Austrian skydiver and professional lunatic, Felix Baumgartner, once said: “Never accept your limitations—because there are no limitations.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is absolute horse shit, and I will tell you in great detail how I know it’s horse shit. However, before I get into the story, it’s important that I impart you with some vital information about myself. Number one, I am autistic; number two, I have a learning disorder which slows down my ability to process information; number three, I have severe social anxiety. Already we’re off to a good start. Also, for reasons that will soon become apparent, I don’t know anything about alcohol—I’ve never consumed alcohol, I hate the smell of it in all its forms and I often refuse to touch the liquid with my bare skin.
So, it’s only logical that I would hand in my resume for a bartending-slash-waitress job at the local hotel, pub and restaurant. For the purpose of anonymity, let’s call this place Shitcreek Inn. Now, I knew it was a bad idea; I wasn’t stupid, nor was I unaware of the characteristics that would make such a job almost impossible. I just didn’t realise how much of a bad idea it was until I sat down with the ‘boss man’ for an interview. Let us call him Boris.
Boris would have made an extremely imposing figure to anyone. He was a potbellied, meat-faced miser with cold eyes and a protruding nose. The buttons on his wrinkled swamp-grey shirt barely held together across his midsection, and his faded black ‘dad jeans’ pulled tight at the crotch as he sat with knees spread wide across from me. Was I uncomfortable? Yes. But if I walked out of a job opportunity every time a man had made me uncomfortable, then I would’ve never had a job, so I stuck it out.
As he spoke, I detected the distinct tone of condescension in his monotonous voice, but I dismissed it as my distrust towards men like him. However, the alarm bells were going off by the end of the interview, when he informed me that I had the job and inquired as to whether I could work the next day, which was New Year’s Eve 2014. It sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. But I agreed to work that shift, though, because I was a poor millennial in mid-recession Britain—and that is how my short-lived bartending career began!
The next day, my first shift at Shitcreek Inn began. Now, the Shitcreek Inn had been in business since the 14th century. It was a Tudor pub with all the cobwebs, cold drafts and weird smells one could possibly want in a period building. The ceilings were held up by old timbers, and the floors were thick stone slabs worn down by five hundred years of patrons passing over them. It wasn’t too bad, all in all, for an English pub. Americans would love it. So quaint and so authentic for a pub in Middle Earth. But once you got into the restaurant kitchen and saw the grease dripping down the vents and the yellow stains on the walls, a shiver travelled down your spine.
I half-expected to find Gordon Ramsay there filming an episode of Kitchen Nightmares. Then, Boris escorted me down a narrow, low-hanging passage towards the food storage room. The passage went down under the road, like one of the air-raid shelters leftover from the war. I knew that much because I could hear cars passing overhead.
It was then, as we turned the corner, that I first became acquainted with the horror cellar, the stinking cemetery for long-deceased food. A fluorescent light flickered above my head, projecting a sickly glow onto the bags of mouldy carrots scattered over the stone floor. In the corner, there stood a lone fridge with several flies perched on it.
Handing me a roll of kitchen paper and window cleaner, Boris instructed me to clean the meat fridge and scrub the floor, as if it wasn’t obvious that the room hadn’t been cleaned in months. Then he was just gone, leaving me alone in the cold storeroom.
I cautiously approached the fridge to get a better look at the slick substance on the floor, where I immediately came to two conclusions. The slick was, in fact, congealed chicken blood, but there was also a fair amount of vomit mixed in and none of it was mine…not yet. I assumed that it belonged to the last poor soul who tried to clean up Boris’ fetid hellscape. But the chicken blood was definitely seeping from the fridge, so I opened the rickety door and peered in.
Honestly, I would’ve rather found a severed head. It probably would’ve at least smelled better. But I didn’t. Instead, I found myself staring into an abyss of slimy grey chicken, thick pools of blood and some other unidentifiable offal floating around in ectoplasm. It genuinely looked like Boris had been keeping ‘The Thing’ refrigerated in there. I thought, How the fuck did this man, who I’d known for all of half an hour, expect me to clean up this massacre? Was I in the employ of a lunatic? Or a psychopath perhaps?
I couldn’t just go up and refuse him, especially if he was indeed a psychopath. That gammon-faced man had me petrified. So, I thought about how I would go about such a mammoth task. Well, first off, I would need gloves if I wanted to survive the night without contracting typhoid, and a clothesline peg to clamp my nose shut. I procured my items and got to work, trying not to breathe while I did so.
Two hours and four rolls of kitchen paper later, after dry-retching alone on the cold cellar floor, I finished the job, comforted by the fact that I had only earned £10 for a job that should’ve been carried out by a biohazard clean-up team.
I emerged from the cellar in disarray, carrying a bucket of blood-soaked rags, as though I’d just been performing ham-fisted amputations on a civil war battlefield. But there was no rest, not even a break for dinner. I was sent straight out to the bar, with dust and blood on my stockings and my hair sticking up in all directions. There, I met the only other employee on shift, a short bald man working behind the bar.
Any logical person would expect some sort of training at this time, given my inexperience in the art of bartending, but this was not the case at all. To my absolute horror, he was clocking off in half an hour, leaving me alone to bartend and serve a three-course meal to a party of 50. It is then, at that very moment, that I realised what both Boris and the departing bartender knew and neglected to tell me—I had been shanghaied aboard a sinking ship helmed by Dr Evil; I had been thrown in at the deepest of all ends.
