The agency sent Renata and I to the conference centre last night, to help out at a wedding reception. “The man must be an absolute pig,” I remarked to Renata as we hung up our coats by the back door. “To make his poor bride get married here!”
“They must be spending all their money on the honeymoon.” Renata smiled at me. “But you have too syrupy a view of marriage. You think that it should take place in the grounds of a castle, beside a waterfall. But when a couple get married these days, it’s effectively announcing a sort of sexual retirement. They bid a sad farewell to being young and properly in love.”
There was half an hour to go until the wedding party arrived. In the main hall, the manager gave us a prep talk. She was a young girl and I think that none of us were particularly impressed with her. We listened to the manager with polite impatience, as if she was a child who was trying to participate in a conversation between the adults. Yet I suddenly found myself following what she was saying, and after firing a few abrupt questions at her, we were acquainted with the facts of our first disaster.
Disaster Number One: There were one hundred and twelve guests attending this wedding and the manager had brought exactly one hundred and twelve wine glasses to the venue. The banquet was a set menu, so unless anybody broke a plate in half, there would be enough dishes and cutlery to go around. But the manager seemed to think that we should issue a single wine glass to every guest and then expect them to look after it throughout the entire evening.
We needed at least five hundred wine glasses, to keep the wine flowing in abundance. Now the waiters would have to monitor the wedding neurotically and rush any unattended glasses to the kitchen to be washed up and returned on the dot.
“This is absolutely unacceptable!” I raged at the manager, so that the inane smile on her face flickered and then dropped like an anchor. “I have never seen such stupidity! Come here…” I grabbed her by both shoulders and pushed her over to a patch of wall beside the banquet table. “Stand here and face this wall!”
“I don’t understand” the manager blubbered. I shook the manager to steady her.
“You will stand here and face this wall and think about what you have done!”
I left the manager staring forlornly at the wall.
It was as the guests began to arrive that we acquired the details of the second disaster.
Disaster Number Two: The kitchen was equipped with a modest dishwashing machine, and after the last event at the conference centre – an international conference for Methodist bloggers – the catering staff had fed all of the teacups into the machine, but they had not removed the teabags and some of them had burst open. Any glass would now emerge from the dishwasher peppered with hundreds of little black specks. The situation was impossible. All of the glasses would have to be washed by hand, this would take longer than using the dishwasher, and it would doom many of the glasses to be broken when they were handled in the hot water.
We agreed that as the very best worker in the team, I would take charge of washing the glasses. Unfortunately, the team also decided that it would be unfair to make me do this alone, and despite my best efforts to dissuade them, they asked a new agency worker called Hidalgo to assist me.
I wanted no nonsense from Hidalgo. “I’ll wash the glasses and you can dry them,” I told him. He nodded blandly and I glared at him to discourage any further conversation. We had ended with a full stop.
I always relish the opportunity to work alone and I regard washing dishes as only nominally a chore. When established over the kitchen sink, I bask in the nearest that one can get to peace within a busy kitchen. The idiot customers and their stupid questions are banished, rather as the gates of heaven are closed to goblins. The wedding had now commenced and its great noise bubbled away outside the kitchen, occasionally leaping up like bandits whenever one of the doors was opened. After a short interval, the waiters began to rush in the first dirty glasses, like paramedics bearing the victims of a bomb attack to hospital. I washed the glasses and I eyed Hidalgo warily as he dried them.
I finally knew for certain that I disliked Hidalgo when he began to sing.
Whenever I am washing dishes, I always allow a piece of music to play in my mind. If you must know, the piece is Vivaldi’s Sinfonia in C Major. I have learned the Sinfonia by heart and I like to run through it, savouring every nuance and quirk. Yet I had scarcely reached the Largo, when Hidalgo’s voice floated into my consciousness, like a jingling ice-cream van stopping outside my hushed concert hall and drowning out everything. I think that he was singing Rihanna’s “Only Girl in the World.” His voice was guttural and braying and extremely loud. Imagine that you had taught a donkey to sing Rihanna’s hit, and you would have a fair impression of what Hidalgo sounded like.
Hidalgo went on to sing “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, and “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey, each with a greater boisterousness and silly interpretive dancing. Unbending the stiffness from his limbs, it seemed that Hidalgo was now more than a veritable radio station. He was a one-man nightclub, the disco daddy of his own imaginary dance floor.
