Once on the wrong side of Tony the Boss, it seemed that he would block any attempt to get around him and back to his right side. He made no attempt at humour any more, and appeared to spend most of his time in a state of apoplectic rage. One day when he had followed me around for the best part of an evening, criticising my every move, Tony the Chef was moved to sympathise with me.
‘Have a ciggie, sweetie,’ he said, beckoning me into the corridor where we took our respite from the kitchens, smoking by the open door. I hid in the corridor with him until I heard angry footsteps approaching once again. He told me not to listen to Tony the Boss; he liked to make the kitchen assistants cry.
I decided that the Boss was not going to make me cry. I ignored him as he chivvied and hassled me, trying to carry on with any jobs I could find without dropping anything. Eventually, he banged down a box of onions and ordered me to peel them.
‘Now you will cry girl! You will stand there and peel all of those!’
He won, as the onions burned my eyes and the tears rolled down my cheeks. I peeled in silence. He stopped shouting, and gave me the occasional sideways glance. After a while, he took the onions away, saying ‘that’s enough’.
The next day I had a realisation which would become more and more familiar as life progressed: – it was the realisation that I was Never Going Back There.
The local Deli were advertising for people to serve little pots of olives and salad, slices of meat and cheese and roll-mop herrings. I was soon ensconced behind the shiny counter in a white overall, plastic gloves on my hands, beaming smile on my face. Working the meat slicer.
The meat slicer had a blade that went round and round, as you pushed the meat onto it slices fell onto a platform below. You could set the thickness of the slices, so that when you misjudged the thickness of the meat you were pushing on to the blade, pushing your own hand against it, you had also chosen the thickness of the slice of skin it would take.
Luckily, I was cutting thin slices. After my hand had been cleaned of blood and plastered, somebody thought to ask my age. On discovering I was 17 and still a few months away from legally operating the meat slicer, I was hastily moved to the office and given the job of assistant to the secretary.
My first task was to staple bits of paper together. I sat in the office, listening to the boss and his secretary talking, sampling pickled gherkins which they gave me to taste (surreptitiously wiping up the vinegar I spilt with my sleeve), feeling smug when I thought about the other workers standing behind the counter for hours on end. It was all going very well until the stapler ran out of staples. I sat looking at the stapler, the secretary and the boss talking, the papers, the staples stored in a pot on the desk. All I had to do was work out how to open the stapler and put some more staples in. I didn’t want to alert anyone to my possible stupidity by asking how to do it, and so I approached the task cautiously and furtively. There was a loud ping as the stapler opened, and the talking paused.
‘Are you OK?’
‘Yes fine,’ I beamed enthusiastically. Talking resumed. I put the staplers in, tried to staple something. It didn’t work. Luckily nobody noticed I hadn’t done it right. I tried the staples a different way, and instead of testing on paper I thought it might be quieter to test on my finger.
‘Aaaaargh!’ I yelled as the staple shot into my finger, blood pouring onto the papers.