Service With A Conspiratorial Smile
The story of the Head Waiter at the Savoy Hotel who had pilfered over £4000 worth of items caught my eye this week. There have always been lots of scams in what is now called the 'hospitality' industry, although usually stopping short of taking the crockery and silverware home.
When I worked at the Savoy our morning coffee and buttered croissants always came from either the restaurant or room service rather than the staff canteen. The latter was like a Dickensian hellhole where angelic-looking pageboys sat on long wooden benches like the cast of Oliver - except that torrents of four letter words poured from their mouths. I stopped going there much after a knife fight broke out between two Greek staff and I had to pick up my eggs and bacon and run.
But I still ate extremely well. In my section there was always a tray of the world's finest cheeses secreted under a cabinet in case you were feeling peckish. There was also a tall Italian waiter who, in his black tailcoat, looked a bit like Fred Astaire, who would sometimes shout "Hey, Good-Looking, quick!" and hurl a huge duck casserole in my direction. I never knew whether these were mistakes in orders, the untouched lunches of Cabinet Ministers called away to an urgent vote in the Commons, or whether this waiter just felt sorry for a lean and hungry teenager earning £14 a week before tax.
The day I was taught how to mix all the standard cocktails is a blur because my tutor made me drink them all. At the end of my shift I was so drunk that I staggered for miles through the subterranean tunnels used by staff before I could find the way out.
I once discovered a novel use for brandy when I cut my finger on a shard of ice that I was chopping up to put in ice buckets. A Spanish boy who was temporarily in charge grabbed a very expensive bottle of vintage brandy from the shelf. It was labelled with the name of one of the directors of the hotel.
Good, I thought, he thinks I'm in shock and is going to give me a drink. Wrong. He held my hand over the sink and poured the brandy over my finger, explaining that it was an antiseptic and that there was no First Aid box available. I stood and watched that wealthy man's rare and expensive brandy that had taken perhaps 100 years to mature cascading over my finger and glug, glug, glugging down the plughole and I smiled.
And you know what? I think it was my middle finger.
The other interesting thing about that story of the thieving head waiter was that the trial judge was Cherie Booth, QC, also known as Mrs Tony Blair. "Theft from an employer is a serious business", she told him, "and clearly one of the options is a custodial sentence."
It's fortunate that this case was black and white, unlike the world of Government that the Blairs inhabit. When Cherie Blair - sorry, Booth - did a lecture tour of America in her private capacity as a lawyer I believe that she was accompanied by Special Branch officers paid for by taxpayers. There's also a wealth of press cuttings to show that she's the Queen of Freebies. None of which is illegal or a particularly big deal.
More serious is the case of David Blunkett. Having been forced to resign for improper conduct, he's been allowed to keep his £3M Belgravia 'grace and favour' residence and his Ministerial car. The excuse for this is that old chestnut "security issues". It contrasts sharply with the case of Mo Mowlem who was the first Northern Ireland Minister to have her protection staff withdrawn the moment she left office. The difference is that she was out of favour with King Tony and we all know that Blair intends to bring Blunkett back, probably straight after the election.
But imagine an ordinary person whose employment included rent-free accommodation - perhaps living over a sub Post Office - who was sacked for dishonesty. Would they be allowed to carry on living there?
Yet members of the court of King Tony constantly wring their hands and agonise over the widespread disillusion and cynicism about politics.
Note: today's illustration is called 'Retro' and is another textile design by my niece (and therefore copyright). More to come. You saw them here first.