Going Potty.

Post Uni and still in Brighton, the time came to find yet another shop job in the Laines. Having already worked in five shops in a three street radius, I did sort of have my pick. I’d always quite fancied working in a pottery painting café- slightly more artistic and creative than your average retail job. I already had the kids party experience and fancied myself a crafty sort, I thought this would compliment my new, gentle, wholesome, beachside existence.

On my first day I turned up and immediately recognised the type of manager Vanessa was. Vanessa was a party girl in her 40’s, smoked like a chimney and worked hard to develop a business that could facilitate her lifestyle. She had the marks of recent trauma etched into her being but she was warm and friendly and encouraging, the kind of lady that instills confidence.

She took me through the little, glass windowed corner shop and showed me the rows and rows of gleaming white pottery. Plates of all sizes, tiles, wreaths, piggy banks, penholders, anything and everything in neat little identical piles ready to be adorned. I was allowed to paint as much as I liked as long as the weren’t customers, in my head this meant Christmas presents for everyone sorted for the next decade.

She then took me downstairs in to the kiln room. As you can imagine it was hotter than the sun. Rows and rows of tissue papered and bagged pots, ready to be collected, lined the walls and drying racks full of people’s artistic outpourings covered every service. Fag in hand Vanessa taught me to mix the glaze in a massive bucket with the entire length of my arm.

And then it was just me… alone. In a fishbowl of gleaming white. I’d paint a bit, learning the exact strokes to best do clear writing, learning the colours and techniques; a teapot for grandma, some chili pots for mum, increasingly surreal patterned plates as the isolation started to set in.

The arrogance of youth didn’t do me any favours. My theatre and Visual Arts degree was burning a hole in my sock drawer and I felt stifled and lonely and unfulfilled; this was the wrong environment to be in.

Some days the only contact I would have with the outside world was a phonecall with the Buddhist trumpet player who was managing the Eastborne branch. He too had no customers, but being slightly less on display and probably slightly more self-sufficient than myself, he used the time to improve his trumpet and Buddhism skills. I just started to go a bit loopy.

When I did have customers they were always odd. Pottery painting it seems is not something well balanced, normal people do! Who knew?

Occasionally you’d get a cute loved up couple celebrating an anniversary or birthday; all painted hearts and cups with each other’s names on. I smiled sweetly as they giggled and whispered but glazed their trinkets with bitter resentment. Mostly it was panicky Brighton mothers, with their Tetris like ability to tessellate their Bugaboos, anxiously hosting birthday parties for Jemima, Poppy, Thor and Oscar.

Interesting fact about boys and girls- Vanessa left me with one instruction- don’t give the boys under 8 black paint. ‘What rife sexism and patronizing gender stereotyping is this?’ my inner protector of children’s autonomy shouted- Vanessa, however, was right. The little boys would spend 40 mins meticulously painting red and blue stripes on their little cars or multicoloured polka dots on their eggcup. I would turn my back for 20 seconds and turn back to see that their cars, eggcups and little selves were completely covered in black paint. I will leave it up to the child psychologists to explain this one; this did not happen to the little girls.

In no other job have I experienced such hysterical mothers. I hate to use the word hysterical when referring to women; the historical basis for the damage that word has done is enough to render it disgusting but I just don’t know how else to describe them. For example the lady who’s little boy wee-d on the shop floor, it happens a lot, no worries but instead of apologizing the irate and inconsolable woman blamed and shouted at me as I soaked up Jimmy’s wee-wee with paper towel on my hands and knees. Then the mother of a 6 month old baby who had decided she wanted baby’s footprints on an entire dinner set; 6 Plates, 6 side plates and 6 bowls. The procedure for baby footprints is thus; Bubba sits on my lap, I hold Bubba’s ankle, paint Bubba’s tiny foot and roll heel to toe over chosen piece of pottery. Cute and fun for all the family. Not when said Bubba is visibly distressed, wriggling around with 9 pieces still to go; neurotic mother screaming, “Just keep going! Don’t stop! She’s fine! She’s fine!” while all three of us soldier on traumatised and with at least two out of the three of us either in or on the verge of tears.

