead photo and quote from LOTR, when the projector got spooked and the great eye of Sauron blazed, then fizzled into darkness. Of course the projectionist did some nifty splicing or whatever and the show went on. This has got nothing to do with your topic except for admiring your sense of irony!

Steve said...

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden: the power of Sauron is not to be mocked...!