Exercise of the mind, exercise of the tongue

20.7.10 § 3 commentarii

One of the things I miss the most about university (already!) is the conversation. Discourse at O'Murphys tends not to be quite so elevated. I am not, of course, saying that my co-workers are thick: far from it. Some of them are fearsomely intelligent (others just fall into the category of "cunning"): after all, I'm not the only person to have worked their way through university in a pub. One charming young girl from Ukraine is currently studying medicine, and her intellect truly dwarfs that of anybody else I've met. No, what I miss is being able to talk about things of a linguistic nature: a conversation about Occitan or Indo-European without having to explain what these are first. I long for someone with whom I can share my current infatuation with Middle Persian, for example.

Conversations at work, in general, tend to centre around sex. Particularly in the kitchen. Who's taking it up the arse, who's a faggot, whose sister is on the game, who got fucked last night, and who of the floor staff will get fucked this evening (the English girl, obviously.) Conversation tends towards the locker-room variety[1], with multilingual profanity being the order of the day. As an example, we derive an inordinate amount of pleasure from the fact that "cocotte", the dish in which we serve things like shepherd's pie, is homophonous with the Slovakian word kokot, meaning "dick". Not, of course, that we use the word "homophonous"[2].

From this, one might draw the conclusion that chefs are an inherently misogynistic and homophobic bunch. The former, certainly. One of the first chefs I worked under was fond of terming a recipe "so simple that even a woman could do it." Stoner Chef, who has impeccable contacts, recently informed us that the pub over the road has recently employed a woman in their kitchen. We received this news in a suitably derisive manner, of course. The only woman I've ever worked with in a kitchen was a truly terrifying lesbian who had the disconcerting habit of dry-humping any passing waiting staff.

The latter, however, I can't say I've ever really experienced. Sure, I've always worked in an environment where variations of "faggot", pédé, viado or maricón has done duty for everything between opprobrium and affection, but I've never really had any kind of problem. On the other hand, I don't tend towards the camper end of the homosexual spectrum[3], but even then I've worked with any number of mincing, Kylie-listening lisping waiters and never known them to be on the receiving end of homophobic abuse. Quite to the contrary, I've known heterosexual chefs listen with utter fascination to a gay waiter narrating his nocturnal adventures in great detail. In fact, I've only ever once experienced full-blown homophobia at work.

It was quite a shock. I'd recently been kicked out of college (for various unsavoury habits, full description of which will have to wait until a later date), and I was working as a commis in a shitty little hotel back home. I had a colleague who'd gone to college with me, who subsequently discovered that I like fucking men. Until this point, we'd gotten on fine: we'd gone drinking, he'd cheated off me in a couple of exams, I'd borrowed his spare whites. But as soon as he discovered that I had an unquenchable yen for the cock, he turned weird on me. Sly comments on the line, refusing to change if I was in the locker-room, loudly announcing "backs to the wall, lads!" when I entered the kitchen. The usual actions of an insecure seventeen year old boy: simple attempts at Rangdemonstration (not that I would have called it that, back then.) I was, of course, offended and hurt by this. On the other hand, I had been schooled since childhood that all he wanted was a rise out of me, and not to give it to him. While I have gone through several periods in which violence was the answer during my life (I have the scars and missing teeth to remind me of this), I always simply smiled and ignored him.

However, while I might not have demonstrated how offended I was, I knew that my fellow chefs were getting irritated. While, on the whole, an irascible lot, we do look after our own, and I'd easily proved that I was the better chef than him, his GNVQ aside. Ultimately, the sous took him aside and told him that in a kitchen we care about how someone cooks, not who they fuck. And, given that I cooked better than him and exhibited more taste in who I fucked, he would be better advised to keep his "leetle boy opinions" to himself.

A few years later, my homophobic colleague moved down to Moriconium and asked me for a job. I said yes, because he wasn't a bad chef. The last I heard, he was dating a drag queen.


1) Having said that, my experience of locker-rooms has entirely been one wherein people awkwardly avoid looking at each other and don't speak. Porn has clouded my expectations here: I have this idea that locker rooms are filled with buff, depilated men in jockstraps rogering each other with total enthusiasm. As you might expect, joining a gym was something of a disappointment.

2) At the last place I worked, we had a lot of daft foreign waitresses who had quite literally just come off the boat. Their English was never great, and being kind, helpful caring sorts, we in the kitchen decided to help them with their acquisition of English. By carefully informing them of the name of everything they took to the table: "This is a medium-rare sirloin with peppercorn sauce, haddock and parsley fishcakes, cock, and sole fillet with lemon and caper butter." Bless them, they would go to the table and say "Cock? Cock? Who's having cock, please?" Until the manager realised what we were doing and put a stop to it, of course. By that point, however, we'd bribed the bar staff to draw dicks on the Guinnesses for the restaurant.

3) I hardly object to those who are more familiar with the Art of Camp than me. After all, I have a fairly fluent command of Polari. Ultimately, however, I am at time stereotypically blokeish. When we moved in together, He Whom I Call Beloved and I worked out a division of labour: I would cook, and he could clean. Even to this day I have to be reminded that if I don't wear fresh underwear every day he won't try to take my trousers off. And, left to my own devices, I will pick clothing up off the floor, sniff it and wear it if it doesn't make me gag. His side of the bedroom is, unsurprisingly, pristine. On mine, I discovered an undershirt the other day that has been worn about five times in the past week but washed only once. I also have to be bullied into getting my hair cut. I am a Bad Gay.

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§ 3 Response to “Exercise of the mind, exercise of the tongue”

  • Frenchie says:

    I can identify with the title of Bad Gay... I think I disappoint my straight friends with my blokishness. Having said that, looking around my dwelling, I am definitely the half of the couple that will wander around picking up all the clothes the Other Half nonchalantly sheds as so much dry skin.

    Chefs the world over love to take the piss out of foreign waiters. Especially the Arabs; they'll rename all the Hebrew dishes something rude in Arabic and then delight in watching the American waitresses (who can't always tell the difference between the two languages) go out and say "who's having theزب حمار*? and you sir, weren't you the كس أمك بأسنان**?" Thankfully we rarely get Arabophone customers...

    *donkey cock
    **your mother's pussy has teeth

  • Bo says:

    Hilarious piece, as always!

  • Deiniol says:

    Jacques: I have to confess that I tend toward the slovenly. In my flat, for example, bookshelves stand bare while there are handy little piles of books scattered throughout, depending on what I'm reading at the time.

    Also, I'm not sure if it's just taking the piss out of foreign waiters: chefs just generally enjoy taking the piss. Most of the ones I've met and worked with have, at heart, been over-grown delinquent schoolboys, really!

    Mark: thank you!

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