On a side note, and do not judge us, but I will let you into a secret of the trade. I could be cast out of the Pottery-Painting-Magic-Circle for this information and heaven forbid never work in pottery again; but occasionally in the kiln a piece of your precious, priceless, heirloom-to-be pottery may explode. Being that the clientele, as previously described, are all completely neurotic; in order to save the trauma for all involved- we copy your style. I laugh sometimes to think of the vases so proudly on display in Sussex homes that are actually a result of a pottery café wide conspiracy of forgery (by the way did you know that the side of a clenched fist and five little finger prints look an awful lot like a baby’s footprint- just saying.)

After a couple of months of this madness and isolation I packed it in, unceremoniously crying at Vanessa that I couldn’t take it anymore. She marked it down to me having a nervous breakdown, which maybe wasn’t far off the mark, and gave me one of the best bits of advice anyone’s ever given me; with a quizzical look and a shrug “It’s only Pots.” Nowadays in my more manic moments I do try to remind myself that it’s all “…only Pots” after all.

Therapise This!

 

For a short stint when Juicy couldn’t provide the hours, I considered moving to another shop in the lanes that provided massages and therapies as well as the usual Lainsey, hippy trinkets you’d expect from a new age shop in Brighton.

I only lasted three shifts. The manager was a dopey old crone whose family life seemed to consist of hiding from dodgy looking geezers and fighting loudly with her daughter.

Smoking weed out the back was actively encouraged but then rendered me not much use to the two or three customers that actually wondered into the shop in a day. As you can imagine the clientele were a selection of Brighton stalwarts… the floaty, hippy lady in her early 60’s with a tangle of grey hair loosely pinned up and a walking cane, who’s half hour massage loosened her emotional knots to the extent that it rendered her unable to walk home without disclosing to me every detail of her life thus far, professionally, mentally and, ahem, shall we say physically? Polite nodding, smiling and trying not to appear stoned was about all I could muster as I heard every sordid detail of her affairs and ailments.

A selection of creepy men followed over the next couple of days, who’s eagerness to make sure it was the little blonde masseuse and not the male sports therapist they were seeing was bordering on disturbing. (In previous moments of existential life crisis I’d considered training in massage, but like so many of these vocations, tactile as I am, I’m not sure about sharing my energy with all and sundry… specially when all and sundry are a bit smelly and can barely conceal their leeriness) To be fair, the masseuse took it all on the chin, she was in there twice a week, did her job and moved on, she’d obviously been well trained in not appearing appalled and I’m sure most of her clientele were harmless and benefited greatly from her expertise. However, after some of them left, whether or not she did a little ‘shakey hands- cringe’ jig while shouting ‘blurrrrgggghhhh’ I do not know.

It didn’t take me long to realize this was not the place for me and I called up the owner to politely tell her “thanks for the opportunity but I think I’ll take my 150 quid and quietly make my way”. I was met on the other end of the phone by an alarming torrent of abuse suggesting I’d led her on and that she was aghast at how I could have let her down in such a manner and then point blank refused to pay me. Now for most people, specially a young person in Brighton, that’s a lot of money to let go, so I braved the gauntlet and went to see her face to face. She hid. The woman hid from me, I saw her disappear out the back as she sent her shop assistant (lord help them) to tell me she wasn’t in. I tried to call a few times but she never picked up. I ended up chalking it down to experience, and running back to Juicy with my tail between my legs, but Therepise This certainly left a bad taste in my mouth… and it wasn’t bergamot or patchouli!

An Ode to an Era… Juicy

To celebrate a year since I started this Blog here’s the hardest post I’ve had to write- turns out slagging things off is easy but trying to express true joy and gratitude is much harder.  So to all of you involved, Cheers and Merry Christmas x

——-

Now this is a bit of a love story. There are many characters in this story but basically it’s a story about a place, a shop, a physical building, but much more, a love story about the idea the place encapsulated and the people who embodied it. I am merely a component in a much bigger story and someone else would have to tell you the beginning. I can, however, to the best of my ability, tell you the end.