I could no longer hear myself think. My mind had been invaded and taken over and pop songs were now going round and round in my skull like laundry in a tumble dryer.
For a while, I fumed in silence. But I then had a brainwave.
“You know Hidalgo, you really shouldn’t sing like that. They will be able to hear you outside in the wedding and that would spoil it for everyone.”
It transpired that despite being able to recite the whole of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Hidalgo had not learned enough English to understand what I was saying. “More slowly,” he urged. I was in the middle of explaining for a second time, when he was suddenly convinced that he had got it. “Ah, you want sing too! We sing together!” He began to sing loudly and clap his hands, as if encouraging me to dance along. “Come on, we sing like we brothers!” He broke forth with gusto and I stood there helplessly, like the spire of a wayward church which God is blasting with thunder and lightening.
Renata appeared with three wine glasses, which needed to be washed immediately. She beamed at Hidalgo.
“Hasn’t he got a beautiful voice?” she said to me.
“What?” I hissed, almost snapping a wine glass off its stalk like a dandelion head.
“Do you know, he has memorised over three thousand songs? He’s from Galicia and he knows all of their traditional folk songs. Some of them would otherwise be completely forgotten if it wasn’t for his research.”
“So how come he just sings “Bohemian Rhapsody” over and over again?”
Renata blinked at me in amused incomprehension.
“Look, I’m doing okay here. Maybe you should take Hidalgo outside to help on the tables.”
“Oh no, there will be a lot more glasses coming through soon.” Renata laughed and fled.
Hidalgo sang steadily for almost an hour. I was hoping that he would tire himself out, but his voice just seemed to grow louder, as if it was feeding on my exasperation.
Later in the evening, Renata was at my side again. “Biggy, what are we going to do with the manager?”
“Oh dear! I’d forgotten about her…”
“Yes,” Renata frowned at me. “She’s still standing beside the wedding banquet, staring into the wall. The guests keep asking me what she’s doing.”
“It’s a humane punishment – in other countries, she’d be hanging from that wall by chains.”
“Biggy, we are running out of glasses. The toastmaster will rise soon and we won’t have enough for everybody.”
I looked swiftly at her. “And so what will we do?”
“We’ll have to use disposables. I’ve found five hundred paper cups in one of the cleaning cupboards.”
“No! Absolutely not!” I found myself suddenly inflating with outrage. “This is a wedding, not a children’s picnic! We can’t give our guests wine in paper cups. That is completely unprofessional.”
“The guests are half pissed already. They won’t care.”
“This is embarrassing. Seriously embarrassing. Think of our reputation!”
“We’ll have to use disposables Biggy. There’s no alternative.”
In blind desperation, I tore down one of the knives which was clasped to a magnetic strip above the stove. I poked the point of the knife right into my voice box. “If you put out paper cups, I will cut my throat,” I croaked.
“Put the knife down Biggy.”
“I will not allow it. This is a wedding – we can’t put out disposable cups! What are you thinking?”
“We will have to Biggy.”
“I’ll do it!” I snarled. A lip of blood pouted as the point of the knife wormed into my throat.
There was suddenly a man at the kitchen door looking a bit sheepish. “I’m sorry,” he stepped forward, “but I was coming past the kitchen earlier and I couldn’t help hearing the singing. A traditional song from Galicia?”
Hidalgo was introduced to the stranger, who turned out to be the bride’s father. It was explained that both the groom and the bride were Galician, and that a good old Galician song would go down a treat at their wedding.
Once Hidalgo had gone, I wondered why he had been required in the first place. I now seemed to be managing perfectly well without him. I told myself rather spitefully that I should get his wages, for doing his job, although our agency never seems to work like that.
I thereafter bombarded the wedding with glasses and we did not need to rely upon disposables in the end, although it was extremely tight for the waiters. I tried to concentrate on my Vivaldi, but the strains of Hidalgo’s voice reached me from the banquet, interrupting my peace anew. He would sing until four in the morning.
The wedding banquet eventually accepted the presence of the manager who faced the wall and they ceased to wonder what she was doing. Perhaps she was checking it for subsidence. I imagined that it would be awkward to encounter her again after the wedding, but she was quickly promoted, as they always are, and we soon no longer moved in the same circles.