Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dear catastrophe waitress

In the year I finished my degree and before I went back to Glasgow to do the postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice, I spent a miserable summer back in East Lothian. I'd split up with my boyfriend just before graduating; I didn't want to sign on; home was only the place I'd always longed to get away from and seemed cold and damp; I wasn't getting on well with my Mum; I thought I wasn't going to get a grant for my course, and so on and so self-pitying. I took a job as a waitress in Musselburgh ("The Honest Toun"), in a place called Medaci's. Near Musselburgh's one bright spot, Luca's, it was a "Mediterranean Restaurant", which was really just a big room at the back of the kebab shop which the tubby owner had fancied might make a good place for fine dining. The locals viewed it with amusement: as they waited for their kebabs they'd poke their heads through the bead curtain and mock me as I stood there waiting for customers that rarely came.

The chef was a foul-mouthed, ex-Merchant Navy chef, an ancient, wiry little man called Tommy; in the absence of any customers, I used to spend most of my time in the kitchen eating delicious spaghetti arabbiata freshly cooked by Tommy as he regaled me with his stories of shagging on the high seas and knocked back whisky. There I learned the waitress's conundrum: you don't want it to be quiet because it's mind-numbingly boring waiting for customers; but when customers do arrive, you loathe and despise them for choosing your restaurant and wish them gone with all due dispatch.

For a while there was a Greek waiter there, who used to stand uncomfortably close to me behind my little counter. The boss told me to re-heat the cold coffee from the day before to offer to customers. I couldn't work the cappuccino machine. I had to invent a banana split from scratch as I had no idea what was supposed to go into one. We had the Gypsy Kings on continuous loop. The boss's nasty little son, an equally tubby 11 year old with a lightning bolt shaved on the side of his round little head, used to sneak in behind my back into the fridge and spray canned cream from the tin straight into his mouth. Tommy became an unlikely ally; he hated the boss as much as I did and even began offering me a drink of his whisky. The summer seemed to last an eternity. At its end, I returned to Glasgow, having received a grant to do my course, and it was no surprise that Medaci's closed not long after that.

Musselburgh's being recommended by The Guardian as a place to visit to get away from the hubbub of the Edinburgh Festival. When I read that, I was instantly transported back to being paid £2.50 an hour at a failing restaurant; and I just can't see anything attractive in the idea of visiting the place. Even now, though the kebab shop is long gone too, I shoot a bad glance in its direction whenever I'm unlucky enough to pass by.


Claire said...

In defence of the honest toun, Luca's still sells - in my humble opinion - the best icecream in Scotland, if not the world (and yes, I've been to the US and Italy). And the Peas are going to a great judo class right around the corner (from both Luca's and what used to be Medaci's). Then there's the Brunton Theatre, which is still going strong and still showing great plays in among the more pedestrian, LCD dross. Er, that's all for now.

LottieP said...

I know, i know - but would you want to live there?

I remember enjoying the pantomime with the Peas at the Brunton Theatre, but then on a bitterly cold night, someone had a screaming fit and wouldn't get in the car.... (Was that me?)

Then there was the Thai restaurateur who gave us free beers because I said I was from Hong Kong ... these things add up.

On the other hand, one word: Loretto's.

Claire said...

Hmm, Inveresk, perhaps, or a little cottage right by the shore (there are such things, I'm led to believe). But then, I did end up in Tranent, so I can't afford to be too disdainful of grey, downtrodden East Lothian towns.

LottieP said...

Re-reading this, it looks as though I may be boasting that Medaci's crumbled without me (closing not long after I left). On the contrary, I can confirm that the place was moribund long before I ever set foot in it.

PJ Miller said...

The word I had to type in for "word verification" down there was "emented". Yeah, right on.

I liked this one. The first paragraph or so seemed very familiar, except I didn't have the good sense to get a job and the summer turned into about 9 months. Of shit.