Seeing a picture of a friend's son at work with her today reminds me of the day that Emily came to work with me. Emily was just 18 and it was school holidays. It was a Tuesday. I know it was Tuesday because in those days part of my weekly work pattern was to go help at a lunch club for the elderly on one of Sheffield’s most difficult estates.
Emily loves old people – what could possibly go wrong?
Although it’s a lunch club, cooking for 30 people means getting there early to peel and cut dozens of potatoes and carrots, set the tables, get the bingo ready (more important than food here in the north) and have a bit of a chit chat with the other volunteers.
Emily did really well. She’s not a natural with a veg peeler but she got stuck in in any way she could.
As the elderly residents from the estate arrived they were delighted to see a new volunteer in the shape of a young 18 year old. Down’s syndrome was nothing new to them as there was another volunteer with Down’s syndrome, Gwynneth, who loved being there. Her main job was serving the dinners after they’d been plated up. Some people liked a standard portion (known as big) and some had a smaller portion (known as small).
First up it was bingo. Now I had the dubious pleasure of being bingo caller this particular morning which meant I couldn’t keep a close eye on Emily. Of course this played strongly into Emily’s hand and she milked it for all it was worth. Sitting with the old dears she marked her bingo card as fast as lightning.
“Yes” she whispered as another number was covered.
“Get in!” as another one fell.
“Shush”, I tried to catch Emily’s attention as we cranked up to play for the full house.
Emily just looked at me with a twinkle in her eye, knowing I was not close enough to do anything about her game-making.
“Come on! Who’s the daddy?”, followed by a huge “Yes - THANK YOU JESUS - hooray!!!”
Usually they don’t like any noise between numbers but on this occasion they all thought it was funny. I didn’t. Gwynneth looked across at Emily, not amused. Soon enough it was time for dinner.
Gwynneth was a non-nonsense kind of young woman. She’d emerge from the serving hatch with another dinner. “SMALL!!!” she’s shout at the top of her voice. If there wasn’t a quick enough response she’d shout again with greater fervour.
Emily soon caught on.
Shepherds pie followed by apple crumble was soon consumed and we’d normally have a coffee to finish. Except today was somebody’s birthday and she’s brought a bottle of sherry to celebrate.
I was washing the pots before I’d realised what had happened. They’d poured Emily a large one and down it went in one! “Aaahhhh!” followed by lip smacking and “Gorgeous! I love shelly!” said Emily.
Emily was not used to alcohol. She still isn’t. I wasn’t to know what was to follow.
It was soon time to leave. I decided I’d take Emily on to the office for the afternoon – it had been a fun morning, despite the sherry episode. I sat Emily at an empty desk while I got on with checking emails.
“Hey dad!” said Emily, as she delved into an unlocked draw, pulling out a lanyard with a name badge for Will, the CEO’s PA, who was on annual leave. “Look at me – I’m Will”. Emily put Will’s lanyard round her neck.
“Behave!” I gave her something to read as I sat back down to delete more emails.
There then followed one of those moments. You know, those moments where everything happens in slow motion.
Will’s phone rang. Emily, quick as a flash, leaned across the desk to answer it.
Simultaneously, I jumped to my feet to dash across the few feet between me and Emily. I wasn’t quick enough. “Hello, good afternoon, Emily speaking”, giggled Emily as I tried to wrestle the phone from her hands. I could hear a voice on the other end as Emily was nodding and saying “Yes. Yes. Mmhmm. Yes.”
“Give it to me”
Oh flip. I’m going to get sacked. The CEO has some very high profile contacts. This could have been the Archbishop of Canterbury for all I knew!
Eventually I wrestled the phone from Emily, apologised to the caller and managed to smooth things out. I then took Emily off to our work cafe where I was due to meet my boss, who is very laid back and loves fun and good times, so I figured a meeting including Emily would be a good idea, despite her increasingly loud and inappropriate for the workplace behaviour!
It got worse. So I quickly got Emily’s coat and drove half an hour home, went through the door, told Emily’s bewildered mum, “I can’t cope – she’s drunk on sherry and I’m going back to work!”.
Emily just stood there grinning.