After deciding the Fairy business wasn’t quite going to cut it, I started looking for another job. I had very little experience with barwork and far preferred drinking the beer in the, then smokey, little pubs I frequented than serving the beer and cleaning out the ashtrays. So, shops it was again. I handed in a CV to a punky little place I’d been in many times before, where a friend of a friend had been working. A bit goth, a bit clubby, it reminded me of my Camden days. In its window were two manikins with giant paper mache fruit heads and inside were two high stools at a curved counter that looked like a bar. The floor was covered in greengrocer’s plastic grass and the shop sold everything from hot pink hair dye to CBGB knickers. I loved it.

The manager, Steff, was northern and bolshie, friendly, fun, efficient, quirky and not to be fucked with. She took me on straight away and showed me the ropes.  I quickly mastered the art of ‘hanger shuffling’, basically spacing out the garments so that even when you’re doing nothing it looks sort of like your doing something – handy when escaping Steff’s ‘whatthefuckareyoudoing?’glances.

I don’t remember first meeting Rick, he must have been there from day one. I’ve met a lot of people over the years who remind me of him, but no one like him.  Rick and Steff had bought the place together. I never saw them as a couple. I was taken on as part of the aftermath. Steff had moved out of the upstairs flat but was still very much in charge, and Rick was living upstairs, managing the day today and handling the printing side of the company.

The people, the places and the time line for my best part of a decade at Juicy all blend together like some beautiful, bizarre dream and I can’t guarantee that any of the events I remember happened as I remember, or even at all. So you’ll have to bear with me with this one.

I was taken on for Wednesdays, some Saturdays and Sundays. I think I was filling in for a girl, a bit of a mythical legend, who’d been working there but had gone of to live in Mexico for an undisclosed amount of time. Funny how people are canonized in their absence.

Mostly I was working with Sarah, one of Steff’s friends from up t’north, an otherworldly and unassuming seamstress, with the kind of manic, hedonistic streak that only the outwardly sensible could maintain.  Like any job, the hours and hours of standing within the same four walls breed a certain madness and closeness and propensity to talk nonsense.  Our time was spent dancing around the shop, shuffling hangers and with regular costume changes as we ‘modelled’ the new stock. Sarah and I quickly became friends, she was older that me but her elfin nature made her ageless, she had her own clothing line and would sell her creations in the shop. She also cut my hair, though she wasn’t a hairdresser. Everyone had something else going on. Rick would flit in and out in his shorts and flip flops, with the kind of perma-brown ankles only people who’ve spend decades by the beach can have all year round, stopping for a chat, sometimes relatively normal, mostly relatively nonsense and usually involving dog poo.

Time has no relevance in Juicy land. A shift becomes, three, becomes a month, becomes a year. Nothing was regular and a vast propensity for alcohol consumption seemed to be the thing that we all had in common – coincidently, of course, there was no sign above the counter that said ‘you don’t have to be an alky to work here but it helps’ but the sentiment rang true anyway. That and a tendency toward the weird. None of us could be called mainstream. Though very different in our own ways, nobody there could be accused of being a ‘Normo’ and those people (I say people, it was only ever women and Rick) who perhaps weren’t as inwardly strange never made it that long. But I’m jumping ahead.

Sundays, for a long time, were the domain of myself and Lucy. Lucy was 16. I met her just as she’d finished her GCSE’s and was about to start A levels at college; I was 21 and remembered those days fondly. She got her GCSE results at the Reading festival, just like me and my friends had done 5 years before. I used to watch her drag herself into work with eyes like saucers, clearly having had no sleep, remnants of yesterday’s glitter on her face, and it would make me smile. It was also my first taster of how annoying 16 year old me must have been for the people I worked with ‘just do some bloody work’. Oh how the tables had turned! I loved hearing her tell me about her adventures and the friends and the boys and the friends who were boys but then became boyfriends. Her friends would pop into the shop and her parents would bring her lunch and I very much enjoyed being a part of Lucy’s teenage routine. The highlight was bumping into her at the Womad festival a couple of years after she’d left and being greeted with a hug that only Juicy friends could understand.

