“There’s a bond among a kitchen staff I think. You spend more time with your chefs in the kitchen than you do with your own family”
Well, I finally did it. I’ve left my job.
If you look back through my blog posts over the years you’ll find many occasions where I write about my job. Usually it’s about me feeling trapped or finding some way to deal with feeling trapped. There’s been a lot of unhappiness there and I guess I’m more likely to write about times where I feel down and as I’ve always said this is my therapy and you unwitting readers are my psychotherapists. I always knew I would reach a point where I forced myself to do something because as time passes the pressure to leave has been building and building. Now I’ve finally handed my notice in and my last shift has been and gone. It is liberating and terrifying as it has been my safety blanket for so many years. It was more than a job. It was a way of life and with the friends I made there and all the times we shared it has been a massive chapter of life. And now it is over it is definitely going to warrant some thoughts and therefore some writing. Many blog posts in future will now be about new problems. New jobs, new situations. But for now I need to get some thoughts out about the present. And at some point I’ll have a blog post about my experiences of life as a chef. I’ve seen so many things that me and a pal of mine were discussing how you could easily write a hilarious TV series about working in a restaurant and we wouldn’t even have to make up the jokes. You see them everyday. But that’s for another time.
For some reason I feel a bit embarrassed to write about the truth when it comes to my working life. It’s probably because according to society I should have an awesome career that I’m totally dedicated to by now. I was a fairly intelligent dude at school and college. I got my qualifications and it was all supposed to lead somewhere. That was the whole point. People that got degrees in Mathematics just definitely ended up with amazing careers and became rich. There was no doubt about this and it required little effort. It would just happen. For many people I know this did happen although I guess it would be unfair to say they didn’t put the effort in. They have careers and they can progress and progress and get more responsibility and more money as they go. I’m happy for them if it makes them happy. And for so long I was so envious. The path I am on did not go how I thought it would go. It takes more than qualifications to get a career. It also takes luck which I didn’t really have. But the main thing it takes is drive and determination. You have to really want to work hard for a company and sacrifice a lot. Did I do that? No. Did I regret it? Yes. Do I regret it now? Strangely…no.
Whilst at college I (along with some friends of mine that were already working there) got a part time job in the kitchen of a busy pub restaurant. It was maybe 12 – 16 hours per week doing potwash and puddings. Just a bit of cash for things. No real financial needs back then so it was just nice to have a job and some money. I then left and went to Uni but after the first year I went back to the part time potwash job for the summer before leaving again “for good”. I did the next two years of uni with no job and just survived on the student loan. After Uni I had no idea what to do. Stayed at my Mum’s for a while and went on the dole whilst I figured out my next move. Applied for a few career type jobs halfheartedly. A good mate of mine had stayed at that same restaurant the whole time since the college days and when not at uni he would work there. I was bored everyday and all I had to do was look for jobs and occasionally see some friends in a pub. And that was difficult because I had no money really. So my mate told me that my old job was on the cards again if I wanted it. After three and a half months of no job and no uni I decided that it would just be great to do something and get my own money again and so I agreed. It also helped me with feeling a bit depressed since I was so lost after uni. So on the 16th of September 2008 I was there walking back up that familiar road to work back at the only job I’d had. The only place that wanted me. The place where the Universe decided I needed to be. The Wolseley Arms.
I remember being happy to just be part of something again. I got my head down and did whatever work required doing there. I also got stuck in with the team and made a few friends. It wasn’t long before we were having regular staff nights out and I was at the heart of every social event going and really enjoyed it. Although every now and then I had a look around for a “better” job I wasn’t too bothered at that time. I ended up committing to going travelling to Thailand and Australia for three months at the end of 2009 and so I was tied to the job as they had started giving me full time hours and had granted the time off to do it with the job still waiting for me when I got back. So that was life. Work hard, save hard and somehow still play hard on days off. Working as a chef becomes more than a job. It really does become a way of life. The hours are long and stressful and you do not get through it without a good team and great banter. In a strange way it can be fun with all the camaraderie. Split shifts mean a day is a total write off as you’re there from 10:00 am until at least 10:00 pm and so your only chance of any fun is with your colleagues whilst getting “raped” (a term used when the pub is really busy). And after the work is done we’re already in a pub and often we’d be there until the early hours of the morning having a few beers and chatting shit. Mostly bitching about the job before going home utterly shattered to sleep for a few hours before being back to do it all over again.
And so that’s how life was and it wasn’t too bad. I made some great friends and on days off I would be more down than when at work sometimes as my friends were all there working. I went travelling and came back to the job. Once again I just cracked on with the job as the days, weeks and months rolled on by. Sometimes I would have an idea about a career and try and apply to something or look into doing an extra qualification to help my CV and give me extra experience since for every job I applied for I was either over qualified (if it was a mundane job in a shop or factory) or under experienced (if it was a job in an office or bank). After a few rejections or a few times of me not following up with my ideas due to losing interest I started to also lose hope. And I guess I gave up and accepted my increasingly unhappy circumstances. I seemed destined to work as a chef in this one pub as they were still the only employers that would have me. Dark days. I’ve wrote about it all a lot with these blogs. So as time went on I learned more about cooking and I was no longer doing potwash but had progressed to starters and then on to mains. This involved a couple of pay increases that I never even asked for so was grateful for that. The job was very flexible when it came to my social life and events like festivals. The hours for me were never too bad. Many chefs and even people at my pub would put in 50 and 60 hour weeks regularly but that kind of thing was rare for me and I did a consistent 35-40 hours per week. And time kept on passing. People I made friends with left and new people came in and also became my friends. I was now an old timer there and had been there years. I got a promotion to Second Chef and so was second in command of the team. The pay was now comfortably better than starting at the bottom of the ladder of somewhere else and so leaving was becoming increasingly difficult.
