This week, I was reflected on the world of work and some of the jobs we take to get us through lean times. In this two part post, I talk about my “favourite” worst five jobs.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have been born into a dynasty or have minted parents, the likelihood is, at some point you’ll have to do a crumby job when you start making your own way in life. Often they’ll be a far cry from the career you optimistically claimed for yourself in primary school. My memory may be hazy but becoming a dab hand at making egg McMuffins was never on my to do list back then. Nonetheless, aged sixteen, that is exactly where I found myself.
After leaving school I desperately wanted my own money. To me, it meant independence. No more asking if I could do something or go somewhere plus I had a niggling suspicion that my mum’s purse was not bottomless. So, one night, after dragging my friend, Rosie out to meet Bobby Brown (pre-crack habit) at Capital Radio’s Euston road studios, on impulse, I announced I was going to get an application form for the McDonalds, nearby. Rosie, a staunch vegan made her objections abundantly clear. “What, you can’t!!!!”
She grabbed my arm and started pulling me away from the evil golden M’s. For about ten minutes, we continued this slapstick one-sided human tug-of-war, me trying desperately to wriggle from her grasp and get a finger to the door of the restaurant, her yanking me away toward the tube. A man inside watched us with a plain look on his face like “that girl really wants a big mac”
Cut to a month later and I was being handed my uniform and giving a tour of this tiny store. The whole thing had echoes of the pilot episode of Orange is the New Black with the current inmates eyeing up the fresh meat.
It was my first job and I was really nervous! I got scheduled for a few shifts to see how I got on. A fortnight later and my first payment hit my bank account. £88 (I’ll never forget) like a shot of financial adrenaline. I couldn’t believe it. I printed out a balance statement from the cashpoint… then went straight to the shops and spent half of it, largely on crap I didn’t need but was so overwhelmed at having nearly £100 that was all mine, that I just freaked out (the concept of paying my mum rent hadn't yet entered my naive head).
At work, I learned the ropes and was soon finding my flow and even enjoying working there. Once I’d gotten over my chronic shyness, I started to make friends and really enjoyed having some spare cash. I even announced to my brother that I was now considering a career in McDonalds. He was far from impressed which, at the time, surprised me. Who wouldn’t want to work in a place where you could get a free big mac every day, I thought. What’s up with this guy?? But as quickly as my love affair with the golden arches started, it ended. I began college and was working two days a week in between my classes and had started to get this nagging suspicion that working in McDonalds was shit. In fact, I would go as far as to say, I hated it. For the first time, I became aware of the monotonous repetition that awaited me. Chris Rock summed it up best in his routine about working at Red Lobster, a US restaurant chain. In it, he says, he would treat himself to not looking at the clock so that when he finally did, several hours would have passed however, whenever he looked, it was always only ever five minutes later. Anyone who’s ever worked in the restaurant sector can probably relate to that. It’s like you’re running on Jupiter time with every minute seemingly lasting a day. You leave work smelling of burgers, it’s what you eat for lunch, it’s what you serve, it’s what you see, day in and day out so when it came to finally leaving McDonalds for the last time, I was definitely loving it.
When playing in the streets of West Ham as a kid, I wished I’d paid more attention to the road names. It would have stood me in much better stead when I got hired as a cab controller at a local taxi firm ten years later. It was the summer before my final year at college and I needed some spends. My neighbour, a young Asian lady called Jit, told me that her boyfriend was looking for a cab controller because the previous one had spontaneously combusted or something like that, I can’t remember the exact reason.
She told me the job was really easy. “All you have to do is give the driver at the top of the list the next job that comes in then when he’s on his way he tells you he’s POB”. I asked her what POB meant. “Dunno” she said. Okaaaay.
I met her boyfriend who concurred that it was straight forward work and that it was really for someone who was after a second job. He hired me there and then. It was a bit like in Eastenders whenever Ian needed help in the café. The whole “I need a job”, “here’s your interview”, “when can you start?” conversation would happen all in one scene that would end with Ian looping an apron around the person's neck and telling them to start there and then.
I was on the day shift, 6am to 6pm. I’d never gotten up that early for anything in my life (except Alton Towers) and I did not like it.
The cab office was a rough and ready basement on West Ham Lane. The controller sat in a windowed box, like an insect enclosure at the zoo. It seemed that part of the ritual of being the new girl was to have every driver try to have sex with you. I took to dressing as dowdily as I could which made literally no difference (remember, this was pre-minicab licencing). In addition to keeping a watchful eye on the “handsy” cabbies, the owner had, what can best be described as a psychotic wolf/ Alsatian hybrid in the back yard. So untrained and unruly was this hound of Baskerville that the one time I saw him take this dog for a walk, it went wild in the cab office, the drivers pinning themselves against the back wall to avoid having their throats ripped out. I smiled sweetly from inside my glass enclosure. After, I looked at the dog saliva on the outside of the glass and wondered if I was cut out for this job.
When I took this gig I thought I had a much better working knowledge of my local streets and landmarks than I actually did. On one occasion, I had a call from an old man asking to be picked up at the railway. I sent a driver to Stratford station but there was no one waiting. The man called back saying he was still at the railway. I told the driver to look in the ticket hall. Still nothing. It was only on the third time of calling that I figured out he was actually at The Railway Tavern not… The Railway station. Ooops. He wasn't best pleased. Lesson learned, never keep an alcoholic from his ride home.
At the end of the week, I collected my salary. £60. I felt that there should have been a danger money bonus on top of this. Week two was no more enjoyable and when one of the drivers doodled over my copy of Empire magazine (this was back when Empire magazine was good and you could actually trust their reviews), I realized, that was the last straw.
I was working 12 hours days, 6 days a week for £60! Economics wasn’t my strong suit but even I could see it was a shitty deal. The owner had told me it was a good second job. How was that even possible, unless your other job was sleep research subject. It was ludicrous and I was pissed off with myself that it had taken me nearly two weeks to figure out what a shitty deal it was. McDonalds were paying £3.60 an hour and there wasn’t a rabid dog in sight (excluding whatever they put in the burgers). I quit immediately, thanked him for the “opportunity” and spent the last few weeks of my summer holiday gratefully flipping burgers at the Oxford Street McDonalds near John Lewis.
Next week, I take on selling and realise that I may not have the knack AND my worstest, worstest job EVER