Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Sightseeing in... Newport?

“It’s character-building,” “It’ll look good on the CV,” “You’ll be glad you’ve done it when you’ll be basking in the summer rain...” “What do you mean? Washing a rotting cauldron of budget madras isn’t your idea of fun?”

I’ve heard at least two of these platitudes offered to me as positive spin on the monotony of a summer job. Aside from free leftovers and developing a vice-tight grasp of small talk, life as a temporary catering worker is generally as exciting as it sounds.

Recent commitments have seen me jet-set my way from one soulless business park to another, soaking up the glamour of locations such as Newport and Bridgend in the process. In the former, I came across a ‘Sightseeing in Newport’ double-decker bus which, to those of you unfamiliar with the city’s charms, is like spotting a hog roast van weaving its way through the streets of Jerusalem. The incongruity of this particular mode of transport may explain why the amount of tourists on said bus came to a grand total of one.

Newport’s isolated business parks were a sight dystopian enough to make even Winston Smith choke on his Victory Gin. The word ‘park’ could scarcely have been so misplaced. If I was the one tourist ever to embark on a ‘Sightseeing in Newport’ trip, I would be seriously miffed if, having gone to see one of the area’s perfectly nice-sounding ‘parks,’ I’d be presented only with the industrial eye sore of the Quinn Radiators factory.

Misled by the jolly term, I’d feel cheated by those in charge of naming these parks. However, some have done their jobs properly. One estate is called the Imperial Park, which thanks to its first word, at least offers a crumb of reality with its Death Star connotations.

Alas, my sightseeing opportunities were limited to the kitchens and canteens of these places. Inside the Death Star, I was required to fry what seemed like enough eggs to feed an entire army of Imperial storm troopers, though my true tests came elsewhere. On one occasion, I had to confront my culinary kryptonite – mushrooms. And to make my duel an even more tortuous experience, the head chef had chosen the soundtrack. It was my task to wash away a repulsive cream of mushroom soup, collapsing pathetically into the sink to the sound of the painfully repetitive squealing of an inane pop ballad, taken to new, dizzyingly bad heights as it was electronically butchered by Scooter.

If the sensation of this music was meant to offer respite, it only managed to do so in the form of a lasting, enduring ear massage... with a kebab skewer.

Furthermore, my accumulated button presses of the tills could have supplied any flavour-of-the-month, new-rave-thrash-folk-disco-pop act worth their place in NME with a career’s worth of bleating electronic samples. Jim Morrison’s ‘Soul Kitchen’, this was not.

Outside, the desolation was compounded by the apocalyptic weather, with the sweeping rain and raging gusts of wind seemingly confirming that there are some things even more depressing about the world than the existence of Mariah Carey. I was cheered however, when looking back, I saw that jewel in the crown of South East Wales’ tourism industry, the ‘Sightseeing in Newport’ double-decker scuttling its one brave passenger along to another world, another business park.