Wednesdays I was on my own. By this point Steff was training as an art teacher and often just popped in to make sure the place hadn’t burned down, and this was when me and Rick would have a coffee and do a bit of ‘sharing’, never on purpose, just we’d end up talking about our lives with each other. Y’know. There’s a certain familiarity of knowing where someone’s going to be day in, day out. The conversations about life were of course peppered with a lot of nonsense, some pseudo political but not really bothered, existential, fuck it were all going to die anyway but shouldn’t people be nicer to each other business that you would expect from a ex-punk and an adolescent art school student. Sometimes, I even did some work. I did try to prove to Rick I was a hard worker but all he’d have to do is remind me of the time he called me up to see why I wasn’t at work and I answered the call in a tent on a cliff by the sea with no real memory of getting there. Credit to both of us that we both remember that story fondly!

Meanwhile Steff got married to a lovely man from the shop a couple of doors down and we all went to the wedding. By this point the prodigal Jess had returned from her Mexican adventure and the Juicy gang in it’s various amalgamations and combinations continued in it’s, always odd, missions to get hammered. As Steff removed herself more from the day to day, the day to day turned into evening Juicy locks ins. Always involving loud 90’s music from the tome of CD’s kept under the counter and a lot of red wine, various other characters would make their cameo, Rick’s childhood friend, a local drinking buddy and a batty milliner among them. In retrospect again, I suppose they must have admired Rick’s possey of attractive, strange and loyal young women. But basically we all got pissed a lot. An evening of spinning on the clothes rails, falling down the stairs and a drunken encounter with one of Rick’s friends seemed to solidify that loyalty. We are in this for the long hall ladies and gents. This strange, cultish loyalty was, I suppose, epitomized by a taxi journey after a particularly random Christmas party. We all decided (with a little chemical encouragement) that we had all, at one stage or another, fancied Rick. His childhood friend was present and I hope, out of the duty of friendship, he reported this back! As far as I know, none of these crushes ever amounted to anything. Like a true leader and responsible boss, Rick always managed to keep the right amount of distance.

Juicy became my work but also my escape from the ever increasing complicatedness of university – the 2nd year and 3rd year of fluctuating friendship groups and expectations, coursework, course friends, being an artist, not being an artist, all shaken into a cocktail of drugs and house moves and parties and flatmates and hangovers. Juicy was the more uncomplicated alternative. Well, for me anyway.

University ended and I stayed in Brighton; it was home, where else could I go? Throughout the summer we opened up a, what would now be called ‘pop up’ shop selling off old Juicy stock. Fridays became wine days and the last hour would be drinking and music.

By this point Rickardo had married, or was going to marry, his childhood girlfriend. It was the stuff movies are made of. Time had past, she’d had two kids, he’d opened Juicy and nurtured a nest of shop-girls and it was love at second sight. She was a responsible mother but also a good-witch and academic, bright and fun. You could see how much they loved each other. But she was a proper grownup with proper grown up responsibilities and it sometimes made me sad to see the creeping melancholy in Rick’s demeanor that life still hadn’t really gone according to plan; a plan that an anarchic-existentialist should never really have had in the first place. However, love conquers all and Rick embraced his new family.

I loved to watch his relationship with his step daughter. She’d come in and play wendy shop with me. At the time I had a step father and Ricardo and I would tentatively negotiate the do’s and don’ts of one of the most delicate relationships in modern families. The difference was, my stepfather couldn’t see past the end of his nose; Ricardo in his world weary way cared a lot about society and the people around him. Eventually, after a hard and emotional slog, Ricardo’s family came together with the birth of his little girl and how proud he was to show her off. We all loved having little Katy around and the shop took on another lease of life.

