Examinations for final year students in Scottish schools ended at the beginning of this month. Some may now be in temporary, summer jobs as they await the results in mid-August that will influence future choices and careers. That vacation employment will also impact significantly on their future development. For many, they will be in some kind of public service whether in retail, catering, agriculture or whatever; they will learn co-operation within a team, task sharing and the sometimes irrational wrath of superiors. All of it is character-forming and represents a significant, maturational progression where skills are acquired that may not have been covered in any curriculum. Some of those currently aspiring to lead the British Tory Party might well have benefited from such exposure but their privileged upbringing made it unlikely. In his Bullingdon days (and have they have ever left him) many young waiters and bar staff will have been at the receiving end of gross behaviour by Boris Johnson and his Etonian clique.
In the course of my secondary school days, I helped a breadman on his rounds across the County. Bakery vans have disappeared nowadays. Six weeks in a dairy was the most unpleasant work experience that I had; the foreman made little attempt to disguise his dislike of me and the school I attended. Some of the happiest times were spent in the old City Hotel as a waiter in the dining room, without ever completely mastering the intricacies of silver service. My pal, Raymond and I were a lot more innocent then than today’s teenager appears to be. We were shocked to learn that the head-waiter had, not one but two mistresses among our regular, female colleagues – old, married women in their thirties and forties! St Columb’s College had failed to prepare us for that experience.
One day towards the end of lunch, a large, noisy party arrived in the dining room. Thankfully, they occupied two tables which were not mine. However, I was pressed into service when their designated waitress came to tell me that they wished to be looked after by a Gaeilge speaker. Their leader was a rough looking, large Dubliner who had clearly had a few aperitifs and was nursing a pint of the black stuff. As they finished lunch and expressed appreciation for my attentiveness, the big fella said to me,
“When are you going to have a revolution in this place?” He was referring to the City of Derry and not the hostelry. Just the sort of question one might associate with that interrogator.
It was Brendan Behan.
Good luck when the results arrive but, in the meantime, enjoy your work.