Our factory canteen was popular with the workers as it provided adequate meals for a fair price.
The food was plain, not always well cooked, often not very hot, but always ample servings. You could get a three
course meal and a cuppa for a few shillings. When you were earning less than ten quid a week, that was important.
As long as you did not get poisoned, you would put up with one star cuisine if you could save some cash. Normally
there was a choice of two hot meals and in the summer, a salad was on offer. Soup made from yesterday’s left-over
vegetables was ladled out into thick white china bowls, and tea or coffee served up in bullet proof china mugs.
Usually there were a couple of sweets available, tinned fruit or pie with ice cream was most common. As the place
had to serve about 200 of the staff in pretty quick time, there was a double queue system from each end of the
counter. These met at the till where the canteen manager took your money and handed out change. She was big girl
and miserable with it, but scrupulously careful with the pennies. However from her position she could keep one eye
on the customers and one on the staff behind the counter. She even had a partial view of the kitchen through two
hatches. She was a busy girl and had no time for chat or enquiry.
The day of the mystery was like most others. I had wandered over to the canteen for lunch as usual and joined the
queue on the right. In front of me one of the electricians loaded a salad onto his tray, then a dish of apple pie,
a mug of tea and shuffled forward towards the till. On the counter near the till was a white pint jug containing a
white substance. The electrician picked up the jug, sniffed it and poured a measure over his apple pie. Ah! The
mysterious fluid was custard. Certainly not cream. We moved forward and in turn paid our money and moved to an
available seat. The tables in the canteen accommodated ten patrons, four on the long sides and a single seat at
each end. The electrician sat at the end of a table close to the till. I joined him, sitting on one of the middle
chair between two of the office boys. This seat was facing the till and the two queues, so I could see each person
as they came up with their choices. I noticed one bloke, who, as he came abreast of the aforementioned jug, like
the abovementioned electrician, picked it up and sniffed the contents. He also had a salad and apple pie. He poured
a drizzle over his salad, obviously thinking the liquid contents to be dressing. Oh oh! This could be fun, though I.
He duly paid the lady and came to our table, sitting in the single chair at the opposite end to the electrician.
I continued to eat, but at the same time I slowly swung my view back and forth between the two as they forked the
comestibles into their mouths. The latecomer was chomping through his salad with no sign of distress, so I assumed
the mystery material was indeed salad dressing. I waited gleefully for the electrician to take the first spoonful
of apple pie and mayonnaise. He finished his last piece of lettuce, pushed the plate to one side, pulled the sweet
dish to his front and plunged in the spoon. Up went the spoon, filled with apple, pie crust and dripping whitely.
Into the open mouth and then the chomp down. I held my breath, waiting, expecting at least a splutter, perhaps a
grimace, but hopefully an explosive reaction. Nothing. Not the least flicker of an eyelid. No emotion displayed at
all. He just kept right on eating. And I still don’t know what was in that damn jug.