“Are you seriously telling me it counts as two portions?”
It was 8am and the woman speaking – screaming to be exact – was blonde, in her early 40s, power-dressed in pencil skirt and blouse, and shaking with anger.
“I mean, seriously?” the woman added, holding her plate in the air, voice rising in volume as she became increasingly furious.
Let me, at this point, explain what was going on.
I was at work and, as I tend to do of a morning – just around the time all the bosses go into their morning meeting, usually to discuss exactly what time the next meeting is – I had nipped to the canteen to get some breakfast.
The girl who serves the grub – Brenda – has a soft spot for me, though I think this is because she wears thick glasses and so presumably can’t see my big ears and pockmarked complexion. I usually order scrambled egg and she always gives me an extra dollop, before giving me a little wink as she hands me my plate. The chemistry is incredible.
In 15 months of ordering my breakfast, nothing interesting has ever happened, other than the odd saucy aside from Brenda.
Then, the other morning, it all kicked off.
The canteen offers a five-item breakfast offer for £1.80, which is where the angry 40-year-old power-dressing woman comes in.
She had decided to take advantage of the offer and put on her plate a sausage (a brave move if ever there was one; the sausages in our canteen look like they’ve been there since the early 1980s, and taste like it too), a rasher of bacon, hash brown, beans and scrambled egg and went to the till to pay.
“That’s £2.80 please love,” said Brenda, not winking (she didn’t find this woman as attractive as me).
‘No it’s the five-item deal, so it’s £1.80,’ replied the woman, at this stage, fairly pleasantly.
“No I’m afraid you’ve got six items there,” said Brenda, “so the special offer doesn’t apply – it’s £2.80.”
The woman gestured to her plate and like a teacher trying to explain algebra to a particularly backward child, pointed at each item and said very slowly ‘one-two-three-four-five. It’s five, so it’s £1.80’.
It was at that moment Brenda dropped the bombshell: “No, it’s six. You see the scrambled egg counts as two items.”
Watching this exchange from the other side of the canteen, I felt a tingle of excitement for it was obvious what was going to happen next – and the woman didn’t let me down.
‘You can’t be serious?’ she exclaimed, not unlike John McEnroe questioning a line-call during the 1981 Wimbledon final (the only things lacking were a tennis racket and a bad perm).
Brenda, I could sense, was enjoying this as much as I was. “Yes I am serious. We use two eggs in our scrambled egg, so it counts as two items.”
The woman, who until this point had been relatively calm, spectacularly lost the plot.
‘Are you taking the (expletive)?” she screamed. “How can one portion of (expletive) scrambled egg count as two (expletive) items? This has got to be an (expletive) wind-up. You’re an (expletive) joke.”
Brenda – all the while wearing her ‘I’m Brenda and I’m here to help’ staff badge – didn’t even flinch. “Well I’m afraid rules are rules,” she replied calmly, “so it’s £2.80 please madam.”
The woman goggled at her, thought, I think, about hurling her plate in Brenda’s face, then, defeated, turned and marched out, cursing as she went.
Brenda turned to me and said, ‘That doesn’t apply to you love – if you have scrambled egg, you can have four other items’, and gave me a wink.
First rule of any office: keep the canteen staff onside.
A grim birthday for Ol’ Sparky
I’m always keen to educate in this column – indeed a recent independent survey found that 97 per cent of last year’s GCSE A-star grades recorded on the Fylde coast were a direct result of children reading this column.
And this week is no different, because I am here to inform you that it is the 125th anniversary of the first time the electric chair was used as a form of execution.
It happened in New York on August 6, 1890, and the fella with the dubious claim to fame of being first to be fried was William Kemmler.
Before you feel sorry for Mr Kemmler, it’s important to point out that there was reason for his frazzling – he bludgeoned his wife to death with a hatchet.
The switch was flicked, and a thousand volts passed through Kemmler’s body. The chair had been thoroughly tested, a horse had been successfully electrocuted the previous day.
However, when they turned the switch off, they noticed a slight snag – Kemmler was still breathing.
The panicked-warden spluttered: “Turn the current on again, quick – no delay” and this time 2,000 volts were sent into the unfortunate Kemmler.
Witness reported the smell of burning flesh. A New York Times reporter present wrote that “an awful odour began to permeate the death chamber, and then, as though to cap the climax of this fearful sight, it was seen that the flesh under and around the electrode at the base of the spine was singeing.”
Awful eh? More than 12 decades later, the only places in the world which have the electric chair for executions are the US states of Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia.
If you’re thinking of committing a heinous crime, I’d suggest not doing it any of those places.