Many a hilarious story happened at Juicy over the years, Rene pissing on a rat, a legend that was talked of long after she’d moved on,  having to stop a leak from the upstairs bathroom by sticking tampons in the ceiling, hiding under the counter to avoid the creepy man in a mobility scooter who was essentially stalking me. Then there was the time my first love, who broke my heart, (of crying into a bucket at ‘Setting Sun’ in a previous blog post fame… ) wandered into the shop despite not living in Brighton and having been removed from my life for over a decade. The fortress of Juicy-tude protected me though and I could confidently hold a smiley conversation and even sell his girlfriend a dress, safe in the knowledge that this was my turf!

But rose coloured glasses have sentimentalized the era for me and I seem to have forgotten the inbetweeny bits where I’d spend hours clearing out a cupboard only to come back the next week and for it to be overflowing with crap again, or rooting around in the damp, ratty basement looking for stock that may or may not be there. As the economy started to slide, so did Juicy. Times had changed, the staff had grown up, the shop had grown up, Rick and his family had grown up; clubbing wasn’t in anymore, it was all vintage style, lacy dresses. Upstairs the shop still looked beautiful and we always looked forward to a good re-fit – and not just because it was a nice excuse to spend an evening drinking and working in the closed shop. One of my favourite achievements in life was the checkerboard floor Jess and I hand painted while pissed.

With the economy going to fuck and the cracks behind the Juicy scenes barely out of view, there never seemed to be enough work  for everyone who wanted it. And I wanted it. They were screaming out for a manager and Jess got in there first. She had been a part of Juicy and Rick and Steff for longer than me and this was her domain. There was really no option. Jess moved in upstairs and I moved on. Sort of. You could never really move on from Juicy. All the characters, some I’ve mentioned and some I haven’t, would pop back in at times. Sometimes Rick would take them off for a pint, sometimes we’d all hang about in the shop. I would always stop by when I was passing and have a chat with whoever was in there I’d shuffle some hangers, as much out of habit as for old times sake, or watch the counter while someone ran to the loo, which, incidentally, often involved running across the road to various cafes and bars over the years but that’s by the by. It didn’t matter how many times I moved house, how many boyfriends came and went, how many friends left Brighton, there was always Juicy.

Til there wasn’t. Rick had been trying to sell the place for years. He came in once as I was drawing a doodle of rats jumping from a ship. ‘Is that the good ship Juicy?’ he enquired. Maybe it was subconsciously.

The day we cleared out the shop, I’d been at work somewhere else and had come to say goodbye to the place. As I walked up through the North Laine I spotted a group of people gathered around a table in the middle of the street with chairs and a hookah pipe and various odds and sods of furniture and frames and whatnot. Rick, Jess and Gaby, who I didn’t work with so much but who’d been part of the Juicy crew for many, many years, and a guy who’s name I forget but another one of Rick’s gang of North Laines oddballs were all gathered in the road outside the shop. There they were in the middle of the road drinking red wine, taking it in turns to go and pull things off hangers and packing them into ominous cardboard boxes. The deconstruction of Juicy was a sad event. We cleared out years’ worth of little bits of jewelry, stickers, hats, the odd sock, and moldy yogurt pots from lunches years forgotten, from the backs of cupboards and under counters. The whole process, however, was punctuated by the pride that we were giving it a proper Juicy send off. After saying our goodbyes we all went our separate ways, my last view of team Juicy was seeing a drunken Jess wobble off on her bicycle with a gold frame squifily hung around her neck.

Walking past a couple of months later to see burley builders laying black lino over my checkerboard floor nearly broke my heart! ‘I painted that floor,’ I squeaked at them. ‘Oh right,’ was the reply from the very nice but unbothered flooring man. While in my head I launched into a diatribe about Juicy and it’s past and what it stood for and all that is free and just and ridiculous in the world, in reality I just walked on.

Juicy became a bong and spraypaint shop, which I think Rick felt was quite fitting, and Red Eye, as it is now, blends inconspicuously into the Nu-North Laines landscape of bubble tea and Gelatos.

Fairy Emporium No1

The name says it all really… A little shop in the south Laines where a woman, who may well have been a good-witch, ran an agency for fairies. The shop was stuffed full with fairy bits and bobs, everything from notebooks to wands, fairy dresses, storybooks and hundreds of tiny fairy statues. I got the impression this shop was not just aimed at those young enough to loose some milk teeth and do business with the tooth fairy – but real life delusional/obsessive grown ups with a screw loose, too.

