Into the UK

Moving to a new country filled with new experiences? Get a Blog then, leave the diaries in the <90’s.

So… Here I am in the most famous kingdom of queens – the band, the city and the Queen herself – and as a 28 year old Portuguese man I once wondered just what the fuck am I doing here, uh?

I arrived on the 7th of July to the most labour intensive kind of job I’ve ever had, the only worse thing I could remember were the Chinamen that had to work from dusk ’till dawn, catching whatever-it’s-name-is-of-a-fish or some type of mollusk .

I arrived at the United Kingdom (UK henceforth) at Heathrow, pretty exciting since it was my first commercial air-plane trip. The first real street view I had was the emerging in the Victoria Station underground station, apart from the fact that it was raining (of course) and I was carrying maybe 30Kg with me I can say I didn’t have the opportunity to look around much, besides the obviously different taxi’s and double-deckers, I took off on a taxi as soon as I got the chance to some crappy neighbourhood where the agency that got me the job was. After waiting about an hour, they sent me on my way to a bus for Waterloo Station, and there, catch a train to Tunbridge Wells, something like 40-50Km from London, (unlike anything I had previously discussed with that agency).

Upon arrival around 5pm at the High Rocks restaurant – and commenting with a sympathetic taxi driver how everyone drives on the wrong side of the road – I was shown to my room, sharing it along with some other Polish guy. Upon seeing that room, and upon realizing that there was no Internet (what?! It’s just as important these days), THAT’S when I started to wonder just “what the fuck am I doing here”. It was the only time, but it hit me like a train full of train parts, I sobbed quite a lot for the remaining day, I missed home, my living-room, my everything, but mostly I missed (teh) Helen. I felt utterly alone…

On that evening, while trying to get some sleep, I got suddenly hit by a sort of calm, that there was no point in feeling anguished and sad anymore, everyhting would work out, and I could actually do this. Then I fell asleep…

The next morning I woke up to the (terrible) sound of a cell-phone alarm playing some sort of Polish pop-music, and the singer was awful, as if he was trying to sing with two ping-pong balls in his mouth. A fraction later I realized I was in that shit-hole with a room-mate that was so clean and organized that he probably wouldn’t be able to find his own bed in that mess. “It’s ok, I can do this”.

Work started at 10:00 with simple tasks, vacuum-cleaning the main hallway and some other rooms, preparing some tables and napkins (I failed to mention the job was a catering one) and it was going rather fine until lunch-time. Eventually guests for both parties – they had so many rooms they could host 2 or 3 really big parties simultaneously – and the real work started.
The constant flow of dishes and silverware was constant and none stop, from carrying trays with 10 plates filled with food every 30 seconds, to carrying 8-10 person tables and 6 wooden chairs in one go, my back felt completely FUBAR, and I can’t stress this enough, the flow was constant, you couldn’t get a break unless you literally sneaked out out of scene for a few seconds or minutes. You had to rely on customers leaving food in their plates to eat something to distract your stomach from hunger, you had to constantly drink water to hydrate and it was never enough. Time for yourself during work just didn’t exist literally, and don’t even think about a dinner break, let alone a 10 or 15 minute break.

Eventually you would end up having dinner, after every costumer there had his 6 to 8 dinner courses and you had removed all the used plates and silver, piles and piles of it, heavy, very heavy. I take the hat off to only one thing there, which was the food, when you had the chance to eat (in 20 minutes or less) you would eat whatever the Chef’s had prepared for the costumers, and it was really tasty, specially considering how tired and hungry I felt.

This went out for hours and hours, even when the guests were all gone you had at least 4 more hours work ahead of you. The descriptions I give above give it no justice in how fucking mental that job is. It’s hard enough for people with perfect health, let alone me with a heart condition that makes me tired in 2 minutes time with minimum effort.

The problem with that place, in fact, I’ll rephrase that; One of the problems of that place is that it wasn’t flat, there’s fucking stairs all over the place, it’s a huge mansion like house full of stairs, even the kitchen is the the basement, with a set of stairs, hence the hardship of carrying trays full of food from the kitchen to the upper floors, and tables, and chairs, ‘cuz the bastards kept changing the set-ups of the rooms according to what type of party and how many people it would have, and so, like I was saying above, even after the guests left, you had to clean the entire rooms, huge rooms, ball rooms! That meant clearing all the tables to one side and chairs, doing the floor clean-up and waxing, putting the tables and chairs back in place, and/or carrying them out (stairs) to other rooms, and to top it off, you’d have to put all the new silver, plates, glasses, tissues in the tables, ready for the next day.

Next thing you know, it’s 5am when they finally release you from something short of slave-work, I tried to ask around 2am if I could leave, along with some part-time Russians that had come in (read part-time as 8 hours…), and the reply I get is “We all have to work <name>”
Seriously? from 10am to 05am with a 2 hour break and a 30 minute dinner? I found out by my Polish room-mate that although that day was a Friday, it was similar to that every other day, working from 12 to 15 hours a day was the daily life of these guys, at 5,92£ per hour.

That night – or should I say dawn, it was 5am – I decided I was leaving, I couldn’t keep up with that type of work, I felt like crap and I was supposed to come back to work at 12:00 along with everyone else. Yes, that’s 7 hours to sleep, shower, breakfast, time-to-yourself.

I came in at 10:00 to explain the sub-manager that I was leaving, long story short, he assumed, saying to me that I had never worked before, I told him I had 3 years of professional experience, he skipped into saying I tried his place for 1 day only, not even a week, he says to me “You don’t give yourself a chance to succeed”. I told him I didn’t like to be exploited.

Just because these bastards can get literally free workers from desperate countries, does that justify exploring them? The place was full of Polish (334€ minimum wage), Russian (103€) and 2 Portuguese (485€), the UK’s minimum wage is 1.171€, so yes, a person can earn a lot of money, I myself earned 96£ for the single day I worked, that’s a lot of money for 1 day of work, but at what cost? some 14-15 hours of work and 7h sleep? I’d rather live slower and keep some type of physical and mental health tank you very much.

No… Just because I come from a country that is shit and it’s going to remain in the toilet for at least 35 to 40 years (assuming they do everything right, which won’t happen), just because I or anyone comes from those types of countries doesn’t give companies, small time restaurants, catering, construction work and cleaners the right to explore them for every single bit of desperation for money they have. Working longer then 8 hours a day should be an option people make, whether they love the company they work for or need more income, but it should never be a duty.

The Highrocks owner (whoever the bastard might be) is indeed a “smart” man. He gets to pay minimum wage to a staff of 20 or so low-grade people, and on top of it, get them to pull of something a reasonable company would create 2 or 3 shifts for. A person starting at 10am should be leaving by 19pm, not at fucking 3 or 5am the next day. Yes, very well thought out: one payroll, 2 work shifts.

So, and to finally conclude, what am I doing here? Well, I guess the answer I have for myself at this time, is that I’m starting work on the very same franchise I used to work for back in Portugal, only in a far better country, with far better career prospects. And I didn’t have to be exploited to get that…

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