I found a clause on the ninth page of my contract which said the company would organise the relocation for staff members transferring to other sites. As a non-driver, I jumped on this. I was hoping that they would find me a van I could put everything in, instead the manager drove me himself in his car. The move also happened two weeks earlier than planned, perhaps he was keen to get rid of me. Either way, it solved my problem.
One of the skills I picked up from the cruise ships is the ability to pack and unpack quickly. I simply don’t understand the people that take two weeks to pack a suitcase for their weekend away, I can pack up everything I own in 45 mins. So it was, the posh hotel closed in the morning, and I was in my new flat in a new town that evening. It was all a whirlwind but as I knew it was coming, I was prepared, and the move was fine.
The flat itself is just round the corner from the rural pub I am working at. The company only bought it earlier this year and I am the first permanent resident. It is very large (four bedrooms) plus a big kitchen, to be frank, it is much too big for me but I am enjoying living alone. It took me two weeks to realise it would be safe to leave groceries in the cupboard, nobody would steal them as there was nobody else there. I noticed that I am close enough to the market square that my flat, or at least the bits of my flat I use, benefit from the town’s free wi-fi.
I requested a kettle and a toaster (neither of which were already there) and I was settling in nicely until the builders arrived. Apparently, now the building is occupied it needed to be fitted with emergency lighting and an upgraded fire alarm system. Why this couldn’t have been done while the building was empty remains unclear.
The work took more than a week and happened before and after the bank holiday weekend so for three days, I had floorboards up and holes in the ceiling. They left nails on the floor for me to stand on, plaster covered everything I owned and, on the Friday, they left my front door open all evening (while I was at work). They ate their lunch at my kitchen table and used all my toilet roll for their plastering. It is fair to say I wasn’t getting on well with the builders. On the last night, they were still banging around until 8:15pm. Who knew builders worked that late?
Anyway, It took me nearly a week to clear up all the mess since they left but at least they have gone and my peace has returned. That was until the building report arrived…
There are many reasons to try and get the day off when a large wedding is booked into your place of employment. It will be a very long day, many things will get broken, and the behaviour of the guests is often less than ideal.
We place bets on how many empty bottles of products we don’t stock we will be left to clear up, how many people we will need to charge due to the amount of extra cleaning required in the bedrooms and what time the police will need to be called.
Another particular dislike of mine is having to endure the speeches. Not once all summer did we have a wedding where the speeches lasted less than half an hour (despite them being scheduled to last ten minutes) and they are often incredibly tedious. They are usually full of ‘in jokes’ that most of the guests don’t understand and it is surprizing how many stories are told in wedding speeches that are highly inappropriate for the family audience in attendance.
It is a weird tradition that people are asked to entertain after dinner despite having no public speaking experience so generally either read from a generic script downloaded from the internet in an incredibly unengaging way or go on a long whiskey fuelled ramble full of repetition and stories forgotten part way through. We will need extra staff on the bar during the speeches as many people on the further back tables use this time to slip away for yet more wine.
Wedding speeches that stand out in my memory include
A party game and the guests had to guess the ending of stories about the couple and move around the room depending on their answers. People getting the answers wrong were eliminated. So many drinks were knocked over in the process.
A wedding that had nine speeches (though was scheduled to have just one) as their large competitive family all wanted a go too. It quickly became clear nothing had been prepared and the bride stepped in to tell everyone she had enough of all of them.
A rewritten version of the Fresh Prince of Belle Air theme tune which was performed to the absolute bemusement of many guests unfamiliar with the early 90s TV series.
A speech made in French as the groom had a degree in the subject. However, it seemed that he was the only person in the room who understood, and it wasn’t clear how much the speech giver understood either. We found out later he had just put a generic online wedding speech into Google translate.
So, for anyone planning a wedding, here is my advice. Don’t bother with the speeches. It will save so much time and stress and (most importantly) nobody will have to explain to Grandma what was said about the events of an 18-30s holiday in Faliraki.
“So, what do you actually want to do?” This was the very reasonable question put to me by the lady from HR. I didn’t feel I could tell her the truth which was, ‘I don’t really mind, I’ll do whatever you tell me to’.
