So inspired was I by 10 days as The Piano Plongeur in SW France that I decided to become a professional kitchen porter back home. ‘Nothing could be simpler than the life of a plongeur,’ George Orwell wrote in Down and Out in Paris and London. He added that the job offers no prospects, is intensely exhausting, and has not a trace of skill or interest. Based on his own experiences he considered the dishwasher as one of the slaves of the modern world. ‘Yet plongeurs, low as they are, have a kind of pride. It is the pride of the drudge: the man who is equal to no matter what quantity of work.’
Days after returning to England from France, just as Orwell did, I searched for a KP post, and found employment at Cote Brasserie, the largest restaurant in Cirencester and part of a nationwide chain. I wanted some buzz, some excitement, and at Cote I found it in spades. I came to be considered, I suspect, as a grandfather at the sink, befriending my colleagues who spoke a multitude of languages. The high-stress deadlines reminded me of crisis days in magazines. There was danger passing the grills, from which scalding fat was spitting all the time.
Midway through lunch is the most thrilling time, when you a’re submerged by pots and pans from the kitchen and glasses, plates and cutlery from below. Sadly, the evening shifts were too noisy and too late, and I had to retire as a plongeur, proud of my time at Cote. As Orwell noted: ‘After all, the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit.’