Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Fancy "f*****g" Fillings

When I arrived in Sydney on Friday 13Th November 1992, my sister had not long since left. Fortunately for me, this meant that I had people to welcome me, show me around and provide me with free accommodation. Within 2 hours of arriving in Sydney, my friend Ian and I had booked into a grubby Kings Cross hostel, found my sisters best friend, had a few beers on the harbour side, moved into a pub in Surrey Hills and booked out of the aforementioned grubby hostel. What a start to a country! Things could only get worse.

So, the first few weeks go well. We both have enough money to tide us by for a short while and we are we are living in a pub for free (does life get any better than this?). I routinely get up very late, have a bacon sandwich and a can of coke for brunch, chill out all afternoon and then drink in the bar in the evening. What better place to drink alcohol than directly under the place where you are staying. When you are suitably inebriated and fed up with the live jazz, you stagger up the stairs and fall into your pit -fantastic.

But as the old saying goes, money does indeed not grow on trees. By December, it was very apparent that we would need to find work. To be honest, this procedure was alien to me at this point in my life. All the other jobs that I had done were by word of mouth, government schemes or the Kibbutz. The thought of walking around shops, cafes, bars and the likes was a very uncomfortable one for me and therefore this method did not prove fruitful. I was basically making myself redundant before the person had a chance to respond.

"Hi, my name is er Andy, you don't have any er jobs do you"?, I would mutter, whilst already trying to exit the establishment.

To which the prospective employer would say either "No er I don't - now stop wasting my time". Obviously he did not say the last part but that's what was going on in my head. Needless to say, it was a while before I got my first job. During which time I received good advice, coffee machine training and bar pump practice. This came from my sisters best friend Andrea and her boyfriend Carlo, who was also the manager of the pub that we were staying in "The Strawberry Hills Hotel".

Ian on the other hand got a job fairly early on in a fried chicken restaurant, where he lasted all of one day. He then got a second job working for an office removal company, which lasted him for about a month. He quit, after he called his boss a prick to one of his colleagues, only to be asked the following morning by his boss, "So you think I'm a prick do you"? Awkward.

Eventually, the word of mouth method of getting a job comes up trumps and I gain employment as a kitchen hand in a gay restaurant. The restaurants name is JBF which it turns out, is short for Just Been Fucked. It is located right in the heart of Sydney's very gay area, where transvestites, trans genders and out and out gays, parade the streets in their legions. This completely distorts my impression of the Aussie male, who until this point I have regarded as the beer swilling, crocodile hunting, uncouth, real man type. I am the only straight person working at the restaurant and as a young, blond, skinny, relatively attractive (although I never thought it at the time) boy/man I am constantly teased. My arse is incessantly pinched as I bend over the sink to wash mountains of dishes. This, in combination with the fact that I have to work until 5 am, 5 nights a week and I have an irritable bowel, leads me to quit the job after a month.

I pick up my second job on the strength of my sisters impeccable reputation as a worker. I am offered a job in a coffee shop named Fancy Fillings, where my sister Janet was employed the previous year. Andrea is also working there and I suspect that she has put in a very good word. I have a very short interview during which time the lady seems much More interested in my sisters well being than my own skills. At the end of the interview she even says "Well, if you're half as good as your sister, you'll be very good"! At this stage in my life I am far from domesticated and I am already doubting that last statement before I exit the shop.

Fancy fillings is located right on Circular Quay within spitting distance of the glorious Sydney Opera House. The setting could not be any more perfect. I don't have to work until 10 am, so I take a leisurely breakfast on the water front, whilst looking out over the magnificent harbour and letting tranquility enter my soul. This is to be my first table waiting experience (and my last), and I am not totally certain that my overactive/non concentrating brain is up to the job. I have been told that lunch time on Circular Quay is a busy time and I am not convinced that the next 4 hours are going to be my finest. I'm not wrong.

Donned in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, I enter the shop and am immediately given an apron with the Fancy Fillings logo emblazoned on it. I then receive the basic instructions to my role. The tools of my trade are minimal and amount to a pen and a pad. I should walk to the tables, exchange pleasantries, take their order, write the order down, ensuring that the carbon paper is between the next 2 pages on the pad. I then keep, one of the papers for my own reference, whilst delivering the second paper to the kitchen so that they can make the food. Couldn't be more simple right?

All is going good and well until 11 am, mainly because we only have 3 customers until this point. Even with no customers, I am struggling with the carbon copy bit I must admit and have had to write out the order twice on 2 of the 3 orders. I use my forte as a talker to try and disguise my ineptitude in other areas. Unfortunately I use my talking skills a little too well and by the time it starts to get busy I am a little too chirpy.

By 11.45, Fancy Fillings is in full swing. The main clientele are office workers, eager for a quick feed before heading back off to their offices. These are mixed with tourists, who stroll along the Sydney water front and then relax for a drawn out lunch. There lies my problem, I am trying to please 2 sets of people at once, from 2 totally different demographics. A typical conversation with a tourist would go as follows.

Me: Good morning sir.
Customer: Good morning. Oh, you're English. Where in England are you from? I have an aunt in Chester.
Me: Oh really, I love Chester. Lovely shopping area there called the rows, it's the only split level Tudor style shopping mall in the world (I don't know this for sure but it sounds good).
Customer: Really. Do you know Amy Hatherthwaite, she works in the bakery there.
Me: No sorry (fucking numbnuts).

and so on and so on.

This would be all good and well in a tea room in a remote part of Scotland. However, I am to find out, that in a sandwich shop in the busiest office and tourist district of Sydney, idle banter is not so practical.

Conversely, a typical conversation with one of the office workers would go as follows:

Office worker: Excuse me, I have been sat here for 20 minutes and you have not been anywhere near my table. That lady has been here for 5 minutes and you are serving her. If you would stop talking so much and pay attention to who came first, you might be able to clear this place out a bit.

Me: Sorry sir, I did not notice.

What I have also failed to notice, is the fact that there are people queuing outside the door, the other staff have left their positions to try and help me out and there is an air of general discontent permeating Fancy Fillings. In fact this little sandwich shop on the Sydney quayside now resembles a disaster relief operation. In the commotion that ensues I manage to lose the order pad and pen more times than I find it and when I do eventually locate it, I succeed with perfect inevitability in forgetting to use the carbon copy paper. I am so flummoxed by the whole debacle that I give the one copy to the chef anyway and then have absolutely no idea, who to give the food to when it arrives at the chef's hatch. I am hoping that this will go unnoticed but when the other staff jump in to help, they demand to know what I have done with the carbon copies. There are 2 answers to this question, 1. I have no idea and 2. There never was one in the first place.

Throughout the whole pallava, my mantra goes as follows, "It will all be over soon, it will all be over soon", and it is. By 2pm Fancy Fillings has returned to an oasis of calm. Oh, it's a mess alright, slightly messier than normal I assume and there are a lot of full plates of food left over. These are the meals that I have lost the dockets for. The manager approaches me with my wages in her hand and a scowl upon her countenance. I rather embarrassingly take the money and make my way out of the door.

From circular quay, I take the subway back to Central Station. As I sit back to relax, I feel a rustling in my pockets, I stick my hands in and pull out a handful of dockets. So that's where they were I think. Once again I sit back and hear another rustling around my shorts area. I check my pockets. Nothing there. I sit back once more but once again hear a rustling. I stick my hand into my shorts and then into my underpants. Once more I pull out a handful of dockets. I vow never to wait tables again in my life.

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