Where was the desk, the one I would be sitting behind, in reception? The one where, dressed in immaculate clothes, I would greet new arrivals. The one with a bell that I, with newly polished nails and freshly coiffed hair, would press to summon a porter! The one with a huge display of flowers that perfumed the air.
Well it was certainly not where I was standing on a tiled floor, inhaling the stink of spilt beer and stale cigarettes.
Nor was the woman, short, big busted and unsmiling, who introduced herself as the manager, going to give me the warm welcome I was expecting. No words expressing solicitous concern, that I must be tired and hungry, were going to pass through her lips I could see.
“Here Marion,” she called, “take the new girl to her room.”
A tall blonde woman – dark roots, red lipstick, appeared from the dim interior.
“You can show her the ropes. She can work with you”.
“Any experience?” asked my escort.
“We get them green all right from Ireland”.
How green, I was just to find out.
“Well, have you ever worked in a bar before? Pulled pints?”
Maybe the shabbiness of my suitcase was giving the wrong impression; better put her right, I thought.
“No. Why? I am the new receptionist,” a reply that was met with derisive laughter.
“No you are not love. That agency’s been telling you porky pies. Told the last one we wanted a trainee manager. Do you girls never look at what you sign?”
Clearly not closely enough.
“You,” said my co worker a mere hour later, “can wash the floor, clean behind the bar, polish all the mirrors and …” these instructions she rattled off every day for a week.
Pay day. I thought on the seventh day.
“Not for you,” said the manager, “first ticket to pay for, then a week in hand”.
No, I decided. There was a sales representative on his way to Birmingham; a city like London with streets paved with gold. He could help me find work. He had an aunt with a room to rent.
“Ah Auntie’s away,” he told me as the city’s outskirts came into view. “You’ll have to share my bed.”
An offer, I declined.
“Well then, there’s the bus stop,” and both my suitcase and myself were unceremoniously dumped on the pavement.
“Good luck” he said. His tone telling me I would need it.
“Where to?” asked the bus conductor?
To be continued…