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.