The signs in the hotel’s common areas are many and clear. Observe social distancing, sanitise your hands, wait here to be seated, use the QR code to see the menu.
My husband had already experienced four people, millimetres away from him, exchanging pleasantries, while he attempted to eat his poached eggs on smashed avocado and toast.
Almost at the end of breakfast a woman drags a chair over to join a couple behind him. Parked a hair’s breadth from his back an unspoken outrage charged the air. Members of staff engaged with the interloper. Nothing was mentioned of the infringement.
If my husband had said something he would have been the one drawing gasps and stares from onlookers. On this occasion our group of four stood up as one, escaping to the outdoors.
Australia has been largely spared the pandemic’s deathly grasp. I find the flagrant disregard of measures, put in place to protect the populace to be unconscionable, especially in the context of society’s new normal.
While having my pre-27 years anniversary hair cut on Friday, there was little conversation. I like it like that, preferring to close my eyes and let my mind wander.
My contemplation was suddenly interrupted by the barber asking, ‘Will you have the COVID vaccine?’ ‘Oh yes’, I replied, ‘I have the flu vaccination every year.’
Clip clip, cut cut, buzz buzz.
‘What about you?’, I asked. ‘I just had a vaccination for whooping cough because my sister’s child has it’, she said. ’My arm feels really heavy after it. Good job it’s the left one as I’m right handed. I will get the COVID injection.’
‘Do you get the the flu vaccination?’ I enquired, ‘Oh no, I’ve never had that.’
‘But you work in an industry where you come into contact with different people every day.’ ‘True, and men run their fingers through their hair all day long. You know, they don’t wash their hands after going to the toilet. I then touch their hair.’
As a teenager in the UK, I had a few part time jobs. The first was serving takeaway fish and chips in a timber framed shop with higgledy-piggledy floors, ceilings, windows and doors. It was located in a high street where the buildings appeared to have collided into each other.
The income paid for uniforms, chef’s knives, and books, required for study. Following the start of a two-year sandwich course*, I was informed I needed to get experience working in a more superior hospitality business. I was fortunate in securing the role of banqueting waiter at a half timbered C16th hotel.
The business was purchased by a local hotel group, leading to my first redundancy and redeployment. The new hall porter position was located at a grand C19th mansion, turned hotel and function centre. The group also ran the lido in the town. Each Summer staff had the opportunity of working in the lido kiosk.
As my heritage is more Northern European than Mediterranean, my pasty white limbs would sear to a deep vermilion when flaunted in the sun. In order to protect my fragile ego I opted to succumb to packaged promises of golden to bronzed litheness.
Quelle horreur and indignity I endured exposing the resulting patchy brown reality!
*a training course with alternate periods of formal instruction and practical experience.
Afterwards, the Regional Director talked as he walked me out of the room, ‘about the hobbies, I recommend taking up rugby, builds character’, he said.
Earlier that day in 1988, while nervously picking at a bowl of All Bran, sliced banana, and skimmed milk, I decided to be authentic. It was time to be me, find my voice, and use it!
Being meek and mild, keeping secrets, and hiding in plain sight had carried me through the first 25 years of my life. Speaking up and out challenged every fibre of my being, even with improved self-confidence from spending four years in post college employment.
I am forever grateful for the jobs that freed me from the toxic family home. Escape from my stepfather’s episodes of psychotic rage, child abuse, and domestic violence directed at Mom. My only regret was leaving my youngest brother, by nine years, behind with his father.
The last time I saw my stepfather we had an altercation upstairs. I can’t remember the cause of the fight. What sticks in my mind is a split second decision that could have negatively impacted my life forever. Being slow to anger, my judgement is often compromised, when I’m enraged. In that moment, clarity of thought prevailed. I was faced with a choice, walk down the stairs and out of the house forever or punch my stepfather causing him to fall backwards down the stairs.
Images of him hitting my mother’s stair lift as he tumbled, followed by his mutilated form lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs, flashed through my mind. Choosing the former, I got on with my life.
Work roles provided purpose, financial independence, and an identity; a facade of societal compliance. Space, secrecy, safety, and nurturing friends facilitated the exploration of my likes and dislikes.
The appointments at this time, were largely humdrum. I sought out ways to release my creativity. The main barriers to self-expression were self-doubt and a perceived need to keep up appearances, shielding my true self.
Butterfly-like my ideas for a career in the arts were many and fleeting including, a teenage dream of becoming a dancer. In my twenties my friend and I attended ballet and tap, evening classes. Hence the questionable hobbies of a young man seen through the eyes of a conservative authoritarian.
My upbringing had instilled in me to respect and not to question authority. I am sure he thought the advice he was giving was intended to guide me. How was he to know about the inner turmoil raging in my mind.
This brief pep talk pushed me further into hiding.