Fuck I’m ill. On the plus side, everybody else is too and that feels good. It’s raining today as well, gone are the shorts and the ray-bans, gone is the illusion of British summer time. This feels good too.
Today at work I get to spend the day in the basement. I was too hungover to wheel out in front of the guests last time, so now I am paying penance for my actions. I am to polish glassware.
The limescale in the London water forms little white splodges on the glasses, splodges which subsequently need to be rubbed off so that some matrimonially minded arseholes or matt-grey conference manatees can revel in the idea of cleanliness. They don’t see the rats by the bins or the traps clogged up with roach carcasses. They just don’t see white smudges on their glasses and that contents them, apparently.
Ironically the process that involves the removal of limescale from the glassware is remarkably multi-faceted. The industry standard cleaner for cleaning London limescale smudges from glasses is London water itself. This water is obviously packed with limescale, it being from the same tap etc. Effectively this is like cleaning up paint with paint. Great smears of limescale adorn “polished” glasses which, with a sense of due irony, will need to be re-polished by order of the management. Obviously the bosses don’t help or sympathise, their sole role in the whole sordid affair is merely to evaluate and obviously find my workmanship “poor”.
To get a glass to a tolerable state of smudging takes a minimum of three minutes. This has to be done for every glass in the building. There are over 400 glasses. Mathematically this represents about twenty hours of continuous work. My shift is only thirteen hours long. Added to the equation is the fact that the clients keep using the clean glasses to drink a variety of soft drinks, all of which are diluted with London limescale-rich tap water. Occasionally the boss comes in and drains a glass right in front of me before leaving it in the “to be washed” pile, its journey to the polishing basement begun in earnest. I stand and watch his fat face guzzling down the limescaly drink. I can see the small smudges forming as he slakes his thirst with a dramatic “ah”! I think he does it just to spite me and my mind inevitably turns to revenge. I imagine ramming the vessel into his smirking mouth, laughing as he spits out glass and teeth. I watch closely as small splodges of limescale form on the collar of his acrylic suit, showing up perfectly against the crimson hue of his own claret.
But in the end I do nothing as always and subserviently return to my job, which is smearing the limescale around the rim of a never-ending carousel of glassware. The manager tells me to finish before I leave, a task that’s literally impossible, Sisyphean even. The true definition of a permanent job.
I have been looking for a good analogy for how this city takes pride in fucking you at every possible opportunity and finally it came upon me in the form of soup, yes soup. From the great soup kitchens of Tottenham Court Road to the value bucket at Best-In, this watered down vegetable mush has long been associated with hunger, longing and destitution, the triumvirate of modern London. It’s a culinary pairing with those that society shits upon, time and time again, that and bread. Still I mentioned I was sick. The infection had spread to the area under my back teeth so a bowl of hot soup sounded like practical paradise as I needn’t chew.
Now the Vietnamese are the kings of this scene with steaming bowls of spicy broth, replete with noodles like wet horsehair. Luck would have it that there was a “street food market” around the corner so off I went.
£7.95. For a bowl of soup. This represents one hour and twenty minutes on the minimum wage, which is what I earn. One hour and twenty minutes of pushing limescale around a glass just for a bowl of soup. Ah London “street food” everything “street” but the price.
Then I remember the Chinese supermarket does soup in a cup. It says it’s hot and spicy too but more importantly it costs 70p. Even though 70p represents 7 minutes labour, or 2 1/3rd glasses smudged acceptably clean, for those paying attention. This is sadly how I think now, my unit of time measurement is the polished glass, metric or imperial? It really doesn’t matter.
I still buy it because I want some soup you see and I don’t want London to win again. You will be familiar with these contraptions that simply require hot water to create the Styrofoam-enclosed miracle. I go to an evening language course round the corner thinking they must have an urn and they do. There it sits, steaming behind a counter manned by an insect like man called Keith. Soon I will have fucked the system with my cheap soup so I ask Keith for some hot water. I am top of the town, cock of the walk as I watch Keith methodically fill up a cup from the chrome urn but then just before he hands it too me he stops and his finger turns to the till.
50p. For tap water in a university. Keith actually smiles as he sees my face visibly drop, deflated by the last minute winner. I was clearly not the first to be making instant soup on the sly, which Keith’s broken smirk testifies too. Now 50p is by no means expensive but it’s the principle of the whole affair. Some of the students pay £6000 a year apparently. If ever there was a physical embodiment for education being a business, then this was it. I was ill and weak though, with an infected tooth so in my shame I bought it and London won again, his shard shaped dick tearing another inch into my colon. I made the soup. It looked like iodine solution and tasted of chemicals, mainly chlorine. Next time I would just buy beer like normal.