So I went out and got a job in a "laundry" - well, it says it's a laundry, but really it's a sort of Dickensian workhouse, where one expects to see small children in rags running between machines. They put me on a steaming machine, and the supervisor said, "this is a dangerous machine, so watch these two carefully". As soon as he left one of the guys turned to me and said he had to be off. So I was left with a guy who speaks with a heavily-accented stutter, who I couldn't hear over the steam. The idea of the machine is that you both hold a sheet over a steaming hot surface, and if you hold the sheets the right way you don't burn yourself.
I asked the guy, "have you ever burned yourself?" and he shook his head. Anyway he seemed to get progressively more angry every time I burned myself, which involved dropping the sheet each time. I kept on wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I slaved away for the next five hours, essentially trying not to cry. Of course the more I burned myself, the harder it became. Anyway it came to the end of our shift, and the supervisor at this point decided to offer me gloves. At which the guy I do my shifts with, Adje, said that if I used gloves they'd melt and stick to my skin. Apparently I was lucky: if I'd worn looser clothing the hot steam can rush up your shirt and singe your nipples.
With the amount of pain I'm constantly in - it takes time for your hands to toughen up to the constant level of heat (as opposed to sudden blasts that remove the skin) they might as well say, "here is a cheese grater, apply it liberally to your buttocks". I probably should have quit immediately - there's a reason why I'm the only white guy on a machine - but I am determined not to be another middle class ex-student sponging off the government and thinking the only acceptable job is bar-work. I think they expected me not to return, but the next day they all warmed to me and Adje became sympathetic and showed me all the scars he'd got from "laundry". (Never burned yourself, like fuck.)
So the first thing I want to talk to you about is this state of mind that you get into as a labourer. They pay me minimum wage for five hours without a break, six days a week. Then afterwards I stay on for unpaid "training" on the various machines, which I think is their way of dodging the minimum wage laws. So while I don't self-identify as a workman - as a son of intellectuals I am a sort of tourist in such a world - I am starting to tap into this strange oblivion of the senses, where time seems to melt and days and nights are fractured into shifts and sleeping time. You literally do "live for the weekend" - or Sunday in my case - and you discover that the less you think, the faster your week goes by.
The second thing I want to talk about is the class element. We cater to 5 star hotels, which means that we do rich people's bedding and clothing. We see the blood and sex stains on sheets that withstand the most rigorous cleaning. We do tennis t-shirts, designer jeans, items that the person pays us £6 each to do, which is more than we get for an hour of extremely hard work. A press operator named Caesar did my Sudoku puzzle on hard in seconds. Meanwhile, my friend R is going to get a summer job in his millionaire dad's company and earn thousands in what is essentially pocket money. I feel at the exact point where rich meets poor, and the world of opportunity meets the world where people make the most of seven days' holiday a year.
Don't think of this as a sort of angst tourism on my part - I respect the people I work with too much for that. Neither do I need the money. I don't really drink, and am resolutely unfashionable: the dole would suit me fine. I'm doing this for A, whom I am taking to the opera on Monday, something that I saved for over a couple of weeks by walking everywhere until I genuinely had blisters on blisters. But most of all I need this for myself. I don't feel useless. The delirium of thoughtlessness suits me, and fills my days. My social life has improved considerably, by the way - all I needed was PG Tips. English people apparently find it impossible to resist coming over for tea. It still requires work - it's not like I put the kettle on and wait for people to appear - but between the preparation for my next film, a quiet social life and the excitement of trying not to burn my hand off, I find myself reasonably happy.