My career as a plongeur is drawing to a close. I have to salute George Orwell’s tenacity because really, I’ve had enough. I left Le Bon Marché last night via the rear entrance and as I looked up from my sliced fingers I noticed the facade of the building was teeming with security and velvet ropes with stretch black limos pulling up at the entrance. Paris Fashion Week is drawing to a close, and one presumes these things are connected – Le Bon Marché is extremely high end you see.
Open since 1852 and serving the great and the good of Saint-Germain-des-Prés as well as rich tourists the world over, you imagine it’s the sort of place Jane Birkin might source her pants, or where her PA does. I feel like an imposter even turning up, sauntering past stands for Givenchy, Zadig & Voltaire, that Shalimar perfume with the most positively coked-up and preposterous soft porn cinema ad ever made. Really, I’m not sure what’s more diverting, the model pleasuring herself in the soapy tub of some Persian fortress as she awaits her dusky prince on a white horse or the fucking Taj Mahal being raised out of the ocean incongruously five minutes in. Hey, how about lopping four minutes off the commercial and then you can knock £50 off the price of a bottle, just saying! Anyway, one imagines the demographic for this product is feckless, stupid (and rich) 13-year-olds, or at least you’d hope so – surely this is not fragrance for the sort of mature, white linen suit wearing women who wander the mall with the face of Bernie Ecclestone supplanted on all their visages like some freaky Aphex Twin video.
Being around such monumental wealth and working for minimum wage has been the hardest part. Actually the freelancing has been picking up a bit and making the trip south everyday has been hardly worth my while. I was meant to work 4pm to 8pm which I thought would be convenient because then I could write during the day and still get to do something in the evenings. Then it moved from 4:30pm to 8:30pm, though cleaning down is so demanding that sometimes you’re there until nearly 9pm, and I’m pretty sure you don’t get paid for that. The last time this happened I had to call the Pompier on site and it took another twenty minutes to get me out of the building. By the time I got home I was exhausted and just wanted to go to bed. And then I’d stay in bed the next day reading and feeling sorry for myself, which defeats the whole purpose of taking the job in the first place to help supplement l’existence du pauvre écrivain, as previously discussed.
I would quite happily walk at 8:30pm with the job unfinished but then I’d only get grief the next day from the other plongeurs, two of whom are Polish and monsters of toil. They’re the sort of men who’d lose a digit and put it on ice while they finished sweeping the floor. Annoyingly the other plongeur, an Australian, is a theatrical type and happily spends until half past nine mopping (and presumably sharing dialogue with the mop) and not worrying that he won’t get paid for that extra hour. These men make me look bad.
The other day the chef called me into his office and said I wasn’t working hard enough. I retorted: “Actually I think I work really bloody hard and if you don’t think so then perhaps I’m not cut out for this”. There wasn’t much he could say to my protestations, and he’s been complimentary about my “work” ever since, probably in the hope of maintaining continuity and not having to train up another kitchen dogsbody. He’s actually quite a gent as chefs go, an English Tim-Nice-But-Dim sort, and actually that’s been one of the few plus points that he doesn’t shout. I’m too old to let people shout at me. The American pastry chef is occasionally bellicose and a pain in the arse, but it’s not anything I can’t handle.
Perhaps if there was a way of staggering the mundanity of it then I might stick it out beyond three weeks. I can’t even take a cigarette break any more because I gave up smoking eleven months, sixteen days and three hours ago, so I’m always there, scrubbing incessantly and inadvertently skinning my fingers on a daily basis.
The fact is I’m shit at what some people disparagingly call menial work. If this labour is meant to be so unskilled then how come it’s so hard? With this and bar work there’s always so much to remember, stuff that you don’t particularly want to remember because its not very interesting, and maybe therein lies the problem. It takes a certain type of intellect to process this information and carry out everything that needs to be done with panache and vigour, and I salute the steadfastness of the people who do this day in day out because they need to, and I can only offer my own stupidity and torpor as any kind of an excuse. Hey, maybe they enjoy it and I shouldn’t be so patronising, but I bet a quick MORI poll would suggest otherwise. Me, I suck at washing dishes and I’m dealing with it, okay? I just have to accept that I don’t like them, and they probably don’t like me much either. Time to move on.Follow @jeres