“Ministers have since confirmed Scotch Eggs do qualify as an appropriately sized meal”. You’ll have to excuse me - I know from where you’re reading, in the very near future, that this is hardly a sizzling observation but I think it’s crucial to fully appreciate that as I write this in December, at the high water mark of the hospitality industry’s continued economic vulnerability, the legislative conversation moved away from sanity and into the muddy waters of bar snack categorisation (admittedly a topic close to my own heart). You would have thought that those in Government might hold an interdepartmental meeting to allow themselves a chance to properly align with whichever committee manufactured deceit they are peddling this week. Or to wipe the dangling pig saliva from their genitals. Instead, the question of what constitutes a substantial meal was passed back and forth between our elected representatives like a game of hot potato - incidentally not a substantial meal - all the while remaining unanswered. In eyewatering live television scenes, we stared at Michael Gove for whole uninterrupted minutes, only to watch on as he gurned awkwardly in an attempt to quantify a Scotch Egg with the kind of scientific rigour that would be applied if he tried to calculate the legal drinking age in dog years. All of this led me to the conclusion that he isn’t human at all. He seems to exist singularly to make whatever room he inhabits uglier, so to my mind, he’s really more of a disagreeable texture. Like shit in velcro. For our international readers, a Scotch Egg is a gastropub staple consisting of a cooked egg, swaddled in sausage meat of indeterminate origin which is then breaded and subsequently deep fried. An unholy middle finger to the sovereignty of Mother Nature herself, it is the culinary equivalent of the universal television remote, insomuch as it does everything you’d expect of its composite elements but does them all horribly. Also for reasons unbeknownst to contemporary science the dividing layer smells like an aged fart. I’m similarly unclear on the history of the dish but I assume it could only have been created by a bored chef with a passing interest in eugenics. I actually quite like them with a dollop of brown sauce, they’re nostalgic if a bit dry. Snack taxonomy dealt with, it is difficult to watch something you love struggle and as our industry limps into 2021, it’s clear that in very crucial ways the future will be nothing like the past, even the very recent past of a month or two ago. We’re in a state of perpetual flux and our economy, priorities, and perceptions have shifted. The particulars of which bring into startling focus just how inadequately things have been managed. There’s a whole load of quite disheartening numbers, stats and charts that illustrate just how prolific and terrible COVID is. The fact remains, however, that there is no hard evidence to suggest that hospitality venues are a significant vector of disease. Which makes understanding the decision of enforced closures, while schools and shops remain open [at time of writing], all the more mindbending. It’s almost as if the big decisions are being made by someone in Whitehall with the epidemiological qualifications of the man on the Weetos box. I read something Monica Berg wrote recently and it stuck in my mind like the catchiest of ABBA choruses. “What many politicians seem to not understand is that myself and others do not stay in this industry because we lack options - we stay here because we want to”. I felt a flutter of pride reading that. Berg manages to articulate quite an extraordinary amount of subtext without mincing words. All at once, I was reminded why I love my job, even if I haven’t been behind a bar in the best part of a year. At the same time, something about what she said struck me as a declaration of defiant optimism. I’ve long made my peace with the general public not fully understanding my job. The only time I would really allow myself to get annoyed was when, at house parties, friends and family would cajole me into making drinks for them. It’s all in good spirits of course, but what that means is in a kitchen full of loved ones, canapés and small talk, on my night off, I’m relegated to the corner trying to pull magic out of my arse with a bottle of Mickey Finns and an expired can of evaporated milk. Sometimes my career is belittled as unskilled, lowest common denominator labour and other times it is fetishised in that tasteless twinkling, art-deco way people like to reminisce about made-up bits of history. Almost always though, in a wider context, it is regarded as transitional, something to fill the gaps between improper and proper. Sometimes a job in hospitality is exactly that: a transitional thing, a person between two points, and what a wonderful industry to dip your toe into as you find your way in the world. It is because of that inherent flexibility that it is utilitarian; there is a space for everyone and anyone, even if the job only serves as a stepping stone on the path to external ambitions. For posterity’s sake, my transitional job was in the fleeting world of Christmas retail, which I loathed and to my delight was quickly fired from. Officially my dismissal had something to do with “misleading” customers about the availability of stock. Unofficially, I outright lied - only because the storeroom was up five flights of stairs and staffed by a manager with the kind of