As you will no doubt be aware (if you’ve been reading these articles AND paying attention) after 30 years of doing work involving Income Tax, in 1999 I somehow blagged my way into the I.T. Department of a food production company based in sunny Corby. I think I got away with this by A) not fouling anything up during my two week trial and B) being the only idiot around who was prepared to work four night shifts of twelve hours duration each week!
As a “9 to 5” office worker for those 30 years my only previous experiences of being up all night had been parties in my youth and doing the occasional stint at bottle-feeding babies in the mid 1980s, so working nights came as one hell of a shock!
The trial period, when I was paid hourly by an agency was bad enough and THAT only involved going in at 11 pm, doing the midnight backup of the production software data, sticking around to see if any problems arose and then going home at around 2 am.
When I passed that hurdle I went on to the full 12 hour shift as a “proper” employee and from that point on was driving 25 miles to Corby for 8 pm, working 12 hours including that midnight backup, then driving 25 miles home at 8 am.
I will return to other aspects of those night shifts in another post but for now will just say that the main thing that kept me going through them was the substance that forms the title of this piece.
That is to say, “Caffeine”.
The kitchen containing the kettle and the departmental supply of Gold Blend Instant coffee was about two steps across the corridor from my office and I think that kettle never had time to get completely cold all night!
If I got bored (which happened quite a lot – I can recall only one “emergency” in my 3 years of anti-social hours, and THAT was speedily resolved by restarting two servers in the right order!) I would put my reflective jacket on and go for a coffee with the security guards instead.
I did, of course, have to try to stop drinking coffee by about 6 am because I was going to need to sleep when I got home and this did mean I was feeling a BIT prickly around the eyes while driving.
It all worked out O.K. except for the occasion when one of the five guys who occupied the I.T. room during the day came back from a holiday in the USA with a jar of something called “Rocket Fuel Instant Coffee”. He left this on my desk one day with a note to give it a try. It was actually a blend of coffee and a substance called Guarana which is similar to the coffee bean but contains twice the amount of caffeine.
Knowing that this might be strong enough to replace the later cups of coffee on my shift, I had but a single mug of it – at around about 2 am, the halfway mark! NINE HOURS later (when I should have been asleep for two hours) I was walking around the block at home trying desperately to make myself sleepy!
I left THAT stuff alone after that!
After a whole year of doing those hours we got a new Manager who decided that the midnight backup could be done just as easily at 5 am and changed my hours from 4.30am to 1 pm Monday to Friday (I had only been doing four night shifts a week but you can see that this was an improvement in total hours worked).
This change meant that over half my day was now spent in the company of the “day shift” and it was then that I discovered what coffee consumption was REALLY all about!
With the Manager there were seven of us in the department and a system of “rounds” was in place to ensure that everyone took a turn at making drinks. That was OK over a whole day but they had a concept of fairness which decreed that all should have a turn BEFORE I went home at their lunchtime! Furthermore, these were proper I.T. Geeks – milk was for wimps, as was the idea of only ONE spoonful of “instant” per mug!
This meant that I was having the equivalent of FOURTEEN mugs of coffee every “afternoon” and that I drove home each day with my head buzzing!
Fortunately none of my subsequent work places have been as fanatical as that and some have even gone exclusively for tea instead to the extent that I now, sometimes, go whole weeks without having a coffee at all.
What this really means is that I now tend to only have a coffee when I really NEED one – which in my current circumstances means those occasions when Faith and I have to get a very early start setting out to visit our youngest daughter in Carlisle. We usually take a break at about the halfway mark, which coincides with a fairly new service station on the A1(M) at Wetherby.
This is a fairly relaxing place but the drinks facility has largely been taken over by Costa, a rather expensive, presumably Italian, version of the ubiquitous Starbucks chain.
So we approach the “vending point” and go to speak to our “Barista” (that is what they actually refer to the staff as on the menu). Faith asks me what I’d like.
In the midst of yawning and stretching, I reply, “I’ll just have a coffee, please”.
This, however, was not sufficient for the Barista! My attention was directed to the menu which informed me that I must chose between Espresso, Ristretto, Machiato, Americano, Cappucino, Latte or Mocha. Additionally I could request Fairtrade coffee, Decaffeinated, Skimmed milk or Soya milk and could, furthermore liven up my drink with Vanilla, Hazelnut or Caramel syrup!
To this young coffee expert’s great disgust I went “typical English” on her! “Sod it!” I said, “I’ll just have a tea!”
She had her revenge! The “tea” was served in a one of those waxed cardboard tubs with a plastic lid and tasted like about half a litre of brown hot water with a delicious flavour of waxed cardboard. Plus I had to pay about two quid for it! Faith experimented with the Caramel additive to a standard Latte and I understand that tasted disgusting too!
It seems to me that these people are TELLING us what we’re going to have instead of catering (literally) to what we actually WANT! And that never fails to get right up my nose!
So the opportunity is there for some enterprising person to set up a stall at any UK motorway service area offering Nescafe Instant Granules, with Tesco semi-skimmed milk and two sugars for £1. Knowing what the average Brit. (i.e. ME!) is like, they will clean up!
As for me, the next time I go to Carlisle I’m taking a thermos flask of coffee with me and I’m going to sit in the public seating area as close as I can get to the Costa station. Then I will sit and drink it with every sign of enjoyment and listen to all the other members of the downtrodden British public uttering that plaintive cry:
“I just want an ordinary bloody cup of coffee, OK?!!”