 Nevertheless, in I went and was immediately offered a job as a children’s entertainer. The catch was I had to provide my own costume and fairy kit, make up the activities and travel to the location, but, basically, she’d take the booking – like a madam in a particularly sparkly brothel.

 This was quite a nice set up and on Friday nights, while my flatmates and I would be watching Spaced for the millionth time, I’d sit on the living room floor and cut out mask shapes and stick glitter to “Pin the Wings On The Fairy’. The parties themselves were fine: the kids were great, the East Sussex parents, with their cream carpets, were a nightmare… How do you expect to have 30 children in your house and for your shagpile not to get covered in chocolate, glitter and often, because of all the E numbers and running around, kiddy puke? Huh?

 One of my friends suggested putting the loudest possible toys in the party bags of the most stuck-up parents… just a little parting gift… ‘Here you go. Thor and Antigone have eaten their own bodyweight in Haribo and are vibrating. Here’s a whistle and a shaker for them to take home… byeeee!’

 I did start to notice that the little boys weren’t quite so into the glitteriness of it all, but my fairy, Trixabell, was quite egalitarian, and due to my not overly girly hand-made fairy outfit (well it was still pink and puffy but think forest elf over sugarplum fairy) I could still engage with the 4 and 5 year olds boys. I did lots of making masks and wings and facilitating the covering of parent’s living rooms in tiny glitter glue handprints and all in all enjoyed the process.

 Getting on the bus dressed as a fairy in Brighton on a Saturday morning was hilarious, as no one blinked en eyelid! In fact one guy came and asked me for change and didn’t skip a beat when I told him fairies don’t carry cash, ‘Oh right you’re a fairy. ‘Course, I should have known,’ and wandered away completely unfazed.

 The problem was that, as a student, weekends mean parties and parties mean, with all the best intentions of going to bed early and getting up for work, you don’t. You just don’t. After one attempt at conducting a party for a dozen 3 year-olds after an all nighter that ended up with a sunrise jaunt to the park, I hung up Trixabell’s floral garland and relegated her to occasional fancydress.

 This was not the end of my fairy career path, though; Oh no! Five years later, the worst was yet to come… 

Home sweet Home

After moving to Brighton for university and spending the first year in blissful unemployment and in a constant state of hangover, sitting in the café of our big, glass art school, hanging out on the pebbles of Brighton beach after seminars, while living in halls and off student loans, the second year was definitely time to get a job.

 I had just moved into a house with 3 northerners, a west-country lass and a Welshman; we’d all met in halls in the first few weeks and had stayed friends. We lived in the middle of the North Laines, the hippiest bit of Brighton. I was living with 3 music students, and two business studies students who’d realised the error of their ways and transferred to humanities and media respectively.

 Our house became a creative, messy hub of loveliness, cooking stir-frys and eating either Subway or roast from a bucket, depending on which flat mate brought what home from work that night. We were falling distance from our nearest, also our favorite, pub, we had the best fry-up in Brighton in the cafe next door and I was a 5 mins with a cup of tea stumble from uni. The only thing missing was a job nearby.

 My experience with The Gastro Pub and a brief three hour stint working for A Major Ticket Sales Operator in Leicester Square (another ‘what the fuck am I doing here moment’) had taught me that perhaps I was not made to be a slave to ‘the man’ and that independent shops were the way to go. Home was it – a very overpriced gift shop selling toot and tat, bits of furniture and trendy whatnots, wrapped with ribbons and bows.

 The manager was the granddaughter of a Scandinavian sportswear mogul and I distinctly got the impression this was her Wendy-shop. In the great line up of unused opportunities, it turned out the assistant manager was also a quite successful director and drama practitioner who went on to lead an MA course at one of the accredited drama schools in London. The only way she ever saw me, however, was intensely hung-over! When you can barely make conversation without every second word being a groan, it’s not a good look, especially for letting your inner talent sparkle.

