My first job – what was yours?

Recomposition started at the end of August, 2010. We’re pleased with what’s happened in the last two years, and we hope you are as well. It seems appropriate to celebrate the two year mark with a work story and by getting more more interactive for a change. Below, Siobhan writes about her first job. In the comments, please tell us what your first job was, how old you were when you got it, and what that job was it like.

My first job
By Siobhan Breathnach

I got my first job going to the jobcentre on the way home from my last exam at school, I turned 18 a few days later and left home the week after that. I got a job in the kitchen at a big hostel, which is also a famous song by the Village People. (for American readers, a jobcentre is a state run service where jobs are advertised, usually low wage ones, and where you go to claim welfare benefits)

My job was serving breakfasts, followed by cleaning up and then getting the lunch ready. I got there on the first day and served sausage, bacon, muesli and so on for two hours. The bacon and sausage were in a “bain marie,” a hot tank for keeping the food warm, and every time I lifted up the lids a big waft of sausage flavoured steam wafted right in my face. At the end of the breakfast shift I ran out and was sick on the fire escape. I sat there for a bit and thought “why was I just sick?” I realised that probably I was pregnant.

Every morning I got up at 5:30 am. At first it was bright daylight at that time, but every day I watched the dawn come a bit later. As I had to catch the first bus or train there were often problems if they didn’t arrive on time (they had built a new light railway and it was having teething problems) so I was often late for work, which gave me anxiety. I was also sick sometimes on the underground. I hated the job. I couldn’t do it. Now I am older and stronger but at the time I was quite weedy and I couldn’t manage the physical side of the work. When the delivery truck came, me and my co workers unloaded all the crates and put them in the store room. We had to get the big packets of sugar and industrial sized tins of tomatoes up onto high shelves, so one woman would climb onto the shelves, and hang on there while the two others would chuck the heavy packets up to her. I always dreaded the packets falling on somebody’s head.

I learned the value of unfeminine footwear one day when I was carrying a bucket of scalding water and someone rinsing a big metal tray swung it round without seeing me and hit me right in the head with it. I staggered a bit and some water sloshed out of the bucket over our feet. I was wearing doctor martins but she was wearing sandals and got scalded. I grabbed a dish and threw cold water on her feet straightaway but she did get burns.

I had to empty the bain marie every morning and then scrape the limescale off it. There was limescale all over the inside of it and I would scrape and scrape, but never got rid of it. The manager would come over shouting “the last girl I had got that shining.” I started getting pains in my arms from lifting the milkjug. I was supposed to pour milk for people for their cereal, so I was lifting the jug 250 times. Eventually, against regulations, I put the jug out on the counter and let the punters pour their own milk.

I went to the doctor, who told me yes I was pregnant. A couple of weeks later I lost it.
My co workers were all from Ghana except one woman who was from Nigeria and the chef who was from Morocco. One day a new chef arrived who was white. He was a problem for me as he used to come and chat to me at break and would ask me to do stuff like “check everybody does what they need to do” if he was bunking off early, just because I was also white. I told him “ Oris the kitchen porter is the senior member of the team, you have to ask him not me.” I thought he was an arsehole but my co-workers started to say “the new chef is your friend” and I felt he was causing problems for me, making me look a bit separate from the rest of the team for being white, so I was really unfriendly to him till he stopped talking to me.

Eventually I hated everything so much that I applied for another catering job and got it. We made sandwiches in a commuter station. It was incredible. They weighed the deliveries, an individual porter had to sign for them, then they weighed the cheese and tomatoes and stuff you put in the sandwiches, and if you dropped a piece of cheese on the floor you had to get a manager to weigh it before you threw it away, and then any discrepancy between the two amounts was taken out of the porter’s wages- which was an excellent theft prevention method and also meant that the bits of cheese we dropped on to the floor just went into the sandwiches instead. You had to wear a little white hat and a yellow bow tie. For lunch you got one crappy sandwich. I hated every minute of it and was sacked within two weeks.