Filling in for psychiatric referral recently, I was forced to think quite carefully about the time I spent in London in 2011. This wasn’t my first summer in the city and things became difficult because I knew they were possible. The summer before, all it took to get a job was pulling up my Facebook profile and evidencing my ability to party with pics. That and four weeks of traipsing the city on foot, frantically pulling a brush through my then long hair in front of every café or shop that was hiring, walking in and back out as soon as my accent made itself known. But I’d forgotten all of that by 2011.
This year the problem was that I got a job too soon. Come to think of it, there was no reason I wouldn’t – I was young, white, well-spoken, presenting relatively feminine. The shop was called In Season and served a selection of sandwiches, some of them involving a seasonal vegetable. This was a concept unfamiliar to me then and, may I say, rather poorly delivered by the tentative owners I would now recognize as hipsters. I remember a pear was involved, and perhaps brie. I spent years trying to convince myself that was a good combination.
At In Season I was confined to the working pattern of 12.30 – 2.30pm every day. Considering each shift was just about as long as my commute, this left a lot to be desired. Either way, I persevered through my absolute inability to make a coffee and the inexplicable dragging of the two hours on the clock. At some point things must have started going awry. I was going through a bad breakup, regularly crying on buses listening to noise pop. I went for the front seat of the double-decker whenever I could.
From behind my despair, I could just about make out the growing exasperation of the shy owners. My mood was affecting their business. The firing took place by call. This was the only time in my long career of getting the sack when I was told pretty explicitly that they just couldn’t have someone looking this sad all the time. I suppose the shy hipsters just about filled the café’s melancholy quota as it was.
Much of this is still vivid in my mind due to the countless times I have since had to list In Season as previous employment on CVs, residence applications, disclosure forms. This is how I know that the café has closed since. They never replied to my request for references, nor to my friendly yet boring question about tax.
Judging by email relics from the era, I must have been enthusiastic about In Season at some point. A quick excavation of my inbox shows my communications becoming progressively more jovial as they remain unanswered. But my early communication with the shy hipsters is curt yet blistering with immigrant work ethic: ‘Suiting your convenience is my priority.’ ‘No relying on buses this time and not a minute of delay.’ This couldn’t have been true. I have been consistently late every day of my life, or at least every one that counted.