But time goes on relentlessly. The social events slowed down as people now had other commitments. The flexibility had almost entirely gone also as I was depended on more with the role I now had to perform. The stress of the job seemed to reach new levels and at the same time the whole thing was hitting new depths when it came to boredom as I’d seen it all a million times before. New staff had drive where I had none. New measures came in that were just so utterly tedious it was soul destroying. I had a great trip to Vietnam to look forward to in 2015 and that got me through another 7 or 8 months. Also my Buddhist views allowed me to use meditation as a technique to relieve stress and be happy with what I had. This was crucial to me and without it I might have actually gone crazy. I was no longer the dazed and confused idiot that I was when I first came back after uni. I was no longer 21 years old without a clue about the world. I’d somehow become a 28 year old and life was passing me by. It was SSDD (same shit, different day) every day. Groundhog Day. Something had to give. Money isn’t everything. Happiness is a choice but this job was not at all allowing me to be happy and the choice was there. I simply had to leave. Except reality is more difficult than how you envision things working out. I thought about just jacking the job in and seeing what happens. I remember one day a few weeks ago I was just frantically applying for everything. Part time and full time. Here and in London. I needed the Universe to guide me to somewhere else as I knew I’d done all I could at my pub. The truth is though I needed another job to pay my bills and so was stuck unless I was prepared to be homeless. I had almost reached a point where I didn’t care.
One of the jobs I applied for was at the local Tesco doing nights for two nights per week. I almost didn’t bother applying since it was only for 15 hours but my theory was that if I had a part time job then I could leave Wolseley and have a little bit more time to find a full time job since at least some money would be coming back in. I could just not go out as much and cut back on certain luxuries and most likely be ok for a couple of months. So I applied. Passed the online questions and got invited to an interview which was nice as most people don’t get back to me (my CV must be awful, I really should look at it and do it properly someday). But the interview was for a time when I had a ridiculous amount of hours at Wolseley that I couldn’t get out of. The feeling of being trapped increased further as I had to politely tell Tesco I couldn’t make it. I added that I’d hope to be considered maybe in future if something else came up and hoped my honesty would create some positive karma there. They actually offered me a different day for the interview that I could make. This was the first sign in years the Universe had given me that my prison sentence in the kitchen might be coming to an end. I went to the interview and felt good about it. Until they told me that 47 other people had been interviewed and so I was most likely screwed. The manager wasn’t even there to watch me on the sample hour’s work I had to do as he got called somewhere else. So it felt unlikely. However, seeing their canteen and staff room, hearing about their union, hearing about the benefits to working there, hearing about the flexibility and the training and the opportunities, seeing the smiles on the faces of the many employees there in their numerous roles and just the whole general vibe about the place reinforced the feeling of total unhappiness at my current job like never before. And so with an extremely uncertain future ahead of me I decided to hand my notice in at work the next day. It was a drastic leap of faith that I needed to do. It required bravery and stupidity but I had reached that point where I had totally had enough and needed change.
The same day I handed my notice in Tesco asked me back to hand in my passport and payslip so they could photocopy it and send it to head office. Whilst there they informed me that after they get through a few more interviews they would be offering me the job. I cannot begin to explain how utterly grateful I was to hear that. Nobody on this Earth has given me a chance since The Wolseley Arms. And here was a team that liked my CV, moved an interview time to suit me and the next day after the interview were shaking my hand and welcoming me to the team. It meant my decision to hand my notice in on blind faith and hope had paid off as it looked likely that after the paperwork had gone through and I’d had an induction at Tesco I’d have to start work around the time I’d have just left at Wolseley. And though it would be a part time contract there was ample opportunity to work extra if I wanted to since the place is huge and open almost 24/7. I decided that this was where I need to be now. This is where I will learn new skills and make new friends and be challenged by different scenarios. This is where I can progress from. This will pay my bills. And I can’t wait to get stuck in and show them that I can be an asset and repay the faith in me that they have shown so far. My first shift as I am writing is tonight. 10:00 pm until 7:00 am. First night shift ever. Paid at a rate higher than I’ve ever been paid before. I have no idea what to expect. Will I be being trained or getting stuck in? How will I cope with working through the night when my sleeping habits are normal at the moment? Will I love it or hate it? Will they like me or think I’m strange? It’s all so alien to me in only my second ever job. I’m hoping it all goes well.
It was sad to leave The Wolseley Arms. I had many great times there and as it was a way of life the people there became like my family. I’ll miss them and hope to stay in touch. But the Sun is shining and Wimbledon is on the TV and it is so nice to be at home watching it and typing this rather than busting my balls in a ridiculously hot kitchen. I have great memories and also really positive vibes about the future. Sundays will be mostly days off instead of splits and if I do work it will be at time and a half. What’s it like to have a roast dinner with your family on a Sunday? I can barely remember but will be able to do it from now on. As it stands I’m off every day time and also weekends (though I’ll work if needed) and after adjusting to working nights and getting used to sleeping from 7:00 am until the early afternoon I will have so much more free time to see family and friends and take up some hobbies maybe. I am just feeling really good about life again. Freedom as opposed to imprisonment. I hope that in future the ratio of positive to negative blogs I write goes in the right direction. However, I’ll always use this platform to rant when I’m down about things and my next blog will most likely be about general life as a chef so will have a lot of negativity in it. Though also the positives will be included. Chefs and waiters/waitresses deserve so much respect. Tip them whenever you can. Anyway, I better get in the right frame of mind now for the next chapter of life. I hope it goes well. Wish me luck!
Thanks for reading. And if you’re reading this as a former colleague of mine then I hope you’re doing well in life. Give me an imaginary fist bump 🙂 Peace and love x