I think I mentioned in an earlier article here that I am slowly, post by post, turning this blog into a book. The articles themselves are pasted into the “master” document unchanged and I then edit what I hope are enlightening and witty preludes and afterthoughts to each one.
As at the present date (14th June 2016) I have progressed with this project as far as July 2012 – that is to say, less than halfway in terms of time but over that mark in terms of articles to be assimilated.
As I have carefully to re-read each article I can sometimes get ideas for new pieces directly or indirectly from them – and this is one of those.
It started with a thought about one, previously unmentioned incident concerning one of my Windows 7 migrations in 2012 – Allied Bakeries factory at West Bromwich! Specifically their Staff Canteen (sometimes rather unnecessarily glorified as “Staff Restaurant”).
That thought took me back to my first experience of “on site” catering – school dinners!
When I first had these, aged about 6, they were disgusting! I don’t recall the menu as such but my mother reminds me that I seemed particularly to find the root vegetable component to be indigestible. So bad were the boiled turnips and carrots, in fact, that my intestines frequently told my stomach “We don’t want them down here – get rid of them”! Which it did, usually when I was in bed and fast asleep!
After a few weeks of that I went back to going home for lunch for a couple of years, only going back to the canteen when my stomach had hardened up a bit.
For the remainder of my school days the food remained awful but at least what I ate stayed eaten.
Then I started work and my first job was in a 10 storey block occupied by Government Departments except for the first floor which was given over to a large staff restaurant. My first experience of school dinners for grownups!
There were usually three or four choices of main course and there were always Chips available and you got them if you didn’t specify anything else.
This was the first place that I ever had a Beef Curry with Rice that hadn’t been made by my mother and being familiar with this as a self-contained meal I was somewhat bemused to be asked on picking up my full plate, “Don’t you want Chips with that?”
Unsophisticated heathens the cooks may have been but it has to be said that curries weren’t as all-pervasive in the very early 1970s as they are now and they may not have known better.
Fridays always included Fish & Chips and in the hope that one day they would realise that more than one species of edible fish existed, I would always ask what sort it was. “Cod” was always the answer and I would then sigh and reply “OK. Give me the piece of Cod that passes all understanding” – which they always failed to get!
After joining Barclays Bank Trust Company in 1974 there were no more staff catering facilities available to me until arrival at the hated BBTC Tax and Investment Centre at Peterborough in 1993. Mind you, I then lived only 5 minutes’ walk away and didn’t need it!
The next time I was supplied with and needed an on-site eatery was at my 2011 Windows 7 migration contract at the National Construction Skills College in the wilds of Norfolk. Here we were provided with security pass cards which would let us in everywhere, including the “Refectory” (that was its official name – but as this was a College for trainee builders it was always called the “canteen”) and we were not advised of any restrictions to our use of it.
Thus I would get in an hour early, have a nice light breakfast of Bacon, Scrambled Eggs and Mushrooms, followed by lunch with the rest of the team at 1pm. The afternoon/ evening work started when staff began to leave at 4pm and we would take another break at just after 6pm for our main meal at which I would often roll out the “Piece of Cod….” remark mentioned above.
I soon came up with a new comment for one of their regular offerings. This was a very unappetising, greasy Gammon-type meat of a strange mottled pink/purple hue and none of us quite dared to try it!
I came up with the name for it and it was afterwards known as “Grievous Bodily Ham”!
All of that was completely FREE to us and it was only as the contract was coming to an end that we found out that our security cards only entitled us to ONE free meal per day – everything over that for six people over 3 months was charged back to the Project Manager who was not at all happy at this considerable unexpected deduction from his budget.
Well, they should have told us!
After that I moved on to the Associated British Foods Windows 7 contract involving factories and large office complexes – good places to find cheap (or hopefully, FREE) staff canteens.
We never did find a free one and our first experience at Speedibake’s Wakefield and Bradford factories did not fill us with confidence – shabby décor, greasy food and a general feeling of not being welcome put us right off!
The Allied Bakeries factories were much better – I know I ate regularly and well at Walthamstow, Orpington and Cardiff although for some reason I can’t actually picture their eating areas – and the canteen at West Bromwich is the one that particularly springs to mind (as mentioned right at the start). We were also there for three weeks which was a week longer than any other site.
It wasn’t memorable for particularly good food or smart surroundings but rather the staff – who without exception were middle-aged ladies and not too surprisingly given the location had very strong, flat Birmingham accents.
The first lunchtime we went to eat there I had “something” (I think it was a burger) and chips. After these were put on my plate and as I was about to move on to pay, the woman serving said with some surprise “Don’t yow want gravy on y’chips?”
I couldn’t resist! Putting on a very posh public school accent I replied, “Good lord no! We don’t DO things like that where I come from”.
Fortunately, she found this hilarious.
Later on during that visit I was asked by another lady, “Do yow want a kipper tie?” While I was working out what my clothing choices had to do with anything she continued, “Or would yow prefer a coffay?” Suddenly it all made sense – I did not have the cup of tea!
Regrettably after that contract there were no more jobs with meal facilities provided – it has been “sandwiches in the car” ever since.
And why, you may ask, am I suddenly getting the urge to write about obscure factory catering arrangements?
Well, if you must know I’m on a Slimming World regime to get rid of my bodily excesses!
I have lost 3 stone ( or 42 pounds, or 19 kilograms) so far and want to lose the same again – so the reason for this article is quite simple.
I can’t stop thinking about FOOD!