Accomplished in their respective fields now, it was a rocky start for Mary McEvoy, Neven Maguire, and Emily Hourican, writes Olivia Kelleher
First jobs are often disastrous. A timid teenager isn’t always equipped with the confidence required to be a successful waiter/waitress or salesperson.
Actress Mary McEvoy, who will be appearing in The Matchmaker at the Everyman Palace in Cork next month, vividly remembers her short stint as a salesperson in a Craftsman’s Guild in the Powerscourt Townhouse in the 1980s.
Mary was less than passionate about the job at hand until the day three good-looking guys arrived at the shopping centre and started perusing the wares.
“They were flirting and one guy wanted to buy a jumper so he went in and tried it on. And I was delighted and we were flirting like crazy and he came out with the jumper and patted his belly and said something like, ‘It is not doing much for my figure.’ And he didn’t buy it and off he went.”
Mary was on a bit of a hormonal high for the day until the stark reality of the encounter hit home when she and a fellow worker went in to a cubicle to retrieve their purses. “Hadn’t he crawled from one cubicle to the other and reefed every cent from our purses. When he was patting his ‘belly’ he was really patting our money. It was really embarrassing and upsetting. Money was really money in those days. If you lost your wages you had lost everything.”
Mary’s other memorable moment in the job was when a well-known socialite popped in to buy a few items. Mary looked at her, enviously admiring her beautiful clothes and impeccable outfit.
“I had a bit of girl crush on her. She hadn’t a hair out of place and she was beautiful spoken. All I could think about was how I wanted to be her when I grew up. She said she wanted to use her credit card and in those days there was like a yoke you put it in to. I was getting it ready and the next thing I heard from her was ‘Oh for fuck’s sake, I have forgotten my card.’ And the expletive was just so unexpected and so funny. I have never forgotten it.”
Chef Neven Maguire started his working life in a restaurant owned by his family. One of nine children, he began when he was just 12 or 13 and received pocket money. He also worked at his parent’s B&B.
One of his most memorable incidents was when his delivery of breakfast in bed to an American couple went very badly wrong. “I knocked over the tray and a slice of bacon landed on the carpet. And I picked it up and there was carpet hair on it And the American gave me £5 even after I had messed up. I cringe when I think about it. I thought, how could I have let that happen? My mother would never have left that happen. But, you know, I learned from my mistakes and I learned in an environment where there was no roaring or shouting.”
One of the great mysteries in the Maguire family was how Neven’s brother David ended up as the wine waiter. “He was a pioneer who had never had a drink in his life. Generally though, my parents played to our strengths. My sister Suzanne was a natural and she was front of house. She just led by example and was a great worker. All I have ever known is restaurant work and I love it.”
Novelist Emily Hourican remembers her short stint as a “pretty useless” chambermaid in Brussels. To this day, she never leaves a hotel room without leaving a tip after the experience left its mark on her.
“I remember there was one room where the bed didn’t appear to have been slept in and I didn’t bother changing it as the making of the beds was so hard. When I think of that now... Every hotel has a different side to it. The front of house you have nice carpets but in the back of house you have narrow corridors and service elevators. I think of the mainly immigrant women who were doing the work and how hard it was for them and how lucky I was to be able to walk away from it. It was invisible labour.”
Emily also worked as a waitress for a “very nice Italian family” and admits she was always only a few steps away from chaos. “I was such a successful waitress that I ended up out the back grating parmesan rather than waitressing! God knows what would happen if I ever had to waitress again... It was just all too much for me.”
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