Saturday, December 23, 2006

Twas the Night Before, the Night Before, the Night Before Christmas

My bad. I didn't post a new blog article, yesterday. Sorry. I really, really, really, really (ever notice how children, who have limited vocabularies, will concatenate an increasing number of "really" together to indicate ever increasing levels of seriousness?), really, really, REALLY wanted to post one, but I was out last night, had a few drinks, and was way too tired, by the time I got home. I missed "Eastenders," as well. I will try to catch up on the omnibus show, on Sunday. I hadn't planned on going out, last night. I was lured into it.
On Thursday, the Sous Chef, at the restaurant where I work between acting gigs, invited me to go to a pub for drinks, after work on Friday. No, "invite" is too strong a word. He shouted, "are you going to the pub with us?" I gave an ambiguous response and asked him where it was. "Just down the road," he explained, without indicating which road he was talking about. I had no idea where this pub was, after he explained. Okay, I had a little idea...somewhere in England. He suggested that I bring a change of clothes. He said that if I went, it would mean spending money. That's the type of detail to really put me off. Perhaps he didn't really want me to go, after all.
I always seem to end up struggling with an internal debate over these kind of things. I am invited to go somewhere and I struggle with the decision. On the one hand, I would like to go out and have a good time. On the other hand, there's the "I can't be bothered" factor, plus the expense. Last year, I was working at another restaurant and I was invited to attend their staff Christmas Party. It was free and I ended up going, but I only had a marginally good time. I left feeling like I might have gotten better value staying home. This going to the pub after work is the closest thing to a Christmas party I could experience, this year. Then, a new drawback arose, which threatened to tip the balance against going.
It doesn't take much to tip the balance. Sometimes things are so close that the proverbial butterfly flapping it's wings in a Brazilian rainforest can change the outcome. My handler at the temp agency asked to speak to me, Thursday afternoon. The Restaurant Manager had asked for an additional temp for Friday, as one of his permanent staff was taking the day off. My handler was on the phone and wanted me to agree to drive the second temp to work with me, on Friday. As usual, I agreed. Because I was busy at the time, it didn't occur to me then, but at home, on Thursday night, I suddenly realized that if I drove this fellow, he probably wouldn't want to attend and would be relying on me to drive him home. He also wouldn't know to bring a change of clothes and I didn't have his phone number. He could be my excuse not to go.
On Friday morning, I considered bringing a change of clothes, just in case, but as I was running behind schedule, I decided not to bother. It would have slowed me down and made me late. After waiting at the rendezvous point for fifteen minutes, without seeing the fellow I was supposed to be driving, I called the temp office. My handler said he'd check on the guy and call me back. In a couple of minutes, he called back and informed me that the fellow wasn't coming. I was directed to proceed on my own and they would get someone else to the restaurant, later. I ended up driving on my own. Now, I had no excuse, but I also had no change of clothes. Could that be my excuse?
On Friday morning at the restaurant, the Manager called me into his office. He always has this deadpan way of doing so, that leads me to worry that I am in some sort of trouble, but it never turns out to be so. This time was the same. When I got in his office, it turned out that he only wanted to give me a jacket. For years, I have been wearing a black, leather jacket, that my evil ex-wife, the Black Queen, had bought me. It's seen better days. It's got a massive tear in the left front, as if someone had tried to stab me in the heart, but got caught up in the leather. There's also a hole worn in the collar. For weeks, the Manager had been saying that he was going to give me one of his old jackets, because he felt sorry for me having only the tattered, old leather to wear. When it didn't happen, I just figured it was a load of talk. Perhaps because it was the last workday before Christmas, he felt motivated to make good on his promise. He presented me with a black, woolen jacket, that was in pristine condition. Surprisingly, it fit me even better than the leather one had. The Head Chef came into the Manager's office and asked me what size shoes I wore. When I told him a size 12, he said he had a pair of shoes for me. He'd taken a pair of work shoes from another restaurant he worked at, but they were one size too big for him. They were perfect for me. Slightly used, they were an improvement over my work boots, which had started coming apart at the seams. Christmas had come to the restaurant. Daddy's got a new pair of shoes. This shows that if you look pathetic enough, people will give you stuff.
The Sous Chef asked me, again, if I was coming to the pub after work. This time, I managed to extract clearer directions out of him. The pub turned out to be in the opposite direction to what I had thought. I still gave him an ambiguous response. I often make up my mind at the last minute and would see how I felt at the end of the workday. The Head Chef assigned me to run the plate wash room for the day, which was another treat for me. It's easy work, as there is a big, automated washing machine, with a conveyor belt. You just load the plates, cutlery, and glasses into racks and put them on the conveyor, then take off the clean stuff at the other end and put it away. Also, as the plate wash room is on the opposite side of the restaurant from the kitchen, it's peaceful and I am sort of "out of sight-out of mind," so the chefs don't end up asking me to do stuff. I also get to pick off left-over food that comes in on serving plates, to be put down the waste disposal.
