Beginning again - Gregory Sidaway

Eleven. If you’re a numerologist, you might know the number eleven is regarded as the ‘master number’. If numerology isn’t your jam, and you’re into astrology, you might know eleven is considered a magical number that brings about spiritual and emotional balance. Good to know. But for me, 11:00 AM is when lunchtime at McDonald’s begins. That means customers, lots of customers. Think of the largest group of people you can imagine, then double it – about that many. I’m standing behind a plastic screen, wearing a mask, handing out orders. And it’s noisy out there, people talk and go on their phones. Also, the kitchen whirs and clatters behind me. So I’m shouting “Guest, number so-andso, please” at the top of my voice, loud enough to be heard but still in a friendly, happy-tohelp tone. I’m doing this for hours, giving out orders that are small (sometimes just a coffee) and others so large that a forklift would’ve been handy. My throat gets a bit croaky after a while, but still I carry on, shouting: “Number ninety-five, please!”

A woman emerges from the crowd, squinting (not sure why) and asks: “Did you just whisper ninety-five?” I bow my head. My shift had begun. The biggest thing to get my head around was just how many customers there were.

Being on the M5, we witnessed a mass exodus of people from up North, all making their way down to Cornwall. The North was probably empty – a soundscape of cricket noises and tumble weed bouncing through deserted streets. When it got really crowded, I could’ve done with a shield just to deliver an order. To cool down, I’d visit the freezer room – evocative of a Cold War era panic bunker – which lowered my temperature from Death Valley to Antarctica in seconds. For me, this summer provided a chance to do other things beyond school. Hey, now I can fry hash browns and assemble a Happy Meal box (fold the tops, press in the sides, ease down and BAM!). I also visited more places than I’d be able to during school time. With money I earned from my summer job, I took a day trip to Reading; the train station there has so many platforms and open spaces it reminded me of a Bond villain lair – the escalators had their own escalators!

We also stopped off at Waterstones, so I guess we were reading in Reading. Although a summer job might mean early starts and a few bumpy rides now and again, the freedom it allows once you have a heavy wallet in your pocket is a great bonus. Having the time to read a few books, say “You know what? I’ll spend this morning chilling out”, or watch one of those films that have been on the ‘to see’ list for months and months …

That’s what this summer’s given me, I think. Last year seemed to plod up and down, lockdowns stopping and starting, but here we are now, already in September. On the whole, I’d say autumn has to be my favourite – you’ve got red-gold leaves, conkers, Halloween, Bonfire Night. Most people would probably see Spring as the new-start season, but I also think its quadruplet counterpart, Autumn, acts as a fresh beginning after long sultry days. So, with that view in mind, I think I’m ready to begin again. I hope you will join me