My first adventure away from home was travelling to the bright lights of Brighton. I got a job working at the Bedford Hotel (aka Holiday Inn). The restaurant was called Dickens Restaurant, as Charles Dickens had frequented the original hotel back in the day. The uniform they provided was like travelling back in time but hanging on to man-made fibres. Ill-fitting flared trousers, wing-collar shirts and waist coats for the men, flowing smocks and mop caps for the women, all in brown and cream nylon.
It was here I was introduced to the mine field of tipping. All tips were pooled and shared at the end of the month. After leaving that hotel I was to find out a whole lot of sharing went on with the tips, from the night porters raiding the till box, to the maître d’ pocketing backhanders from his favourite customers.
I left Brighton to take a voyage on the high seas, well I got a job on the QE2 as a steward serving an array of travellers as we sailed around the world.
I quickly discovered who tips best. Our own style of polari was used on the ship and customers were called bloods! Americans are great tippers, us lot not so much. Whenever we had a ship full of UK customers we called it the teapot cruise, on account of the customers having you run around with fresh pots of tea morning, noon and night, be very demanding and as for tips, it was like getting blood from a stone.
I myself wasn’t so good, but I quickly learnt to be a better tipper from sheer embarrassment. Once after buying a drink in New York and not tipping the barman, I heard him scream, ‘FU%&ing Limey’s’. The only other time was on a holiday to a gay bar in Florida, where a drag queen walked around the bar after her stint on stage holding aloft a metal ice bucket. It was only after chucking in some change did I realise why she used a metal ice bucket as my coins made a racket. I can still see her withering look as her manicured red nails clawed out my donation, and handed it back to me. Note to self, tip paper dollars, tip well.
On a rare occasion, the QE2 stayed in dock overnight at Boston. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I took the opportunity to find the local leather bar, this was the early ’80s when the bars were wild and packed with clones. My memories of that bar were there was no door on the cubical in the toilet and the barman was so off his face that it was impossible to give him the money for my drink, he just smiled a lot and staggered off to the other end of the bar.
These days I always tip well for great service and appreciate the lessons my travels have taught me.