Undercover Joanna
HENDERSON | About the Henderson Hotel | Postcard
excerpts from work
Friday 19 May

I came in through the front door again. Michelle told Mrs. C. that I was here. She showed me where I can hang my jacket, and then brought me into the kitchen. She introduced my to Michelle, Karen, the cook, and Lynda. She showed me the sink where to wash my hands, and told me to do this anytime I came into the kitchen. She had me dry some dishes that she was washing. I asked her where they went and she said just to put them on the stainless steel table. She asked Lynda f there was anything I could do and Lynda suggested I butter bread—white and brown. She got out the bread, butter, cutting board and a knife for me, as well as the plastic Tupperware bin to put the bread. She started toasting bread in the grill. Karen was preparing breakfast. Mrs. C. (or Lynda? ) told me how the tables were numbers—no. 1 being to the right of the kitchen door, gong anti-clockwise around the room. Table 1 was the most difficult table—special orders. Mrs. C. decided that I should start with Richard’s table, as they have been here before (many times for many years, it turns out). Mrs. C. got out aprons and headscarves, the aprons were green and white checked, the headscarves solid green. I had trouble tying up my headscarf. Lynda gave me a pad of paper and a pen. They told me what was for breakfast: bacon, sausage, eggs—fried or poached—beans, tomatoes, fried bread, and toast, white or brown. A bell was rung and all the guests came into the room. Michelle told me to ask them for starters first—juice, fruit segments—grapefruit, prunes, and also diabetic grapefruit—porridge, or cereal. I went and asked my table—someone had porridge, but I don’t remember the order.

We go to clean the rooms. I mainly clean the sinks, and learn how to clean the toilet, make the beds, etc.

Mrs. C. calls me upstairs to show me making bed. Tells me about pillows in a hotel in San Francisco. Then tells me that she is a charity, and that I am volunteering, but she will pay my expenses. I try to tell her no (I am now realizing how kind these people are, and am feeling horrible), but she says that she will not take advantage of me. 

I am finished, say goodbye, and walk out front door, waving to guests in the lounge.

Saturday 20 May

8:30 am-1:00 pm

It was raining on my way into work. I remembered to go through the back door, which enters into the kitchen, rather than the front as I had yesterday. Richard, one of the guests was behind me. As I walked in, I saw Karen and Michelle. Emma, Violet, James, Rachel, Margaret and three others were also working. Violet and Margaret are older women, the rest are teenagers. Karen thought I was upstairs today, so I went up to find Mrs. C.  Mrs. C. said something about a T-shirt, and took me back down. Emma came running in to apologize for being late.

I learned that Karen had some kind of surgery and/or is on a diet managed through the hospital and has lost 86 pounds. She told me that while she was in the hospital, she got herself ready to be around food again by spending time with people eating. Violet is older, and mainly did the dishes. We talked almost exclusively about the bus; she told me the routes I could take to get here, the L1 to Fleetwood from Lytham road. The bus stop is across the street out back. She talks the reverse route to get to work. Denise is also in for a bit, but I didn’t see her much. Lots of young girls are working. Emma is at school, training to be a nail technician. She is intrigued by New York, and would like to go there. She says its good to have different kinds of people around. Karen asked how I could just go to another city and work, she couldn’t do it.

Mrs. C. decided I would work breakfast. I made toast in the grill. I put on the headscarf, badly, I have to remember to bring something to pull my hair back. She tells us that the most important thing is to have Richard’s table served first, which is my job.  Breakfast has the same menu as yesterday. Richard asked for corn flakes, he asked if I called them Kelloggs. Many people are trying to translate things for me. Mr. C. said a lot about English humor. The rest of the table ordered as follows: pineapple juice for a woman whose name I don’t know; grapefruit segments for Michael, and porridge for Evelyn. After I had served this, everyone else had been served as well. Emma, Michelle, Rachel and I were the servers. I cleared the dishes, and we began to take orders for breakfast. On my pad of paper, I try to make a grid like Michelle and Emma do: columns labeled as Ba, S, E, Be, Tom, FB, Toast W B. It sort of works for me. I took the orders from the first table and went into the kitchen to get them. Mr. C. was in the kitchen putting together the plates of food. He was wearing a short sleeved white shirt and a tie. Karen made crispy bacon in the grill. Mrs. C. helped to cut up food for Michael, using a scissors for this.

