Undercover Joanna
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For Part-Time, I chose Blackpool as the location for which to get a job. Something about Blackpool appealed to me—of going to a place where workers spent their leisure time, yet going there in an attempt to be a worker.

I didn’t really know much more about Blackpool until a few weeks before I went there, and John K. Walton’s book Blackpool was my main reference. It wasn’t until the railroads were developed that it became a destination, due to cheap railway tickets, excellent promotion, and its close proximity to Lancashire mill towns. Local traditions also played a role. Wakes Weeks were an important part of the annual rhythm in Lancashire. In the industrial era, this became the one week in which the factories would close. Families would save all year for their holiday, and often the entire town would go to Blackpool together.

For the most part, people came for the affordable attractions in Blackpool. This included theater and music show, sideshows, fairs, and its three piers and the Tower. Boarding houses sprang up, many run by women. And although it was a place of freedom from work, because tourists came with their families and communities, their behavior on holiday didn’t stray too far from the norm.

I am interested in this economic history, because it is one based on leisure. In the West, the loss of an economic base, usually manufacturing, is a familiar story, and we are all wondering what to do next. Tourism is often seen as an avenue for economic development. But what does a place whose only industry is tourism do? It too has suffered losses from changes in industry—the cotton industry. I felt that many people came to Blackpool because of nostalgia. I could see this in the traditions that were still maintained—Blackpool rock, fortune telling, joke shops, ballroom dancing, donkey rides on the beach. But as I got to know some of the people who worked maintaining these traditions, it seemed a hard scrabble. Some jobs had already disappeared—like carrying bags at the train station or running bathing huts and pleasure boats. Others seemed on the verge of disappearing, the only promise for the future is mega casinos. Blackpool’s businesses have also been greatly consolidated. A few companies own the piers and the Tower, the Golden Mile and its arcades, and even the pubs.

There is an immigrant population in Blackpool, some Pakistanis and a large Polish work force. I felt like an odd immigrant, being dropped off in a place, knowing no one but needing to find a way to get by. I decided to apply at pubs, hotels, and at all the major amusement places. I went door to door, to over 50 doors, asking if there were any job vacancies. I used a  machine at The Winter Gardens to make business card that advertised that I was a good worker for low wages.

On my second week of the job search I stumbled into The Henderson Hotel. It seemed that they had nothing either. But as I handed the woman my card, she mentioned that they did need staff. There was something about her that seemed kind; she seemed troubled that she couldn’t help me. I told her I would work for free. She and her husband--Mrs. and Mr. C.--and I talked it over. They accepted my proposal, although I could see it made them uneasy; they insisted on paying my “expenses.”

I also started on an idea to try to gather videotaped interviews with workers in Blackpool. Much like searching for a job, I started going door to door asking people if I could interview them about work.

My second interview was with Carol Marley at Rock Candy Kingdom. Carol eventually took me in. She directed me to people who I could interview, including her father, who was continuing a family tradition of selling seafood on the beach. She also introduced me to her family and friends, and soon I was spending most of my free time hanging out with them.

The other family I got to know was the Edge family. Sue, her husband, and fourteen year old son Adam gave donkey rides on the beach, often with her two young daughters nearby. I eventually volunteered to work for them for one day—a ten-hour day—during a week when the hotel was closed.

I fell into a certain rhythm. I would work in the mornings at the Henderson Hotel, spend my afternoons tracking down interviews, and then connect with Carol for a drink, usually many, at the St. Anne’s Club or elsewhere.

A usual day involved first helping to finish the breakfast preparations. Sometimes there was laundry to fold.  I would make toast while Karen, the cook, would be finishing up the bacon, sausage, eggs, etc. We would set out the “starters”—juice, fruit, and cereal, and make the tea and coffee. We then donned aprons and headscarves, grabbed a pad of paper and a pen, and checked the menu. We rang the bell to tell the guests breakfast is ready, and then stood by the entrance to the dining room to greet the guests.

Three of us worked the dining room, first taking orders for starters and serving it. Once finished, we would clear those plates and take orders for breakfast. In the kitchen Karen and Mr. C. would serve up each plate as we recited the order. We’d add toast and go out and serve. Next was going around with coffee and tea, and placing teapots and hot water on the tables. We would go around with extra toast and extra sausage, etc. The starters were put away, and trays set down for dirty dishes. As people finished their breakfast, we would clear dishes away. Mr. or Mrs. C. would come out and take dinner orders, after which the guests would wander away.

Two of us would stay in the dining room. The other person would go in to wash dishes. In the dining room, we would strip off the tablecloths and wipe the placemats. The jelly dishes would be put away. We would then put on the dinner tablecloths, reset the placements, fold the dinner napkins, and refill the butter and sugar trays. As soon as the silverware gets washed, we would set the table—small fork, large fork, teaspoon, desert spoon and knife, as well as teacup and saucer. I would usually Hoover the floor. We would all then sit down for breakfast—Mr. and Mrs. C. in the dining room; the staff in the kitchen.

After eating breakfast, we would disperse. I would join Lynda and Michelle cleaning rooms. I usually cleaned the bathrooms which involved cleaning the sink and the toilet, emptying the rubbish bin, refolding or replacing the towels, and perhaps spraying a little air freshener. In the bedroom, the tea tray would be reset, rubbish bin emptied, and the beds made. Meanwhile, the cook would do some prep for dinner and then leave. It would take a little over an hour to clean the rooms. Afterwards, we would bring dirty tea mugs and laundry downstairs, and put away all of our cleaning stuff. We would then help with lunch, which was sandwiches and usually tea or coffee, and it was served in the lounge.  I would usually leave after this.

I worked from 19 May until 13 June.

In reflection, and while still processing this experience, I felt that the work I did as an “artist”—that is, videotaping, far overshadowed my actual job. I did feel like a worker tourist, just wandering through experiencing a job as one would go to Pleasure Beach. I often felt like I was translating two cultures at once—British culture, and (British) working class culture. Tourism is about curiosity, about having different experiences, seeing the world. It can be and is superficial. Some tourists seek the authentic, and while that would be impossible and complicated to claim for myself, I hope to keep Blackpool meaningful.