The restaurant closed a little early, so staff could head off to the pub. Because the restaurant is closed until Tuesday, the chefs had no prep to do. The two of us in the plate wash still had all the serving bowls and plates to wash and put away. Everyone else was ready to go and the Manager strolled into the plate wash room, asking me if I had my timesheet for him to sign. "It's in my locker," I explained, which was at the other end of the restaurant, behind the kitchen. He looked disappointed, then asked me if I was coming to the pub. Decision time. "Yes," I said. He told me to bring my timesheet and he'd sign it there. He also promised to buy me a pint of beer. Bingo! Now I would be able to have at least one drink, without spending money. I was going! Everyone else headed off, leaving me and Pritam, one of the Nepalese, to finish in the plate wash.
I caught up with the crew, at the pub, by 3:30PM. As promised, the Manager bought me a pint. He signed my timesheet while we waited at the bar. Business done, I sat down with the rest of the people from work. The Manager's girlfriend was there, who managed another restaurant run by the same catering company. I was the only one dressed in my work clothes and I was still wearing my ID card around my neck. The Sous Chef suggested I take it off, but I felt it was safer there. The one flaw in my new jacket is that it doesn't have pockets that zip up. My old leather did. I was worried that I might lose my ID, if I put it in my pocket. As the various management and chefs took turns buying rounds of drinks, I ended up having several drinks bought for me, until I reached my comfort level. Then I stated turning them down. Some of the revellers left after a couple of hours. Two more joined us, the Sous Chef's girlfriend and the Head Chef's wife. The latter being the last to arrive, as she got lost on the way to the pub. We ended up being a party of seven, three couples and me. The Sous Chef started asking me if I was joining them for the rest of the night. I was my old, ambiguous self. I kept checking the time, wary of "Eastenders" starting at 8PM. I mentioned my concern for seeing "Eastenders" and the Sous Chef suggested I catch the repeat broadcast at 10PM. I lost track of time and the next time I asked, it was 8:05. I had missed the first showing of "Eastenders." I was also starting to feel hungry, so I was tempted by the itinerary, which included an all you can eat Chinese restaurant. The negative factor was that I would have to pay for myself at the restaurant, which would cost me £20. I love Chinese food and £20 for a night out isn't too bad. I was in!
The pub we were at was on the outskirts of Fleet, so the first move was to another pub in the town centre. The other six piled into a cab, while I drove myself, following them. At the next pub, the Oaksheef, I turned down all drinks, except a small glass of champagne. Although they had a dinner reservation at the Chinese restaurant, the Sous Chef suggested that they skip it and stay at this pub. After a discussion amongst the women, they put their feet down and insisted that we go to the restaurant. I sided with them, as I had enough of drinking and wanted food. We walked to the restaurant, which was only across the street.
It's called Water Sky Chinese Restaurant and if you ever find yourself in Fleet, Hampshire, it's good quality Chinese, although it's not cheap. While many Chinese all you can eats are buffets and cheap buffets tend to be of marginal quality, Water Sky cooks the food to order and provides full waiter service, which is one reason the cost is higher than a lot of Chinese all you can eats. It was £17.95 per person, plus drinks and I think there's a service charge for parties of six or more. You can call Water Sky at 01252 615034, for directions or reservations. Tell them I sent you. Maybe they'll give me a discount someday.
Water Sky was packed when we entered. After we were seated, I eyed up the numerous, cute Chinese waitresses. They reminded me of my evil ex-wife, the Black Queen, who's mother is Chinese. While most of the others had beer and wine, I stuck to water. The waitress put the food on a turntable in the center of the table, so we could turn it around and provide everyone with access to every dish. I may have been the only one of us still sober. The Sous Chef seemed to be holding it together and the Head Chef's wife, who'd had less than everyone else, having arrived late seemed to have her shit together. The rest were at the stage where they were becoming rowdy. It can be quite amusing to be out with drunk people, in a nice restaurant, when you aren't bothered about what people think. I don't know if it's age, or that I have been through so many tough times in life, but I generally don't give a shit what people think of me when I'm out. It seemed to kick off when the Manager's girlfriend, who was a manager in her own right, disappeared from her chair. She'd crawled under the table, for some reason. Suddenly, her head appeared from under the table, at the opposite side to where she'd been sitting, peeping out between the Sous Chef and his girlfriend. After the first course, the table looked like a bomb had hit it. There were spots of spilled sauce and bits of Chinese food all over. Drunk English people may not be entirely skilled at eating with chopsticks. The Manager started swaying in his chair and looked like he might fall over. At one point, I looked around and the Manager's girlfriend was climbing over him, positioning herself, straddled across him. She wins the "Most Animated" award for the meal. The Sous Chef's girlfriend spilled her drink all over her section of the table. The Head chef threw his napkin across the table and out into the restaurant. The Manager lost one of his chopsticks. I found the entire scene amusing to watch. I didn't feel the least bit embarrassed to be seen with them. I felt sorry for the waiting staff, though, but they seemed to put up with it all rather calmly, with stereotypical Chinese discretion. Perhaps they were used to it, being located across from a popular pub.
Just before the first of the main course dishes arrived, the Manager's girlfriend started saying she wanted to go back to the hotel room they had booked. She started to leave and take a cab back, alone, but we persuaded her to stay. She ended up falling asleep in her chair. At least that stopped her from crawling around the floor. Soon, it was all over. The Manager's girlfriend tried to talk the waiter into giving us a discount, as we worked in the restaurant business ourselves. The shrewd waiter wasn't having any of it. I hurried to finish as much of the food as I could, trying to get my £20's worth. The restaurant's staff had ordered taxis for the others. I drove home alone, stuffed. A good night was had by all.


Post a Comment

<< Home