The posh hotel is closing. We all knew it was coming. It was supposed to be happening since 2018 and because of that nothing has been maintained in years. There are four rooms that can’t be sold due to leaks in the roof, pictures are being hung in unusual places to cover up holes in the walls or damp patches, the fuses blow frequently and most of the woodwork is rotten. In fact, during the heatwave, I opened a window and the whole frame fell out. We have all become experts at distracting people from all this to such an extent that people more often complained about the state of the carpets or age of the curtains rather than the more serious structural issues.
We received our redundancy notices a few months earlier. I was asked to be an employee representative, I declined and quickly booked holiday I didn’t really want just so they couldn’t ask me again. I didn’t want to be responsible for myself let alone everyone else too.
I was not too worried. I have moved hotels before and every few days there is a news story about severe staff shortages in the hospitality sector (along with most other sectors). I felt sure I would get something. My problem is admin. My autistic brain can’t cope with lots of choices and I find form filling very stressful. Because of my admin fears, it seems much easier to stay with the company and move to one of their other various establishments around the country, rather than look elsewhere (too many options).
In preparing for my meeting with the lady from HR, the only things I had decided was that a) I wanted somewhere that included a place to live and b) I wanted to get off the minimum wage. Where the hotel was, doesn’t seem to important and neither does the work itself. I figured, they have access to enough of my appraisals to decide what I can and can’t do. I told her all this and she just looked at me in a confused manner.
“So, what do you actually want to do?” That question again. To waste time, I got a little notebook out of my pocket and opened it at a page that had writing on. The writing was irrelevant to the conversation – bus times for a place I lived years ago – but it gave me time to think of something to say.
“I think I would like to be an Assistant Manager at somewhere not too big”. Was this actually what I wanted? No idea.
Three days later, the manager of a rural pub came to interview me. It occurred to me that the fact he has come to visit me and that it was so soon, meant that I would get the job. He was clearly desperate. In fact, he told me that the position had been vacant for a while and nobody else had applied. I didn’t mind a bit. We chatted for a while and then he offered me the job. I accepted it without a second thought. In hindsight, perhaps it would have been better to go and visit the rural pub, after all I would be living there too and I really don’t know the area, but it seemed like a solution to the problem and that was fine. Five days after my meeting with the lady from HR, I signed the contract.
Shortly after that, I realised that I don’t really know what being the assistant manager of a rural pub actually involves…
I have been visiting the Edinburgh festival for years. Not just the comedy but the films, plays, books, exhibitions and street performances too. I try and stay away from the famous names and instead go for things that catch my imagination. The scale of it is vast (over 55,000 performances across 317 venues) as is the quality. Everything from professionally designed high quality extravaganzas through to things that are essentially ‘people messing around’ in basements.
Memorable moments from my last few visits include
A comedy show with only three of us in the audience (the other two didn’t speak English)
A version of Jekyll and Hyde from the perspective of the monster performed as an interpretive dance
Something performed in a hotel pool where the audience members were invited to swim with the cast members
Very often I choose shows depending on what is closest and starting shortly. A few years ago I was walking down a street when it started raining so heavily, I rushed into the nearest foyer and ended up at a show so terrible, the performer stopped to tell the sound technician to ‘please sigh more quietly’.
However, as an autistic person, the Edinburgh festival can present a lot of problems. They can be hard to plan as so many things run late, plus there is a lot of noise, many venues are incredibly hot and of course, there are so many people there.
This year, the festival was a tough one for me. On the first morning, I got lost and ended up rushing to see a 10am show. Because I was away from my regular routine and overstimulated with the noise and crowds, I turned badly and twisted my hip causing a lot of pain. Over the next few hours, my body must have tried to adapt and so my other hip was overcompensating and that started to get very sore as well, meaning I had to adopt a slow shuffle as I moved from place to place. Edinburgh is not an accessible city. It has a lot of steps, steep slopes, busy roads and that is before you add in the festival crowds. To top it all off, I got my dates mixed up so the 10am show I rushed to see wasn’t actually on.
One particular moment was when I arrived at the main entrance of the Assembly Rooms (the normal home of the university) to see Choir of Man, a show I knew had been on in London and the main selling point was a working bar on stage which the audience members could use to get free beer. Obviously, without the ‘free’ beer, the ticket prices would be cheaper.
