Hotels are always a good source for that sort of thing, and I went to the Cumberland Hotel to see the personnel officer who engaged casual labour. I must have passed muster with him because I then had a medical examination by this rather severe nursing sister, who looked at my hands and asked just one question: 'Have you had dermatitis?'
Success again, I made it through that stage, and they issued me with ill-fitting big brown overalls - naturally, I would be difficult to fit, but they didn't remotely fit me - and funny sort of rubber boots, very Eastern European looking.
I went to work in the scullery, deep in the bowels of Marble Arch - it looked a real sweatshop. Most of the staff, who were terribly nice, were recent arrivals from the Caribbean, and were actually motor mechanics or electricians, and had landed there in order to earn a bit of money so that they could set up their own businesses.
The cutlery and crockery came through, boiling hot, on a conveyor belt, which was a bit too high for me, so I had to jump and pull them off, which was quite tiring, and then dry them and stack them.
Round about 10am, the manager came up and said to me: 'You can go and have your lunch now, be back in 12 minutes' - a very early lunch. I went to the staff canteen, which was an extremely squalid room, with ranks of tin lockers painted dark green along the walls and a messy table covered with yesterday's newspapers with the horse selections ringed in coloured pencil, and brimming ashtrays everywhere.
A truly ghastly lamb stew, full of bones more than anything, was served to us, and I kind of toyed with this to see if it tasted as bad as it looked - and it did.
I then got so depressed that I changed out of my overalls into the civvies I had arrived in, and walked out - and never went back again. I couldn't take any more. Even though I desperately needed the money, as I was absolutely skint, I was sure there was something less depressing for me to do.
I emerged into Great Cumberland Place, and suddenly I felt very free, it was one of the happiest moments of my life, it was a crisp, sunny, late autumn day, full of fresh air, the complete opposite to the atmosphere I had run away from, and I remember walking up Great Cumberland Place, feeling very happy and free.
I frequently think about that job. Very often I do cabaret at a function, and the best entrance to the stage is via the kitchens. You change upstairs in a hotel guest room, and then take a service lift to the kitchens, and come through as the waiters are serving dinner. And every time I pass there, I remember . . .
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