Monday, October 24, 2011
1984: Dressed to kill they're killing me
I don't really know why I did it, but I thought I should do it nonetheless. When I first started being a student my roomate and I decide to get Saturday jobs. Bit of extra cash, nothing too taxing, you know the score.
But for some reason or another, instead of doing something groovy like working in HMV or Top Man, we ended up getting jobs at a new fast food 'restaurant' called Huckleberry's.
The interview process was gruelling. You'd think it was to join MI5. I went in a suit, naturally, and was grilled to death. I only wanted a bit of extra pocket money, not a career in fast food restaurant managment which might have seen me marrying a woman who worked in IT, living in a Barrett home on the outskirts of Reading, taking myself rather seriously and listening to Sade on a loop. The pay was pitiful, but it would only be one morning and two evenings a week. It was all terribly exciting, they said, to be at the forefront of a new food revolution. I couldn't have agreed more.
Beacuse it was yet to open, there was a lot of training involved. It involved getting in a minibus at the crack of dawn with the other trainees, some of whom were students, most of whom were terminally dim, led by a balding man in his late twenties and what I presume now to be his younger partner, but in those days that kind of thing wouldn't have crossed my mind. I remember them both singing along to this tune, never off the radio but never a big hit. Love it though.
Traning was in Watford, far, far away from my south coast base, and we didn't even get there until lunchtime when we would be fed free burgers and Cokes. Then it was on the training. It took place on the shop floor and involved lots of bellowing greetings at self-concious customers and demanding to know if they'd like fries with that, as well as bit of learning to use a clunky early stages electronic till. It was horrific.
When the time came to actually start work I couldn't believe what I'd let myself in for. I wasn't allowed anywhere near the till, and instead found myself under threat of death from a horrible middle manager type on litter duty, bog cleaning, table-wiping and fish cutting. If I was lucky, I might get to assemble a Huckelburger. Once I cut my finger so badly doing fish that it nearly fell off, but there was no time for that. I was just put on toppings, and my blood mingled with the gherkin vinegar while my finger healed itself. I have to say it did the trick.
Food standards were appalling. Today, they've been closed down, and when I've tipped off environmental health about kitchen standards I've seen lacking in places in the past I haven't done it lightly. I know what I'm talking about. Anything that went on the floor got picked up and used again, the grill was a deathtrap and the floors so slippery you could have held an entire series of Dancing On Ice on it.
The worst part of course was the uniform. A royal blue number, with matching cap, that made you look like a cross between a nurse and a simpleton. Caps were never to be removed. Punters took the piss and lacking in any dignity it was hard to stand your ground. When they'd point out that you'd missed a bit while wiping their table and you shot back with 'well why don't you do it yourself', you had to remember that it was actually your job. It was so demeaning I'm still getting over it.
So after about three weeks of Saturdays and the two nights a week, I could bear it no longer. When I took my break, Huckleburger in hand, trying to make small talk with a fellow employee who I had nothing whatsoever in common with and trying to keep one eye on Blankety Blank, I wondered what on earth I was doing there. And when still scraping down the girll at 3am having to be up at 7am, stinking of grease and not being able to get the smell out, I resolved to quit.
The straw that broke the camel's back was the late nights. The really late nights. Trying to get home at that time of the morning when taxis were not an option was a nightmare. One night horrid little younger partner of bald boss offered us a lift, which was nice. But when I asked again he flatly refused, then went and told anyone who might live my way that I might tap them up too. 'Forewarned is fore-armed,' he said in his best dimbulb 'only me' type accent, those words still ringing in my ears 27 years later, like I was going to ask for a pay rise or something.
You didn't have to give any notice. Me and my friend just upped and left. When they called we were both 'out'. No one came to track us down. We put the uniforms on a Guy and burnt them.