Tuesday, July 17, 2007

1981 London Labourer Jobs

< 1981. Sam & friend, Sam's bedsit office, George House, Courtfield Gardens, London.

Leah taught kindergarten kids in Haringay schools.

Sam organized my first labouring job with Ooplah, Italian builder, who was renovating an Italian restaurant near dirty Victoria Station, helped by a Kiwi carpenter. My wet veldskoene were uncomfortable, while I shovel-mixed concrete, so I bought protective boots. My hands were soft, and I made mistakes while passing Ooplah tools. "Youa notta a labourer eh?" he yelled. "Whya youa bullshitta me eh?"

"I recently arrived in London and need cash." Ooplah calmed down.

When I helped Kiwi he hissed. "Why the hell did ya say ya was an experienced labourer eh?"

"Sorry. I lied. I need cash. Why're you working in London?"

"There's no work for me an' Kiwi fellahs in New Zelland."

Ooplah bullshit: "Iya Doctor university graduate." Later he sacked me.

I did kitchen-porter work at Motcombs Restaurant, off Sloane Street near Harrods. Apart from soldiering in SA, I was doing menial work for the first time in my life. My white skin, SA job-reservation, and my Natal University degrees weren't going to save me from boring, repetitive, dirty work in London.

Spaniard, work-mate, fearing the "Hygiene Lady" inspector, ordered, "Shoover da flor!" I cleaned a ladies' toilet and bar, my blue jeans spotting with bleach which I poured on linoleum.

Waiters were friendly Mediterraneans. While waiting for diners, cooks fed us restaurant food, then we played coin "bowls" along a carpet. I washed dirty dishes and glasses in a scullery, using a metal sink and dish-washing machine. Once, I cut my hand when scrabbling for broken glass. "Do you have elastoplast?" I asked Italian Maitre.

"Youa crya likea da woman." After serving difficult diners, Maitre flounced into my scullery screaming, "Aaaaargh!" I ate leftover artichoke leaves and avocado hors d'oeuvres, drank wine dregs from diners' glasses, and by shift's end I was pissed. Maitre scoffed leftovers, before splashing dirty plates into my sink. He sneaked up and tenore robusto sang, "Putta smile on your face!" I could've strangled him.

I trudged through fog past Harrods. I pissed in a hedge, while taxis rumbled by. I plodded down Cromwell Road, past South Kensington tube-station, past museums, past Gloucester Road tube-station, past Penta Hotel to Courtfield Gardens. One April night, the moon shone through clouds. I unlocked GH door, rushed upstairs and woke Leah: "I've seen the moon for the first time in three months." Leah groaned.

I attended a Pall Mall Linguarama TEFL course at Kent University, near Beckett's Canterbury Cathedral. A Finn and an Englishman lectured us direct-method English teaching. We did conversational English with foreign businessmen during teas and meals. Germans said little, and gormandized. Italians hogged conversation, one insisting, "Passa da broccoli!" when he wanted salad.

Leah and I were interviewed at Linguarama's rural mansion at Riversdown. School Director said, "The job's yours kids. I'll teach Leah TEFL method, if you live with us." We ate a silver-service supper beneath chandeliers, with French, Italian and German businessmen. A Japanese admiral sat opposite me, navigating his buck-teeth around hot maize. He pierced his cob at each end with golden skewers. I sommer ate mine with my fingers.

We declined Director's job offer. Linguarama then offered me foreign students, after Mitterand became French Premier. I listened to a student saying, "Mitterand this...and Mitterand that..." then rejected Linguarama, due to low pay. An Earls Court TEFL school offered me Gothenburg's treasurer, holidaying, practising his excellent English. I challenged him with idioms and phrasal-verbs, then rejected TEFL.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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