The party were due to begin arriving soon, before I could even start to understand the cash register or how to pour a beer or how to make a coffee or what the bottles were up on the wall. I felt the familiar signs of a panic attack brewing. First came the hot flashes, then the sweat, then the hammering heartbeat, then the shaking hands. I was hungry, and I needed to toilet, and I needed to get out of there, but I couldn’t. What would my grandfather say if I arrived home, having just quit in the first three hours of my first shift?
“Back in my day, we would’ve killed to clean up lakes of slimy chicken blood for £5 an hour,” he would probably say. “I got my first job when I was five wrestling rabid badgers for the council, and when we got home, our Father would beat us with tree branches,”
No, I could not leave. I would not be defeated by Boris and his evil restaurant. At worst, I thought, the experience would fit neatly in my ‘get out of your comfort zone’ file, between joining a soccer team without knowing how to play soccer and applying to University in the middle of a complete mental breakdown.
By five, the other employee had gone home and the crowds started to pour into the pub. They crowded around the bar like locusts, asking me for drinks I did not recognise in the slightest. I couldn’t even get the cash register to work, let alone serve all 50 members of the party champagne while serving beer to the nightly regulars.
“What whiskeys do you have?” a man standing at the bar inquired.
“I…don’t…know?” I offered, quite literally ready to collapse like a dying star from embarrassment.
“Could we have two red wines?” a woman chimed in.
“Um, yes. Where would the red wine be?” I answered. “In the fridge?”
“No, only white wine is chilled,” she pointed out.
“Right, right,” I began babbling.
“Excuse me, could I get a pint of Speckled Hen?” one of the regulars called out.
“Shall I just get my own wine and you put it through on the cash register?” the woman asked.
“Yes? I don’t know how to though,” I replied, feeling my face get hotter and hotter with each passing second.
I stumbled over to the beer taps and very cautiously poured out the beer without touching any of it. After handing it to the man, he promptly passed it back and told me there was too much ‘head’ on it. The other regulars laughed at me, and I wanted to leap over the bar and strangle them all to death in a fit of unbridled rage. But I didn’t. All I did was check my pulse to check if I was still alive, which I was, unfortunately.
Conveniently, the cash register stopped working, so I braved a visit to the kitchen where I found Boris stalking around with two buckets in his hand.
“There’s something wrong with the cash register,” I said, trying to summon up my voice.
“I suspect there’s something wrong with the operator,” he sneered back as he pushed past me.
I was marched out to the crowd, where Boris corrected the cash register issue with an irritated grumble before vanishing again to his cellar of abominations. But things did not improve in his absence. The humiliation continued for two more dreadful hours, by which point I was drenched in sweat and my dusty, bloody tights had risen up into the most incredible wedgie, but I couldn’t go to the bathroom and fix it. As soon as the bar crowd had petered off, the dinner was on and I had 50 three-course meals to serve on my own.
Unfortunately, the young chef who had been scheduled to make dinner that night suffered a ‘heart-scare’ in the morning, which somehow did not surprise me, so Boris was cooking. Yes, that night, Fawlty Towers met the ninth circle of Hell and this was the outcome.
The guests sat down, unknowingly about to eat whatever mad experiment Boris had been cultivating in his meat fridge. The menu said turkey, even though I thought it looked suspiciously dark, like human spleen in some sort of gelatinous gravy. But the strange meat wasn’t the only food problem.
Diners began summoning me over to take back cold soup and overcooked vegetables, while I was still trying to get the first course out to all 50 diners in the same hour. Being a polite and courteous waitress, I returned the meals to Boris, where I immediately received the full force of his temper through loud, expletive-laden remarks directed at me. His skin had gone from the colour of gammon to a demonic deep crimson, as he glared at me through the greasy haze.
“Get the main courses out!” he barked. “Now!”
I fled from the kitchen without a moment's hesitation, three plates of roast turkey precariously balanced on my sweaty arms. The diners looked up with hope in their eyes as the kitchen door swung open, anticipating the arrival of their long-awaited meal, only to see me, clammy and white as a ghost.
The small dining room before me was packed to the rafters, making it extremely difficult to navigate. It felt like I had walked into an M.C Escher painting with three large plates of turkey dinner. Nevertheless, I pushed towards the table.
“Who ordered the turkey?” I called several times, trying to be heard over the multiple conversations taking place between the diners.
At that point, as if my night couldn’t get any worse, I tripped over a chair and one of the plates fell straight into the handbag of a woman beside me. The gravy spilt on her dress and the turkey slid to the bottom of the bag where it stuck to her phone screen. I’m quite sure, at that moment, that my soul left my body. I had to be clinically dead or in the midst of a horrible nightmare.
Fortunately, the woman did not fly into a blind rage after I had ruined her dress and her bag with a plateful of the suspicious meat and gravy. She seemed to pity me, so much so that she and the other diners volunteered to clean up so I could keep going with dinner service.
The dinner onslaught continued for four hours, until 10, when my shift was finally due to end. Hallelujah! It didn’t, though. In fact, Boris made me stay until 2 in the morning, making my shift 11 hours long. Eventually, the diners migrated away from the dining room and stood around the bar while I cleaned up the mess. They merrily sang Auld Lang Syne, they held each other close and raised their glasses high, counting down to the new year.
Meanwhile, I kept scrubbing a particularly stubborn pool of gravy stuck to the dining table, wiping the sweat off my forehead every so often. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, I thought, why do I keep getting myself into these situations?
“Happy New Year!” one of the diners cheered, holding her champagne glass up to me.
Yeah, Happy Fucking New Year.
(You’ll be delighted to learn that Boris was later fined by the UK government and added to a ‘name and shame’ list for paying his employees under minimum wage. Justice is done.)
Natascha is a second year Professional Writing student and withered cemetery dweller, born in 1632, in Great Britain.