 On the plus side, I was often left to my own devices and, despite how every one of these blog posts may make it appear, I am very good at customer service and am generally a joy to be around. Despite this, it was a particularly hung-over Wednesday (bloody students!) when a suited gent in his mid 40’s came into the shop. Not your average clientele for the North Laine, he was obviously a very busy and important man and hung-over shop assistants were not even on his radar. I may as well have been a Tesco’s self checkout for the amount of acknowledgement he gave me as he stormed around the shop, obviously irritated that the array of shiny objects was so large. Meanwhile, I sat on the step ladder (we weren’t allowed a chair because then we would sit down… little did they know) with my head in my hands, raising a painful eyeball just enough to see that I wasn’t going to expend the effort to attempt to help this man.

 Booming up to the counter: “A present for a friend’s girlfriend,” he demanded. I slid a pastel coloured mug with built in cookie holder towards him. “What is it?” he boomed in a voice so loud my tender head could have shattered.
“It’s a pastel coloured mug with a built in cookie holder,” I muttered. “She’ll like it; everyone does. That’ll be £12.99.” I reached behind me for a bag.
“Wrapped????!!!!” shouted the man. I pulled myself up to sitting position and lack-lusterly began to wrap, very nicely as well, if I do say so myself. You don’t work in as many gift shops as I have without picking up a trick or too with curly ribbon! “You don’t strike me as a girl who derives much pleasure from your job,” Boomed Mr Boomy with disgust.

 On completing the final flourish of ribbon I looked him straight in the eye and said, not as eloquently I’m sure but along the lines of, “You know what? I don’t really want to be here. You don’t really want to be here. In actual fact, I’m training to work in the theatre. That’s where I want to be, and I’m doing this to make some money so that eventually I can do that instead of selling ridiculously pointless inventions to people like you…”

It turned out he worked in advertising but had wanted to be an actor when he was younger but had never gone down that route himself. We had a nice twenty-minute chat and he went on his way, waving goodbye and shouting, “and good luck with the acting career. I wish you all the best,” from the door, bumping into the poor chef from the café upstairs as he came to collect, for the umpteenth time that week, his stack of tea towels that had fallen from his windowsill into our pigeon poo encrusted courtyard below.

Don’t trust The Piccalilli!

Another short lived job was working for a well known gastro pub-wine bar chain. I’ve never been one for working in chains. I found the standardised way to tie your apron and the standardised way to wrap the cutlery restrictive and suffocating. If I want to wrap diagonally I will, damn it, and no centralised head office will tell me otherwise! I used to come home and count the standardised bruises on my thighs at the exact standardised level of the standard table height. I hated it to the point where a month in I bumped into my then boyfriend in tears of horror at the thought of even going in and decided to never go in again. Another in a long line of “Fuck this I’m outta here’s”. There’s no feeling of relief so great as to realise that life is too short to be lorded over by a middle management jobsworth and that the power you do have is to chuck your metaphorical keys at him and go. I also understand that for many this isn’t an option and I was still a teenager with no responsibility whatsoever, swanning around north London packing shit jobs in when they didn’t appeal to my sense of entitlement. For those with families to support, who swallow their rightful resentment towards these 13 year old middle management douchebags and get on with the job regardless, much respect!

This terrible brass and mahogany prison was in Hampstead, which for some reason breeds the rudest and most entitled people on the planet. It was also the era of All Saints and Oasis and ladies who lunch, who don’t actually lunch but order food push it around their plate, drink a bottle of wine and leave the food untouched without a second thought; there’s probably only so much pretending to eat one can do when actually surviving off Chardonnay and diet pills. Their loss was our gain though and, after a sneaky look to make sure the customer wasn’t so vile you might catch something, shamelessly polishing of plate after plate of quesadillas was the only advantage to the job!

My friend had worked there just before me and I had her till key that still said her name. That name was my only beacon of hope and joy in an otherwise bleak and soulless job, every time I saw the illuminated letters I was rewarded with the knowledge that she got out. Like Shawshank Redemtion, I would picture her on the beach whittling her boat in the sunlight.