Anyway, the way into the show was up a huge stone staircase which with my twisted hips was impossible. I asked the lady at the entrance what I should do and she kindly explained the best way was round the side (up a hill) where I could use the accessible entrance. Although when I tried to do this, I was stopped by a security guard who told me I couldn’t pass due to the upcoming tattoo parade and instead I should ‘use the stairs’.
So back I shuffled round three sides of this huge building, fighting against the noisy crowds and after being given wrong directions by two different stewards I eventually found the accessible entrance and was put into a service lift which led me to the backstage area. Judging by the reactions of the various staff members, I got the feeling they were unused to this scenario. It was exciting being backstage in such a large theatre as people rushed by with large pieces of equipment. I was quite happy observing this show but following a hushed meeting of the various staff members, it was decided I should wait in the bar instead. This was fine, I said, how do I get there? Just down the stairs, came the reply. Another clue that this scenario was a new one for them.
The only way to get there without the stairs was through the sound booth where the audio engineers were working on another show (a very impressive street dance troop) and I shuffled through, giving them all a fright in the process. The bar was a temporary affair set up in the middle of a huge regal hall and I was the only customer. The bartender came over to chat to me (I don’t think she had anything else to do) and I asked who was the man immortalised in a large painting in the centre of the wall. “I don’t know, probably some colonial slave owner” came the response.
The show itself was fine, a rowdy singalong affair, all the characters were introduced even though there was no storyline, much of the time was taken up by the free beer queue but the audience didn’t seem to mind, they were having a great time. I think I would have preferred to watch the performance from the backstage corridor I was in earlier but maybe that says more about me than the show itself.
I decided that would be my last night in Edinburgh and I would go home the following day. There will be many more festivals and I can come back another year when I am feeling better. This is what I did and typically, the day after I got back, my hips went back to normal.
Thinking back on it, despite everything, I did have a good time this year.
A talented seagull snatched a sandwich out of my hand without leaving a mark
There was a ‘meal deal’ advertising a glass of wine and a Snickers bar for £4.50
I asked for the autograph of a composer to be told nobody does that anymore.
Next year, however, I will be more careful to check my dates and not rush to things that are not on.
The NHS have published the following advise for coping during a heatwave
“Have cold food and drinks, avoid alcohol, caffeine and hot drinks, and have a cool shower or put cool water on your skin or clothes. Keep your living space cool. Close windows during the day and open them at night when the temperature outside has gone down. Electric fans can help if the temperature is below 35 degrees.”
Of course, I ignored this and spent the hottest day of the recent heatwave walking three miles to a dog show held in a field up a hill. Aside from the heat, another surprising factor in this choice is that I don’t really like dogs. Their behaviour is unpredictable, I could really do without all the barking and jumping at people.
When I arrived, I was informed the tickets were £10 and cash only so I had to go back into town to find a cash point. It strikes me this is the kind of place that still pay for goods by postal order. I was told to give my £10 to Julie who put it straight into her pocket and told me receipts were not available. I am still unclear if Julie had any connection to the show.
The dog show itself was held in a large ring surrounded by a series of stalls selling, amongst other things
Axes (‘for the adventurous at heart’)
Cookies at £3 each
A lot of tweed
There were a group collecting signatures to overturn the fox hunting ban with leaflets encouraging people write to Tony Blair, who presumably won’t be that interested since he left his role as Prime Minister fifteen years ago (there have been five other prime ministers in that time). Perhaps its time that group update their materials.
There was trouble in the central arena as Barney (a beagle) was disqualified from the beagle show for ‘excessive barking’. I watched as a stern looking woman in wellington boots (even though it hadn’t rained in weeks) deposited Barney into the back of a range rover and drove off before the beagle show had finished.
I found a shady spot next to a van selling ‘Hawaiian style cocktails’. Oddly, this particular crowd were not interested in cocktails at 11am. My attention strayed to another man who was going from van to van asking for Ribena. Apparently it was for ‘Harley’ his foxhound who had deserved a special treat. I have never heard of dogs drinking Ribena before and neither had the stall holders who failed to deliver the special treat for Harley.
A large part of the event was a sheepdog trial. Having sheep chased around by dogs in 31-degree heat didn’t seem to be a problem for anyone present. The announcer informed us “I’ve been carefully watching the judge, she seems to be smiling, a bit”. Hardly a ringing endorsement.
