Im 52, and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I’m pretty sure I’d like to be a florist, a theatrical make up artist, a paramedic or sitting to the right of RuPaul on drag race.
Currently I butter teacakes and make coffees for a living. I work alongside 16 year olds who do the job to earn money for starbucks and cider to take to parties. I used to own my own cafe and now I work in someone elses. Not bitter. I’m also good at it. I multi-task like a swirling dervish, tamper in one hand and cake slice in the other. I enjoy it, I guess, I love who I work with and chatting mundanities to customers. The thing is I have kind of ended up here by default.
I have worked since I was 15 years old. Younger, if you count singing in St.Cuthberts choir at weddings and funerals for 50p a pop when I was 12..
Age 15, newly expelled from school, I worked in the cafe at The Leadmill, a newly opened music venue which used to be a flour mill.. It was 1980 and I was fully in charge of making coleslaw with added flaking Bristow hairspray and pizzas with extra toppings of chipped black nail varnish and a light dusting of leichener pan stick. Food hygiene was a twinkle in the eye of some white coated professional with a clip board. I used to do the ‘riders’ for the bands. Greatest achievement: making Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke a jacket potato with cheese, no butter.
I worked at ‘Nobles Amusements’. A soul destroying role which involved crimes against fashion and the exploitation of the lonely: The uniform was a red A-line pinafore dress and a money belt full of change to exchange for the pensions of the lonely old folks who came in to play on fruit machines, sacrificing their pensions for 3 in a row, a meagre payout and a cup of luke warm, milky, but complimentary tea. The ‘music’, played on a loop throughout an 8 hour shift was a selection of mind numbing 60s ‘classics’.
*Greatest achievement*: Posing with local ‘legend’ Bobby Knutt for a photo in the local paper during their Hawaaiin themed one year birthday party.
Also resigning during a ‘what the fuck am I doing’ moment whilst calling out the bingo numbers.
One of my many waitressing jobs was at Teejays diner which was upstairs in the newly opened Orchard Square in the city centre. We had to pretend to be american and wear checked shirts and jeans and call people ‘y’all’ and say ‘have a nice day y’hear?’ when people were on their way out into the Sheffield air, no doubt confused that they weren’t in mid-Texas sitting on a hay bale, chewing on ear of corn.
Once I got a job as a sales assistant in a computer shop! I know right?! Me, who cant even work out how to stop inappropriately sending angry emojis. However this was back in the day when Sonic the Hedgehog was cutting edge. I was in charge of selling games to spotty teenagers and pretending I knew what I was talking about.
*Greatest Achievment*: winging my way through explaining the rules to Super Mario
When I was a student, me and my friend signed up to a temp agency. I needed to fund a trip to Italy and buy red Marlboros. We were assigned jobs in Fletchers Bakery on the other side of the city.
We had to wear white coats like scientists, apart from that we weren’t doing research for the greater good. We were putting jam in doughnuts. The shifts were 12 hours long, from 6am to 6pm, or 6pm to 6am. On my first day I had to leave home at 5am to get the number 53 bus to Hillsborough. On arrival we put on our hair nets and had a briefing on our tasks for the day. I didn’t think I would ever in my life say that the smell of chocolate muffins was so overwhelming that it induced nausea, but it did. I had to package them , box them and then send them to a giant walk-in freezer.
The worst part, without a shadow of a doubt, was being on doughnuts. it was a huge, lardy production line, where I literally had to stand for 4 hour stints putting the jam in newly fried, greasy doughnuts as the lard rolled down my arms and congealed to my elbows. I have never eaten a doughnut since. Nor have I needed to moisturise my hands.
One break time we were in the ‘smoking room’, an allocated space with benches and nicotine literally coating the walls and ceiling as my fellow employees coughed and choked but bloody mindedly continued to puff away (as did we).
‘You girls don’t need to go back to Uni, you can have a job for life here’ a voice said from behind a plume of smoke and then continued to show off his smoke ring blowing skills.
I mean he was right, but the thought of working anymore 12 hour days counting teacakes with swollen ankles and not seeing any daylight was a bit overwhelming.
I was wondering today, how much of my life has been spent mopping floors. Customer service is mostly spent internalising anger at rude customers, cleaning up other peoples mess, washing up after other people and explaining the difference between a small latte and a flat white. In many ways its a thankless task, but strangely, I do enjoy it, the front of house bit, the looking after people bit and making sure things look ‘nice’.
I have done so many jobs in my life that I have lost count. I have always had to work for survival. I recently did a little interview on Radio Sheffield and the producer of the show also happened to have done the same degree as me (Communication Studies). I joked at how he was putting his degree to something useful whereas I had wandered down a different path. For a couple of days afterwards I was reflecting on the direction my life had taken and how much I would have loved to have been a journalist. It made me feel a bit sad. I thought about what I had done and what I was doing and how different things could have been, but ultimately those thoughts are futile.
For many years I worked in family support and gave that up after months off with stress to pursue ‘my dream’ of running a cafe of my own. I did it. It didn’t work out but for nearly 3 years I had an unsurpassed creative outlet and that is what I miss in my life now. That and approval, feeling valued and achieving something good….oh, and unlimited access to coffee and cake.
My lack of ‘career’ meant that I was able to have the time to plough through the beauracracy of fighting for what my son needed, and support my daughter in the pursuit of her dream, to acknowledge my own mental health and what my capacity is. The downside of this is that we live on a fairly meagre income, but we have food on the table and a roof over our heads. We don’t really go on holidays or go out for meals but we have a good life. We have enough. And yet….
There is a stereotypical Gemini side too my personality whereby I have another Jo who would love to have money and not have to worry and to shop in Waitrose. To be able to go to the theatre and fly out to somewhere hot and gorgeous if I felt like it, to have my hair done professionally and waft around in a cloud of Chanel meeting friends for lunches and afternoon prossecco. So I can think about that life, and its kind of like a cartoon version. It’s not and will never be my reality, however much I ‘ask the universe’ my attention would be diverted to the beauty of the milky way.
I was never going to be a ‘career woman’. I quite like the thought of power dressing and wearing a kitten heel. It’s not me though, I can only be in environments were people are kind or I get sad. I’m a fragile flower. I’d get walked all over whilst I tried to assert myself in a roundabout way using fluffy metaphors.
I still hope that one day I will write my book, maybe will become a famous author and will live in a beach hut being inspired and tapping away into the night, drinking shots of Jim Beam and taking the occasional drag of a gauloises cigarette whilst gazing wistfully into the distant horizon, wearing Boden loungewear. Maybe I could have a small, but succinct column in The Guardian on the hormone led thoughts of the menopausal woman, and how to ‘smudge-colour’ your roots at home. I would love nothing more. I have so much mad ‘stuff’ in my head and so much stuff I want to get written down before I get too old and have to employ a ghostwriter who will, without permission, add photos to my book of me in the 1980s after my ‘pyramid perm’.
Until then, I shall continue to pursue my target of a blogpost a week, doing well, this is my first one for quite a few moons, and trying to perfect my latte art, I believe something will come along when its meant to, and I will continue to be inspired by humans and emotions and as the late, great Steve Jobs said:
“My favourite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have, is time”.