After serving my table, I looked around and saw that table number one hadn’t been served, so I went to it. I forgot that this is usually the table that is the most difficult.   A woman at the table said that I will have to know their names. She and her husband have been coming here for 19 years, even longer because she was a guide for two or three years before getting married. Her name is Joyce, her husband is Charles, the other couple at this table are Cissy and Fred. I take orders. Joyce asks for a bacon butty, then realizes that I don’t know what it is. At first I didn’t, but then I remembered reading an article in the Gazette last week about school lunches and its headline was “Making a Better Butty,” along with a photograph of a kid making a sandwich. Cissy is quiet, and only wants brown toast. Fred needs a special plate (one that has a side edge to it). He is more talkative and asks for my name. Someone brings out Joyce’s butty. Fred’s plate and Cissy’s orders are also taken care of, and I take care of Charles’ plate. Everyone is served, and I need something to do. Michelle tells me to go around with the teapot. Only Wally has me fill his cup. I talk to a woman from Penny Lane. She asks me when I will visit Ullet Road. Many guests ask if I will be there when they return; some are coming back in July, others next year. Michelle comes around with extra toast.

The table with juices, cereal, etc. is quickly cleared off during this. The table cloth is taken off, and trays are set down for clearing dishes and silverware. I stand around for a little while waiting for plates to become empty so that I can snatch them away. Guests start to leave the dining room. Emma tells them she wishes they were staying longer, and then is excited when some say they are coming back in October, which is her birthday.

Rachel goes upstairs. Emma asks if I know how to wipe the placements, etc. and I tell her I do. We do this: wipe the placemats with a damp cloth, remove the marmalade dishes and put them away on a trolley near the kitchen door. The middle placemat has sugar, butter, salt and pepper. We remove the tablecloths and wipe the tables. The napkins and cloths go in a pile. We get the dinner cloths out—a green cloth and a white lace cloth over it and put these on. I put the mats back on the table. I got the boxes of butter and Flora packets out of the small refrigerator and started refilling the butter dishes. I checked with Emma about how many of each: 8 butter and 4 Flora in each dish, but the main thing is to make sure they look nice. While doing all of this, Emma and I talked. She is outgoing and chatty. Emma will be 18 in October. Her mother used to work here, and she grew up in the hotel, her family living here for a while. She told me when she was a baby she used to sleep in a dresser drawer, and that she would tell me first because Mr. C. will bring it up (he did).

We then set out the plates—a bread plate to the left, and a saucer; and then the silverware: large knife, small knife, large fork, small fork, desert spoon, soup spoon and teaspoon. At Beryl’s place, since she is left-handed, we have to reverse where all the silver goes.  The napkins go on the center of the placemat. Yester, Michelle showed me how to fold them: you first fold the napkin in half diagonally, the fold it twice from the bottom, making about a 1-1/2” fold; then roll it around your hand and tuck in the bottom roll. It then stands up.  I started doing all of this one table at a time; Emma rolled all the napkins at once and then set them on the tables. She also set the tables in this systematic way—all the spoons at once, then knives. I changed how I was doing it to work within her method. She said we will have to set all the places for tonight, since we don’t yet know where everyone will be sitting.

James, who seems to be around 15 or 16, was being directed by Mr. C.  He told home to get out the teacups, and to be careful not to mess up the silverware. James then started vacuuming—I mean hovering—in the dining room. Michelle came over and asked me what I’d like for breakfast, I asked for one piece of toast.

Emma then set the table for Mr. And Mrs. C. They sit in the dining room to eat, while the whole staff sits around the kitchen table. Everyone who was working upstairs came down for breakfast. Emma talked about a friend of hers, a guy, who took a cheese grater to his arm. Around 10:30, Michelle and Emma went outside for a cigarette. The teenagers were not very talkative, and sat around awkwardly. Karen showed me a picture on her phone of her cat, Sophie, who was found in a sofa. She joked about calling Lynda, who is in Spain on holiday, and about the Peter Kaye ringtone.