All this excitement meant I was distracted and missed the awarding of the best walked hound. I did, however, hear the announcement thanking their sponsor (an insurance broker) for their ‘generous’ prize which was £2.50. I actually bought a program to double check this amount and yes, the insurance broker really did donate £2.50 as a prize.
I imagined that would be my favourite announcement of the day but it was beaten a short time later by “does anyone have any lettuce that Shirley’s Baps can borrow?”. Shortly followed by “Shirley’s Baps are still looking for lettuce, they sent young Josh to Tesco more than an hour ago, but he has gone AWOL”. Tesco was no more than a ten-minute walk away. Maybe he had gone back for Harley’s Ribena or stopped off for a Hawaiian style cocktail. I feel ‘young Josh’ probably deserved a drink for all he has to put up with.
Come to think of it, I feel most people there could have done with a drink…
* Less than half of autistic adults live independently
* 78.3% of autistic adults are unemployed
The reasons behind these facts are complicated but it is true that for many single autistic people such as me, true independence is hard.
I am lucky that I have always managed to find a job. Now, the market is in my favour, there are jobs everywhere. I work in the hospitality industry, and it feels like every hotel, every resort, every restaurant, everybody is hiring. Getting the job is easy. It’s keeping the job that is harder.
Routine is important and unexpected changes are difficult to deal with, workplaces can be full of these. Autistic people are not always great at teamwork but can often be brilliant researchers with an eye for details that others often miss.
However, my struggle is housing. I realised a long time ago that I don’t think I will ever be able to get my own house. Even if I won the lottery, the process of finding a place, doing the legal paperwork, arranging utilities, dealing with any building work and sourcing furniture is too much for me. The idea of all that turns me cold. I can understand why so many autistic people stay with family forever or end up in some kind of assisted living, it’s just easier.
My solution is different, I live at work. One of the great things about working in hotels is that there is often staff accommodation. Furnished rooms with utilities included and an on-site maintenance team to deal with problems, it really is a great situation for me. Often, I get free food from the restaurant too – but does this count as independent living? Probably not…
So, what happens when you loose your job? The home goes too… This happened to me a few years ago (during the start of the covid crisis) when I was given three days notice that both my job and my flat were being taken away from me. It took me a long time to get over that. In fact, for more than two years afterwards, I carried on checking my work emails, it was still part of my routine.
Then late last year, I got a job in the posh hotel with a lovely room to stay in. Things were going well until mid-summer 2022 when it was announced the hotel was closing and I received a letter of redundancy.
When I was about 15, I had a conversation with a friend regarding which we would prefer. To go grey or go bald. In my case, nature chose both options. As a result of this, going to the barbers is usually a straightforward procedure. I am not a loyal customer and will go to the place that happens to have the shortest queue.
Men’s hairdressing has become more complicated in recent years with the introduction of Turkish barbers and their hot towels. I also notice (in researching this) that Turkish barbering includes nasal hair waxing, I wish good fortune to anyone brave enough to try this. For me, even shampooing seems a bit unnecessary, I can do that myself.
So this week, I went to get my hair cut in a small barber shop in the town centre. It is one that doesn’t bother making appointments and you turn up and take your chances. My rule is that if more than two chairs are occupied, I will wonder around town and come back later. Sometimes I can waste a whole afternoon on this. Perhaps it would be more time effective to just sit and wait.
I was introduced to a barber I hadn’t met before. Let’s call her Caroline. She was a friendly woman and went through the standard list of questions. 1. How do you like your hair to be cut? 2. Are you working today? 3. Do you have any holidays planned? Perhaps there is a module on these questions at hairdressing school.
After about ten minutes, I started to notice that Caroline wasn’t really doing anything. She seemed to be looking at my hair, putting a comb through it but crucially, not cutting very much at all. After about twenty minutes of faffing around, Caroline decided she couldn’t see my hair so span round the chair to face the middle of the shop, bashing my feet into a cabinet in the process. ‘Much better’ she exclaimed.
Another twenty minutes passed during which time Caroline hit me in the face with a comb (three times), somehow managed to stick her finger down my ear, stuck a bit of folded up paper under the chair as it was wobbling (another bad sign) and then crashed my feet into the cabinet again as she mistook the chair for some kind of fairground waltzer ride.
