Thursday, May 18, 2006

Tins of 'Don't Know'

'Don't Know' Tin
Originally uploaded by Chocolate Sandwich.
One of the Susans has a partner who ‘works’ for Sunderland City Council in an obscure planning department. Public sector employees seem to have a quota of sick days that they feel obliged to take (a little like annual leave in the private sector). Susan’s partner, Bert, is a believer in taking as many sick days as he can possibly get away with before being sent to Occupational Health for tests.

Occasionally Bert does go to work, dusts his desk, makes a few phone calls and sends some 'funny' emails to a group of friends (and Susan).

Bert breaks up the working day (when he is there) by taking extended lunchbreaks. He wanders into the streets of Sunderland with his colleague, Merv (on the days when their attendance at work coincides). Bert and Merv do circuits of the small city centre – trying to find new experiences. They never buy lunch from the same food outlet twice – their code of adventure dictates that they try new quarters and seek out new food from untried sources. On their last expedition for a thoroughly unique lunch they discovered a stall in Sunderland Market which sells unlabelled tins for 20p each. The tins are ‘labelled’ by the stall–holder. He has developed a three tier system of labelling - in permanent marker - which does not really make sense. The tins are marked as follows:

‘Don’t Know’
‘Not Sure’
‘No Idea’

‘Not Sure’ suggests to me an inkling, or a suspicion, of what is inside. I don’t know whether Merv or Bert pressed the trader on this one. ‘No Idea’ is probably the most definitive disclaimer and I would (if I could be bothered) counsel the man to stay on safe legal ground and go with that.

Merv and Bert decided that they would buy one of the larger tins and take it back to the office. An otherwise uneventful afternoon was brightened by an office sweepstake of guesses on the actual contents. Merv added the hilarious promise to eat the contents when they were revealed the day after. The guesses ranged from dog-food to motor oil to baked beans. Merv, apparently, was game to eat whatever the tin offered.

The next morning came and desks emptied for what was billed in a promotional email as ‘The Reveal’. A maternal colleague, Barbara, had even shown the forethought to bring a large bib for Merv, which he donned with glee. A drum roll was improvised with a couple of biros as Merv slowly opened the tin - pausing every now and again to gauge the excitement around him.

Colleagues drifted away with varying levels of disappointment. Merv stayed true to his word and consumed the tin's contents: spaghetti hoops. Merv was soon left alone to finish his long, cold meal - which he washed down with tea.

As Merv left Bert’s half of the sweepstake in his colleague’s desk drawer, Barbara wiped the corners of his mouth with a tissue. Bert had already phoned in sick.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

You hold it. I'll kill it.

I was at an Arts Council meeting in London on Monday. In the middle of last week, one of the meeting’s organisers called me to check on my dietary requirements. I told this person that I had a special dietary requirement: “meat”. There was a pause after I said this and I still do not understand why. Most of the meetings I attend lately, especially those organised by any branch of the Arts Council have entirely vegetarian buffets. I sincerely feel that, as a meat-eater, I have become the victim of sustained discrimination.

The caller thought that I was being facetious and said “perhaps you would like us to bring a live animal and you could kill it on site to guarantee freshness….”

“If that could be arranged,” I replied, “that would be great. Thanks.”

The buffet monitor laughed politely and then rang off. Of course when the buffet arrived at Monday’s meeting it was meatless and in the absence of anything else I joined the queue of pallid arts fonctionnaires to feast on Lollo Rosso and goat's cheese. I have just been invited to another meeting in June in Stoke (surely they eat meat there). The email ends with the words:

‘If you have any special dietary requirements let me know, but all food will be veggie anyway - Look forward to seeing you all there’

I work in a non-smoking building – which seems to be the norm these days and is a good idea. The smokers have been given a corner of the wheelie-bin compound to indulge their vice. A corrugated plastic porch has been constructed, so that they can even huddle together in the rain if their need to smoke is that desperate. I fully expect the Arts Council to bring in a similar policy for carnivores. I can contemplate being handed a ham sandwich with contempt at a not too distant meeting, before being directed to a dark corner of a car park, or even a cold fire-escape. There I will be expected to eat while standing and I will have to endure disgusted looks from self-righteous vegetarians and the even purer vegans in the organisation. I will walk this Via Dolorosa and endure whatever pain it entails. I will feel no shame and I will eat my meat.

I look forward to the meeting in Stoke, but I look forward even more to letting them know in advance that I do indeed have ‘special dietary requirements’.