We cleared away our breakfast dishes, and threw out the bowls of beans and tomatoes—I don’t think anyone touched them. The bacon and sausage were wrapped up. I dried dishes for a while while Violet washed them and then went upstairs with Emma and Michelle. They talk about cleaning the pubes in the showers. I thank them for that lovely image. Emma then takes charge, and stars to direct the other girls on what to do—who is doing toilets, sinks, sheets, etc. I don’t know what to do and find Mrs. C. She tells me to hoover on the second floor, and to move the beds, but not the furniture, to not lift anything.  The hoover is in room 26, a sort of hallway at the back. I start at one end and work my way down. It seems to take me a while, the hoover doesn’t seem to be picking up things I see in the carpet. I pick up some lint and pieces of paper. All the radios are on in each room. There are Post-It notes on each door about stripping sheets and other tasks. Others are cleaning toilets, there are towels and sheets in the hallway. Someone is doing the tea trays and cups. The toilet in room 15 isn’t working. I finish and find Mrs. C. cleaning up a stain on the carpet in one of the rooms. I had seen this, but didn’t know it was fresh. It looked like someone dropped a cup of tea. Denise suggests using vinegar to get the stain out. Mrs. C. tells me to start cleaning the showers. I ask how, meaning is there some particular way she would like them done. Mrs. C. says to use a bucket, some water and Mr. Muscle and tells me to clean them as I would my own at home. She then tells me about someone who had called for a room—they are booked. The person said they liked it here more than next door because it is cleaner. Mrs. C. said that is because two blokes run it and men don’t have the eye for cleaning; they need a housekeeper. Mrs. C. says that whenever she goes anywhere with her girls, the first thing they do is see how clean it is but running their fingers over everything.

I go down to the first floor cleaning closet and get everything I need, then go back upstairs and start at one end of the hallway. The showers are fairly clean to begin with, the first one I clean has some small mildew stains that I wish I could scrub away. There is some orange stuff in the cracks and I do my best to get at it. I rinse, then spray with cleaner, wipe it with a cloth, then wipe it down with a dryer cloth to polish it. I seems like it is taking me a while to do one shower. Michelle checks in, she is doing the shower next door. I do down the hall to clean the shared shower in the middle of the hallway. I step inside of it to start. Mrs. C. comes by and tells me she has done the shower in room 30. She said she had just come up to check the toilets, but had seen the carpet and cleaned it, and then got into other things. I finish the hall shower and start cleaning the shower in room 29. Rachel is also cleaning showers, this is the last room to do. I commented to Rachel that I was slow, she tells me not to worry about it. Mrs. C. would rather I take my time and do it right, as long as it doesn’t take me an hour to do one shower. Mrs. C. comes in the room and tells me she had already cleaned this shower.  I tell her I thought it was clean, but wasn’t sure. She tells me to use the bath mat when I have to kneel.

It is only 12:30, I need to find things to do. I take a bag of towels to the laundry room, which is in the back outside the kitchen door, in its own shed. Mr. and Mrs. C. are saying goodbye to the guests. I take some linen to the line room on the first floor. I then clear off the trolley, putting away the extra towels, bin bags, tea towels. Michelle takes the trolley downstairs. Mrs. C. is putting together two beds to make a double using some special straps. She shows Emma how to do it. She asks me check pillowcases in each room, she thinks one rooms still needs them.

I go downstairs and wash a few dishes, then sweep the kitchen floor. Emma is making the schedule for the week, writing down who works when in a gird. There are only nine guests next week. Two girls, whose names I don’t know, are hovering on the stairs and dusting and polishing in the lounge. It is time to go. Mr. C. asks if I need a lift, I say I’ll walk. Mrs. C. starts handing out pay envelopes. She is commenting that Michelle did a good job with the toilets.  I don’t expect an envelope, and so I go get my jacket, say goodbye, and tell everyone that I will see them on Monday.

3 June, 2006  

I decided today was the day to give notice, but I hate the thought of it—another lie. I thought it would be most plausible to wait until after my friends left—they know I had visitors and I will say that they found me a job. It is a beautiful day. On my way to work, I walk down Bolton Street. Some people are about, some shops are open, but not many. On my way back from work they will be. I see some employees go into the Pleasure Beach when I walk by its employee entrance.

I get to work. Karen is there. Her hair is blondish, with a little pink left in it. I comment that it looks good, of what I can see of it, and she takes off her hat to show me her hair. Colette, Michelle, Lynda and Emma are in the kitchen as well. Toast is made, they all have headscarves and aprons on. I ask if I’m upstairs or down; I am downstairs. Lynda gives me an apron and a scarf and I go into the dining room to put it on using the mirror. I get a pink pad of paper and a pen out of the canister by the small refrigerator. The breakfast bell is rung early, around 8:40. Michelle greets the guests at the door. Mr. C. says “smiles ladies, smiles,” which he says every morning. He jokes with Michelle about leaving her slippers around, pointing to a pair on the table of things for sale. We greet everyone as they come in and sit down. I watch Bertha wheel/walk over. Colette goes to table 8, I go to 5, where three men are sitting. Dennis comments to me that I won’t be serving him porridge tomorrow. I ask him how long he is staying and he tells me he is leaving after breakfast.  The first man doesn’t want anything for starters, Dennis and the younger man each order porridge. I go into the kitchen to get it, and by the time I serve it, everyone else has been served.