murderous temper that pretty much guaranteed that one day he’d taste prison food. It should be plainly obvious though that the hospitality sector, which is the third-largest employer in the UK, cannot exist solely on a transient workforce. It is founded on a commitment to others by others and that in of itself is spectacular. That means that by its very nature, hospitality is congenial and generous which is what often puts us in a unique position to have our choices misunderstood and diminished, which is occurring right now in the highest forms of Government. For so many a life in service is a passion, one that incidentally pays for the lights to stay on. It is likewise utilitarian because it encompasses people from around the professional, social and economic spectrum, who ultimately found purpose in honest work. I know doctors, architects, Grandmothers, gardeners, singers, reformed convicts and artists who’ve all sidestepped into hospitality because, counterintuitive to the current prevailing narrative, their dreams found root and even flourished in bars and restaurants. There is an insidious fallacy at work then when we are told we need to rethink, reskill and reboot. It suggests that our jobs have less societal value than those in protected industries like bankers and politicians. I find that shortsighted for so many reasons but the most salient one, which doesn’t revolve around further fruity language or calling bankers out as self-serving vampiric ubertwats, is that the economic and cultural capital that these jobs bring is objectively positive. All one has to do is look at the direct effects that the hospitality sector has on employment, tax revenue, and services offered to better understand its inherent value, or the indirect effect it has on the wider economy as part of the larger supply chain. As well as this, the remunerative impact on the economy from the individual purchase of goods and services that employment in F&B allows to so many. All of that means our jobs, where the economy is concerned, have staggering societal value. A career in hospitality also serves to help strengthen communities by creating spaces with a social imperative. Restaurants, bars, and the people working in them offer a uniquely human way to engage with and understand the specific elements of a given place, people or idea through food, drink, and bonhomie. In doing so they are a functionally important aspect of a diverse society. Most astoundingly, they can take on an entirely individual civic importance all of their own; sometimes because of their historical notability such as Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Gordon’s Wine Bar, Ronnie Scott’s, Negril, Bagel Bake, or the Savoy, and sometimes because they provide a sense of belonging to those often marginalised by wider society, such as Dalston Superstore or The Glory. These are just the particular examples that sprung to mind but if you ask anyone the same questions, to name the places important to them, you’ll find just how wide the sweep of influence that this industry has on real peoples lives. They help to inform, discuss and expand the kind of ideas that contribute to an open-minded, inclusive society. Which means our jobs, where cultural significance is concerned have a foundational, necessary and indispensable societal value. All in all. the hospitality industry matters and your part in it matters too. Under the circumstances remaining optimistic may seem like trying to light a match during a gale-force wind but I think it is better to remain resolutely hopeful over the alternative of accepting, out of hand, that things are innately terrible. Allowing ourselves to be optimistic in the face of such insurmountable awfulness is a powerfully defiant thing - that’s why Monica Berg’s words stayed with me, because despite everything that is going on right now, I think it is courageous to want to believe things will get better. The infrastructure of hospitality may shake and even buckle, but as long as there are people who find purpose in serving others it is fundamentally in-diminishable. This year we have seen that what was previously thought impossible is possible, that what was thought unchangeable has changed. In very crucial ways the future will be nothing like the past but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better. I am committed to the defiantly optimistic idea that the hospitality industry of the future will be a more balanced and representative one, that out of this global disaster and the manhandling of our mutual fates we can find a collective voice that explains patiently but uncompromisingly why our jobs are important. I saw an older couple walking in my local park a few weeks before I sat down to write this. It was an unseasonably warm day and the sky was a powdery, cloudless blue that made it feel twice as big. Steadily the couple ambled happily towards where I stood. As they got close I noticed that they were dressed for an occasion. The man was dressed in a suit that was big enough to fit them both in with room left for furniture. The lady wore a gossamer neck scarf that floated on the wind. As they peeked at me over their masks, what I could see of their ancient faces wrinkled in the telltale sign of a smile. “Going anywhere nice?” I asked, as my dog relieved herself on the leg of a bench. “Oh, nowhere really. Just gotta make the most of the sunshine”.
Originally published Discard The Zine, Issue 4.