Not long after my decision to buy a one way ticket to Egypt I discovered to my absolute horror that one needed a manner of paying for such luxuries. Once again my idealistic dreams were dissolving away under the caustic weight of the capitalistic market that saturates our zeitgeist. I needed to get a job. After much guesswork and a little research I decided that all-in-all I would need a cash cushion of around £500 in order to fund the dream of starting a journalism career in the middle east. Around £200 in transit to Cairo and then some £300 to float me for the first couple of weeks until I managed to find some way of getting an income. I thought up this ‘plan’ in those fervent final minutes of consciousness prior to sleep and was instantly satisfied with the thorough preparation that had been taken.
Suddenly – some weeks later – it dawned on me that if I was to manage getting out to Cairo a few weeks prior to the Presidential election , which had been ‘the plan’, I should probably have started saving up some weeks before. My hubris and belief that ‘it’ll all work out in the end’ were threatening to end proceedings before they had even had the chance to get off the ground. Then I received a sign from the Goddess Tyche herself – in the form of a phone call from a friend – who relayed to me a job opportunity. I made my way down for an interview and was accepted later that day. I was now a proud professional with the magisterial job title: “Bar Staff”. My preceding three years of university work were not wasted after all!
Two nights a week working 5 hours a night at minimum wage. The joy did not end there either as I discovered to my great relief that as well as being on minimum wage, I would also be taxed in the emergency tax bracket. What luck! This meant I would be allowed to claim a rebate in the ensuing April for the total of 25 hours that I managed to work there. Truly these are England’s green and pleasant lands.
The shifts started. 9pm exactly, every time. Or occasionally exactly 5 minutes before and sometimes 5 minutes after. But it always started exactly whenever it started, such was the efficiency of the machine known locally as the ‘Chameleon Shift Timetables’. The scene was then set for what was to be a most agreeable evening in Bedford’s most prized cotillion. The air was thick with a sense of anticipation and optimism; and a slight scent of vomit. The punters arrived, with the archetypes of every idiosyncrasy of every niche of every community represented. These are people unafraid to break the social norms that confine us mere mortals. These are people who do not wallow in the shadows and hide behind the false security of consensus. Who says bovine incompetence isn’t endearing? Who says the laws of nature cannot be suspended? You fools! These are the people I feel most connected with! When I find myself wavering at around 1 in the morning (for I am a mere pawn compared to these Queens), my companions on the other side of the bar are sure to give me new wind by passing theirs.
Unfortunately, it was a placement that could not last as my departure date to Cairo loomed large on the horizon. Eventually, I was forced to put down the empty beer bottles and the bathroom mop. No longer could I utilise my knowledge of drunken pidgin english to translate and then supply my comrades with the Jägerbombs they so thoroughly deserve. No longer could I clean up the broken glass that my friends had so considerately dropped (and how kind of them to smash them in the corners so that all my skills with the dustpan and brush could be put to use).
How can my new life live up to the dizzying heights of spiritual contentment that I have grown used to at Chameleon Bar? With Egypt having nothing more to offer than the opportunity of seeing a state in transition? With nothing more than the elections of a new president? The drafting of a new constitution? All under the febrile political discourse of middle eastern affairs? But despite all these obvious drawbacks, one can’t help but feel a bit…sanguine.