In the meantime, Emma (the hairdresser in the next chair) had finished three customers. All three asked how busy the salon had been and Emma replied thoughtfully each time, like she had never heard that question before. It was very impressive. I also enjoyed her conversation with a young man which included the phrase “your hair would look better for longer if you tried washing it”.
Luckily, I wasn’t in too much of a hurry (although neither, it seemed, was Caroline). After an hour and five minutes, Caroline asked Emma to check she ‘hadn’t missed too many bits’. Emma looked over from her cup of tea across the shop and said she ‘was sure it would be fine’.
Finally, it was all over and I went over to pay. Caroline asked if I wanted a loyalty card. If I visit her ten times, I will get a £2 discount on the eleventh haircut. I politely declined. As I was leaving she said “I am sorry about hitting you with the comb so many times, I hope you will come back soon”.
I wonder how long it would have taken if I still had a full head of hair, perhaps a toilet break and a spot of lunch would be needed…
A few years ago, I did a summer season at a country house hotel built by the Victorians in Northern England. It had wooden panelling, large fireplaces in every room and stained-glass windows.
The hotel was very popular with international guests almost all of whom booked to stay there because there was “so much history”. However, this history was also the reason for many of their complaints. Our guests didn’t understand why grade one listed buildings in isolated locations would have:
Single glazed windows meaning birdsong could be heard when people were trying to sleep
Poor wi-fi connectivity so taxis to somewhere that was two mins away would need to be booked by telephone (imagine the horror of having to make a phone call)
No lifts, so the five suitcases they brought for a one-night stay would all have to be carried up the stairs by hand
Puddles on the driveway (yes, this was another cause of grievance, we would be asked to ‘sweep away’ the puddles, even when it was still raining)
Every hour of every day, I was told the building reminded them of Downton Abbey, simply because it was a) old and b) in England.
It was also common to be told by an irate guest that they ‘stay here all the time’ and so should be given anything they want. An example of this was somebody telling me they are here every few months and then demanding to see a manager who left seven years ago.
However, there was another group of eccentric visitors we had to put up with. The ones who had read articles online about room 14, which was, allegedly, haunted.
In the time I was there, I never experienced anything unusual in that room (or any other) and neither did any of my colleagues but that didn’t satisfy the ghost hunters. We MUST be engaging in a cover up. There couldn’t be any other explanation. People would turn up at the hotel asking to see that room (even when somebody else was in it), when we explained they couldn’t go into a hotel room at midnight that strangers were sleeping in, that was another sign of the cover up.
Then management had an idea, let’s charge people to see room 14. If it was empty, people could spend £20 to go into the room for an hour. A staff member would stay with them to make sure nothing was damaged (or no other ‘unsavoury activities’ occurred). People brought ghost hunting equipment with them, most of which was homemade. One man brought a coat hanger bent into a circle that he claimed could ‘detect energy’.
For Halloween, we would dress up as Victorians and show people round, telling them (fictional) stories about people who had died there. Then the lights would mysteriously turn off (we flicked the switch when nobody was looking) and the people would scream and then start spontaneously chanting. It was all very odd.
People would book to stay in that specific room. If it wasn’t available, they didn’t want to come to the hotel. It was more than £50 per night more than any other room but they didn’t care. They wanted to see a ghost. The next day, they would tell everyone about their late-night encounters of whaling or moaning. Which, oddly, nobody who worked there ever experienced.
Towards the end of the season, I heard a couple of ghost hunters telling a large group of international tourists that the ghosts were the reason they couldn’t get onto Facebook… It was a shame the ghosts couldn’t carry all that luggage upstairs.
Cruise ship itineraries are designed to sound amazing in the marketing materials. Beautiful beach resorts in far flung destinations, incredible cities to explore and natural wonders to be in awe of. However, the reality can often be very different.
Firstly, modern cruise ships are too big to dock in many destinations so either have to ferry everyone ashore in a series of small tenders (converted lifeboats) or dock miles away and hope people won’t realise until they are already onboard.
‘Rome’ is actually Civitavecchia – about an hour away
‘Beijing’ is actually Tianjin – 90 miles away
‘London’ is actually Southampton – more than two hours away
So, the other option is tendering. This is so much worse. Getting 7000 people ashore in groups of 100 when they all want to go at the same time (usually 9am) means that the queues are horrendous and tempers fray quickly. The boat trip itself will be overcrowded, very hot and it is inevitable people will vomit. What makes the whole process worse is if the port is terrible and people decide to come back again straight away.
