Man behind the van

first_imgI work in Mehdi’s kebab van which is on the High Street between Oriel College and Turl Street. I’ve worked in the same van on the same spot since I came to England in 1994. Before I took over the business my father did the same for 12 years.We’re very famous in Oxford and my van has even been voted the best. When the students are in Oxford I work seven days – well, seven nights – a week. You can’t take a single day off because customers start asking about you!I finish at around three o’clock every morning and get three or four hours of sleep. When I wake up I usually visit my brother-in-law at his café on Broad Street, go shopping and watch some TV. Then I try to get about four more hours of sleep before starting work again each evening at five o’clock.My van has to be on the High Street ready to serve by half past six. It might seem like a lot but I don’t think the work is too hard and I’m used to it. But it does mean I don’t get much chance to spend time with my family during term time. That’s why I take long holidays, for two or three weeks, whenever the students go back home.In the summer I go away for four or five weeks, usually to Morocco where I was born. This year I went to Marrakech where my sister lives. I’m 35 now, but I moved to England from Tangier at the age of 24 to be with my wife – I met her in Morocco but she herself was already living in England. When I go back to Morocco now I don’t know how I cope with the heat, I’m so used to living in England.In Marrakech it’s 45°C in August at least, and I can’t breathe! I’m a Muslim so obviously I can’t drink but dealing with drunk students every night doesn’t bother me in the slightest. If other people want to drink that’s fine with me. Everyone has their own ideas and their own feelings and beliefs. At the moment working nights actually suits my religious beliefs as I’m currently fasting for Ramadan and can’t even accept an offer of coffee during the day! Since I work at night sometimes I do get trouble from drunken customers. Last night for instance one man was determined to argue about his order. I just stayed calm and gave him his money back. But it’s not a massive problem because I’m used to dealing with drunk customers.I know the mentality and I know how to deal with it. If they want to argue with you, you don’t argue back. If they start swearing at you, you don’t start swearing back. You just have to get on with your job and make them happy. I actually think my work has made me quite diplomatic. One of the best parts about my job is that you meet people from all over the world.Every night you meet different people from different countries and different cultures. In the summer especially there are tourists in Oxford from Europe, America – in fact, everywhere. But at the same time you get to know a lot of regular customers very well; some people have been coming to my van for 15 to 20 years.What’s my opinion of Oxford students? Well, they’re normal. And generally very nice. Sometimes in the morning when I’m not working I come across regular customers on the street and they’re very happy to see me. Like lots of other businesses in Oxford, my business depends on students. I need them to survive. Without students, Oxford is nothing.ARCHIVE: 3rd week MT 2005last_img read more