My days consisted of polishing knives and forks with stinking vinegar and using one of those knives to scrape posh peoples posh chewingum from the bottom of the standardised gastro-pub chairs they had used to rest their posh derrieres. It was supposed to be a wine bar, but rather than teach us anything about wine, they taught us the bare minimum amount of bullshit to be able to not look like complete imbeciles but still know nothing about wine.

Everyone there was creepy and not a single person stands out in my memory, except for the assistant manager who left shortly after I arrived. The reason he stands out is because of a story so odd I can’t quite believe it myself. Now this chain served food, mostly average gastro pub type stuff from the kitchen upstairs but there was a little downstairs preparation area where the pickles were all lined up. The memory of having to scrape the gungy bottles of congealed piccalilli into each other genuinely still makes me gag.
At closing up time, a month earlier, my friend, of boat whittling fame, had just finished her jobs and innocently walked into the same preparation area only to find the assistant manager, there amongst the condiments, having a wank. ‘What are you doing?’ she demanded and he spun round, cock in hand, with a look of red-faced panic. She’s a headstrong girl and I don’t think the experience had any harmful effect on her, as it might have another hapless employee trying to earn some pocket money on the weekends, but all the same what perplexed her most was why on earth he chose the open kitchen area when there was perfectly good kitchen upstairs! I never trusted the piccalilli again after that though.

Travel Lodges, Texans and Toupees

One of the most absolutely mental and lucrative jobs I’ve had was backing
singing on a 2 month tour of the UK with my best friend’s mum. She was a quite
successful singer in the 60’s; there aren’t many people who can say they were
on tour with the Beatles and The Stones at the same time. She was singing on a
revival tour with a famous 60’s band (Sugar and Honey are involved in their big hit) and a very eccentric older country singer/crooner whose trousers split on
stage once (ask your mum she’ll know).

I was 18, had just had my heart broken for the first time and was surrounded
by musos, all of them men except my friend’s mum and all of them at least 40
years my senior; a strange environment for a teenage girl but they all looked out
for me and I did acquire an interesting array of nicknames, Little Midge being my
personal favourite.

It was great being in all the different cities, even Northampton and Rhyl were
slightly exciting when you there for one night only! This was my first experience
of the Travel Lodge lifestyle. Salesmen, truckers and giggers pass each other
in the corridors of these identikit buildings. You start to notice when the bin is
in a slightly different place from city to city. There’s always a view of some of
the finest industrial estates Britain has to offer. I loved getting driven from place
to place then turning up at the venue and settling into the changing rooms and
sound checking in all these lovely old theatres. It really was a great way to pass
the time. There were always lots of the same posters for the same 70’s cover
bands in all the venues we went to – it seems that the older middle aged lady’s
appetite for a retro night out is insatiable. Wow, some of these ladies went mental
for the aforementioned eccentric; he’d get mobbed as we left and I’m pretty sure,
had they been able to reach down that far, some knickers would have been
thrown!

The aforementioned eccentric was a moody old bugger at the best of times but
credit where credit is due could switch on the charm on stage! “Only two people
can sing like Elvis” he said to me once in his deep southern drawl “Elvis and me!”
(Cept he didn’t say that because he always referred to himself in the third person
in a way that only people completely deluded as to their own importance can!) I
have never seen anyone bar the cast of The Only Way Is Essex wear as much
orange foundation. He also wore two little headpieces that were conspicuously
tacked to the sides of his forehead everyday. My favourite memory being the
time our little tour sausage dog got hold of one and me and my mate’s mum had
to chase her around the entire venue trying to retrieve it, then return it to the
dressing room trying to dab off the dog spit through tears of laughter before he
found out!

And my how the stories got worse, oh so much worse. Who says old people
can’t have fun (and be utterly debauched!)? But in the spirit of the theatre
“What happens on tour stays on tour”. Over all, two of the most ridiculous months
of my life, but they did pay for me to go travelling before uni. Not your average
Gap Yah…