The reason cruise ships dock in places the company knows are awful usually involve picking up supplies (there is nowhere else to refuel) or because they are cheaper to dock at than their competitors. Examples that come to mind include
Arriving on a Sunday when absolutely everything is shut (every week, all season)
Docking in a container port next to large piles of woodchip or dangerous chemicals meaning walking is forbidden and the only option is to pay for their compulsory shuttle busses
An island in the south pacific which had a recent volcanic explosion, so everything was dead and covered in a thick layer of dust. Many passengers left their balcony doors open and came back to find all their possessions were now grey.
Although for crew members, by far, the worst ports are the private islands. ‘Exclusive’ beaches rented by the cruise lines for their passengers. How exclusive any beach can be when there are 7000 people from a cruise liner there is another matter. These beaches are gated off to keep away the ‘undesirable locals’ and as it needs to be shallow enough for bathing, there is no dock. This means a very early start.
Before 6am the food and beverage team are loading bottles of beer and chicken ready to be barbequed in the already thirty-degree heat. They get taken ashore along with all the t-shirts and sun cream the shop staff need for their ‘pop up’ stores, everything the kids club will need to entertain hundreds of under 10s and sun loungers, so many sun loungers. Then at the end of the day, everything goes back in the little boats and is returned to the ship. The following day a different ship will arrive and the whole thing starts again.
All this would be worth it, if the resorts were amazing and everyone had a great time. The problem is, that is rarely the case. There is nothing to see (other than the beach) and it might be the fifth beach port of the cruise so everybody is already burnt to a crisp and has had quite enough of the sandflies.
Making use of the ship when it is quiet and everyone is ashore is a treat and whenever anyone asked me which port was most worth missing I would whisper ‘the private island’.
There are many weird and wonderful phobias around. Some are well known, some are not….
Chirophobia – fear of hands
Nomophobia – fear of not having your mobile phone
Xanthophobia – fear of the colour yellow
Omphalophobia – fear of belly buttons
Arachibutyrophobia – fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth
My phobia is a fear of first aid. Not getting it, I have no problem with the idea of somebody putting my arm in a sling, putting my hand in cold water or giving me an eye wash. It is the providing of first aid which causes me so much grief.
My autistic brain finds the unplanned nature of having to deal with medical emergencies so terrifying that I actually feint. Working with the public means I am expected to get training every two years, by my calculations, this means I must have done at least 10 or 12 first aid courses and I never got through one without feinting.
The first time it happened was at high school, our entire year were put on a day long course. Most people got a document saying they had ‘gained a level two certification’, others got level one. My certificate said I had ‘attended a first aid course’.
The bits I can do:
Putting a colleague into the recovery position, although I am usually told off for rushing, yet none of my colleagues ever seem to mind getting it over with
Applying bandages to imaginary wounds
Chest compressions to the rhythm of Staying Alive by the Bee Gees (not a bad song choice for a first aid course, better than Knocking on Heavens Door which is too slow)
The bits I can’t do
Listen to the instructor talking.
This always makes me start sweating, feel light headed, turn so pale I resemble somebody from the instructional videos and eventually fall to the ground.
At least now I am aware of the pattern, I know when I am no longer able to see straight, I have to get out. I generally hide in the toilets until I think the instructor will have stopped talking and the class will have moved onto something else.
On my most recent course, I pretended to take a ‘very important’ phone call on my mobile, meaning I had to leave the room quickly “I didn’t want to cause a disruption”. I must have been gone for about ten minutes but sadly the veins and arteries chat was still going on so I was forced to pretend to take a second ‘very important’ phone call. Luckily, nobody ever calls me so I was in no danger of the phone going off for real.
It is curious that I am never given a choice about this. Simply having done the training course, does not mean I will be any use in an emergency, there are many examples of me failing to deal with a crisis, my preferred method is hiding and hoping somebody else will turn up, which they (touch wood) have always done.
Despite having missed very significant sections of the course I still passed. However, this morning I learned that because my certificate failed to arrive from the awards body, I will be required to do the course again.
I did the sensible thing and deleted that email. My plan is to pretend I never saw it and hope the manager forgets. Wish me luck.