Mr. C. says “tea and coffee, ladies.” I bring in some of the cereal and grab the tea and coffee pots. I know June has coffee and serve her, then pour tea for Bertha and Marion. I check the other tables. Lilly at table 6 has coffee, as does the man at table five. The younger man at this table directs me to his mug for coffee when I start to pour it into his teacup. He tells me he needs coffee in the morning to get going. All the other tables have teapots on them. By the time I finish with the tea and coffee, Michelle has cleared off the starters table and set out the trays for dishes. I clear off some dishes, and then go to get the breakfast order at table 5: one full breakfast with fried egg, white toast, no beans; one full breakfast with fried egg and white toast (ordered without me having to tell him the menu). Dennis says I should know his order. I apologize, and say that I’ve been off for two days and can’t remember. He tells me: poached egg, lean bacon and tomatoes. I go to get this, and try to say toe-mah-toes when I tell Karen my order. Mr. C. says toe-may-toes to me, and Karen tells me that I need to drop the “o” a little more at the end. I practice this and they tell me I’ve got  it now. My plates are ready; I grab the first two and as I swing around the toast falls off one of them. Dominick has just arrived and Mr. C. asks him to pick it up. I set down my plates and do it. Mr. C. says that Dominick should have done this since he’s not doing anything.  I put new toast on and go out to serve these plates. I set the plates down and tell them I’ll be right back, get Dennis’ plate and serve him.

Michelle and Colette are getting orders. June asks Michelle which marmalade is the diabetic one, it is in the small dishes (rather than in packets). I ask at table 6: they’ve already ordered. I go to table 7. Cathleen orders bacon, fired egg and white toast. Mary leans forward and points to her right ear. I go through the list with her, speaking into her ear. She orders bacon, beans and tomatoes. I ask her if she wants fried potatoes, she can’t understand me. I point to the potatoes on Lilly’s plate behind her, Cathleen tells me that she doesn’t think Mary can understand me. [In retrospect I should have just written it down for her.] I go into the kitchen to get their order. Everyone is served. Karen puts extras on metal serving trays, Colette brings it out and asks if anyone wants more of anything. I put the leftover toast together and place it on the side of the grill to heat it up, then go around and ask if anyone wants more toast.  Marion and June do, as well as some of the men at table 5. I then go around with coffee and fill June’s cup, top-off Lilly’s, and refill the young and older guy at table 5 when it runs out.  I ask if they want more, I can make more, but they say no, they’re fine.

Mrs. C. grabs Michelle for a bit, having her do something in the lounge. I stand and watch people eat. Colette is with me. Her arm has a brace on it (last time I saw her it was a pink cast). I ask her how it is, She says it doesn’t hurt, but she loses feeling. Last night she could bend her fingers backwards and couldn’t feel anything. Mrs. C. comes in and asks Mary if she has her key. Colette asks Mrs. C. how she can so easily communicate with Mary, since we both have trouble doing so.  Mrs. C. says you just have to lean into her ear, since Mary can’t see anything. 

Michelle comes back. As soon as I see a plate finished, I go and grab it and set it on the tray. Dominick is in the kitchen washing dishes. Mr. C. jokes with me that I’m quiet today, he says I am paying for going out last night. I tll him I was in bed last night at 11; he replies “yeah, but with who?” I say “It’s none of your business.” Karen comments on this, that he’s just being sociable. We are all light and joking when we say these things.

In the dining room, Cathleen tells Mary she is going. Bertha leaves. I watch her walk out and notice that her right leg is very bowed out. She has her England bear on her walker. Colette comes in and tells June her nurse is here, I can see her in the entrance. June asks Colette to get her insulin. Mrs. C. comes in and tells June her nurse is here. June gets up and goes. Marion then leaves, slowly. Michelle starts to clear that table. She tells me we don’t have to set up the tables, just clear them. I clear off table 7, then 6. The men at table 5 leave and we get all the dishes into the kitchen.