Saturday, 15 October 2011

part 4

Part 4
Ivan was now a chef and, although his food presentation was better than Joseph's, it was good but not great.
“I wash dish here for 2 years. Now I chef, sometimes washer.” Ivan told me in a rare slack moment.
“When did you start?”
“In Russia, Tashkent. My father's father is…?”
“Yes, he was in restaurant. I learn at 10. I love him too much; he god to me. He never swear, never angry, always laughing. He die last year.” He pulled a tatty photo from his wallet.
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“Your grandfather?”
“What mean 'grand'?”
“Great, I suppose.”
“Yes, he was great.”
His charisma shone through the photo. A proud handsome man whose dignity belittled the black and white photo. Rembrandt would have struggled to capture his majesty. Ivan was aware of how impressed I was. It made him feel proud.
We worked together perfectly, our bodies gliding past one another sublimely. We were a team. He generated the  clinical efficiency of a swan, the calm surface disguising the work underneath. Even the blitzkrieg of “More plates for coffee.” did not faze him and the demands came less and less. The cafe stopped serving at 4 and we finished cleaning by 5. I was looking forward to a beer but Ivan had different ideas.
“Now we clean bar.”
“What? We drink no?”
“No we clean bar, first sweep then wash.”
He was not joking. This task was major and would take an hour. Having just worked 7 hours without a break, I felt a bit of flexi-time was in order. I did not want a confrontation with Ivan but my trade union sympathies and desire for fairness could not let this pass.
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“Don't we get a break?”
“Break before we break.”
“Not possible. If David come and see, problems, big problems.”
“He's not going to come now. He has only just got into bed.”
“He go mad.”
“So let him.”
“Maybe he go nightclub and want coffee. He go mad see me sitting. I happy here. I work, you break.”
“But nobody can expect you to work 12 straight hours without rest, nobody.”
The foundation stone of exploitation is fear which was rock-solid at the Terminal. Nothing I could have said would have made him change his mind. In every country in the world catering staff are poorly paid and mistreated. I realised a long time ago that I could not change the world overnight. My compromise was to work at half Ivan's pace so that my split loyalties were not totally betrayed.
My stint at the Terminal was to last 11 continuous days, working different shifts, up to 12 hours of back-breaking graft. Occasionally, I would sneak a 5 minute coffee to myself. This involved a lot of subterfuge and a pile of dishes of Himalayan proportions when I returned. It was not really worth it.
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The changing shifts had messed up my body clock, giving me permanent jet-lag. I needed to sleep, perchance to dream, so I checked into the Number 1 hostel, a sister to the Gordon.

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