Saturday, April 25, 2009

Job Hunting in Stoke Newington

The sub-borough separating Gina's flat in super trendy Angel from mine, in the heart of Hasidic culture, was a bohemian division called Stoke Newington.  

For me, it was the closest area for pubs, bookstores, a big family park, farmer's markets, local arts, and a larger (better) supermarket chain than my local Somerfields.

For residents of Angel, it was a place best avoided, as it embodied all the dirtier sides of modern London, with its large, blue-collar Irish population, its infamy in the cocaine trade, and the innumerable cigarette-fogged basements where slam poets, folk bands, political focus groups, and everything in between met with no accounting for the style, privilege, and overall propriety of Islington's artistic standards.

Since I was desperate for any sort of part time work, I knew Stamford Hill wasn't an option.  My little division of Hackney was almost entirely residential, claiming only one supermarket, a Dominos, and a few privately owned bakeries and kosher butcher shops.  There were a few other attempts at industry, including the creepiest toy store I've ever seen, full of whirring and bobbling ancient toy mechanisms grinning at you vacantly from their perches in front of the dusty shop windows, and a wedding dress boutique with options so comically horrible that it was one of the first stops I'd make when someone came to visit my side of town.

Stoke Newington was the obvious option for me, and (perhaps shockingly) the least scary of the sub-divisions in the other three directions - Finsbury Park, Hackney Wick, and Seven Sisters.  I'd spent little time exploring the area, having seen it most from bus windows coming to and from Gina's, but there were lots of shops and pubs that were probably a good starting ground for my CV distributing spree.

I decided I shouldn't even spend the 90p on a bus ride, and just walk the 30 minutes or so between my flat and the main hub of Stoke Newington.

I tried to dress relatively professionally, which perhaps wasn't the most strategic move for walking around London, and set out for Stokie's main road, which wasn't the high street, but rather the Church Street which led from the famous Abney Park Cemetery to the big Tudor steeple at Clissold Crescent attached to a renovated church called St. Mary's.

On the way, I dropped off my CV at a pub called The Bird Cage (not what you're picturing), one called The Three Crowns, which I later found out was a creepy incestuous pub operation that stiffed "outside hires," and a small organic market.  

I'd always intended to drop off my CV at Maggie's.  The little pub had caught my eye every time I took the bus home from Gina's, mostly because it looked more like an American bar than a British pub, and it occasionally seemed to sport bouncers or people charging admission for the blaring music rattling the glass doors (I'd later find out, these were just squatters having a two hour cigarette break at the table Maggie put outside).

In the afternoon, Maggie's didn't have the same glow-y bar effect it sported at night, but I noticed a petite blonde woman sweeping the doorstep out front, and decided to try my luck.

"Excuse me," I said.  "Are they hiring?"

She looked up, leaned back on her broom and squinted at me.  When she spoke, it was in a pleasant County Cork accent.  "Yep. You have experience?" 

"A bit," I answered truthfully, holding out my last CV.  I wasn't sure if serving cocktails at Universal Studios was really relevant to pulling pints at a pub in London.  I'd done one other trial night at a different pub, so I at least sort of understood the concept of pouring a Guinness at this point.

"Okay," she said, taking the CV but not looking at it, "come back at 10 for a trial."  She gave a long appraising look to my white button down and knee-length black skirt.  "Er ... wear whatever ye like," she said.  "It's casual."

She immediately went back to sweeping without looking up again. 

I took the hint, and immediately headed home to fish out my most casual jeans and a tee shirt for that night.  I hadn't asked if the trial was paid, how much she paid anyway, what hours were available, or any of the usual employment rigamarole.  I never ended up getting a straight answer about any of that anyway, but I'm not sure I would have at the forefront, even if I'd asked.

The truth was, I'd later learn that Maggie probably never looked at my CV and she likely didn't care how much experience I had.  She needed a weekend barmaid who'd be nice to look at for the gig crowds and she knew that my American accent made me a conversation piece.  I wish I'd known that my first night.  It would've helped a lot with my nervousness.

So, bundled in my thin white overcoat, which was progressively becoming insufficient for the dropping temperatures, I splurged for the bus to Stoke Newington that night.  I even headed out a bit early, hoping to make a good impression.  

To your generic office drone type, my next few weeks at Maggie's would likely look like a pointless smudge on my career record, a waste of valuable time sliding Kronenburgs across the bar to dead-end laborers and being paid a pittance, but, oh the things I learned over the next month.

A waste of time, it might have been, but looking back on the experience objectively, I do not regret it.


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