C is for: “CAKE!” The cookery dept was famed for its traybakes and every now and then the siren call of Pat, the kitchen assistant, would echo round the corridors. The team had baked to perfection, the stylists and photographers had done their bit, the art dept were all geared up to work their magic on the pages and now it was every woman and man for themselves as they hurtled towards the source. Within seconds, the trays were empty as satisfied chomping sounds were heard from every corner of the office. An ex-editor once wrote in her weekly letter that, if a fire drill practice bell went off, there would be groans and grumbles as everyone reluctantly shuffled out of the building. Come the rallying call of “Cake!!” however, and it was a completely different tale.
C is also for: Christmas lunches, Canteen and Coffee shop. In our December pay packets, we received a voucher for a free Christmas lunch in our canteen. There was often some serious bartering going on and you would see the same people trot upstairs for their third turkey-and-all-the-trimmings that week. For one week only, the canteen had been turned into a festive grotto, grimacing staff having been forced to wear jolly hats and aprons. Santa Claus had been persuaded to come down from the North Pole, at great expense no doubt and carol singers went largely ignored as everybody stuffed their faces courtesy of the company for one day of the year (or three, in some cases; see above).
The rest of the year, there was a daily carvery for a pound, fish and chips on Fridays, separate hot and cold puddings counters and as much salad from the salad bar as you could cram on to your plate. As one of my colleagues liked to do. Not for nothing was her nickname “Desperate Dan” – her plates resembled small mountains. Her physique contained somewhat larger “mountains” and during one particularly riotous lunchtime, one of her earrings fell into her copious cleavage. Quick as a flash, our production editor quipped: “There’s gold in tham thar hills.”
In the really good old days, there was more than one canteen – a basic one for staff and a posher one with tablecloths and waitress service for guests and VIPs. After lunch, you could retire to the coffee lounge and – er – lounge about on the sofas until someone reminded you there was a deadline looming for your pages. It was all change in later years and the coffee shop moved downstairs. It lacked the ambience of the other place and there was certainly no longer room for any sofas. But good old Jean was still on the till, having moved down along with the tea, coffee and cakes and her bracing good humour, cackling laugh and no-nonsense attitude continued to perk us all up, including the time she announced that I was “on the verge of a nervous breakdown”. “I can see it in your eyes,” she informed me and the rest of the queue. It was true I was going through a particularly nasty relationship break-up at the time, but I had liked to think I was hiding it quite well. Dear old, good old Jean.