Tale 2 : Of the phantom withdrawal , and Jane's Fighting Buns.
The little firm we were working for had a permie core of about 30 people, but when they got the LU ticketing contract they had to expand fast - which is how we all ended up there. Altogether they must have recruited about 25 contractors, and tried to squeeze us into their dilapidated existing premises.
One of the hangovers from the pre-LU days was a formidable old bat - Jane - who provided a vestigial attempt at catering. Her basic cuisine ran to such stalwarts as pilchard sandwiches - and her idea was to get the most out of everything.
Hence every evening, when she left, the remnants of the day were decanted into little bowls and put in the fridge. Next day, the first purchaser of a pilchard sarny would observe Jane carefully scraping off the blackened crust of dried pilchard to reveal the gunge underneath, which was served forthwith. The pot of mayonnaise ran for several weeks, with the stuff slowly separating so that after a while there was a yellow oily layer on the top. Eucch!
However Jane did provide two useful facilities. One was the water heater, which lived in her room. As is well known, whenever two or three contractors are gathered together, there mystically appears a tea syndicate in the midst of them. We all brought in our own tea and milk and extracted hot water from Jane's heater. The second facility came from a deal she had with a local baker to provide cakes and buns. About mid-morning the van would deliver a trayful of fresh decent food, and we'd often buy a bun to go with our home-made sandwiches and cup of tea.
In the evenings Jane left the tray of buns out with a small bowl and trusted us to put in 12p (I think) if we took a bun - and this worked fine for a while. But then it became apparent that someone was taking buns and NOT PUTTING ANY MONEY IN JANE'S BOWL. A fuss was made. Management meetings were held. Suggestions of policemen and withdrawal of facilities were intoned by the bosses.
Now you'd have thought that no contractor on his x pounds per hour could be so mean as to steal buns at 12p a shot - which is what we told the management. But we were all wrong. The richest con on the team, who'd then just spent a huge amount on a vast Surrey house, was caught one day in the act, and very sheepish he was about it too. I name no names, but we Harrys who yelled 'one thousand, two thousand' as we leapt over and broke his rockery remember!
Christmas approached, and we all dispersed to our families. But I'm no lover of loafing about in turkey-stuffed idleness, and more to the point our bit of the project was a bit late and we were skint, so Geoff and I agreed to go down the week after and hack our way back on to schedule while the rest of the team languished in post-Christmas squalor.
The hacking went OK, but one lunchtime we thought we'd pop up the road for a pint. When we got back, a cup of tea seemed just the thing, so we went into Jane's lair to get some hot water.
And what did we find in a corner but a half-full tray of buns!
Jane's frugal habits obviously made it impossible for her to throw anything away, and this lot were 10 days old, and hard as cricket balls. The icing on the sticky buns had gone as brittle as potato crisps and was peeling away from the surface of several of them.
Inspired by beer and mischief we hatched a plan.
Hidden away behind an old filing cabinet I found the bowl for money. Jane's handwritten notice saying '12p please' was recovered from the waste-paper bin. Delving among the mountain of loose change which always infests one's pockets after a trip to the pub, we extracted a few pennies each to prime the trap with 24p, and quietly slipped away with our tea.
The only people in the place were us and a few mechanical designers and draughtsmen. They kept themselves to themselves, disliking both softies and contractors sufficiently to barely reply to 'good morning' in the car park. Would they bite? We popped along at about 4 that afternoon to see if we'd snared any bunters.
The bowl must have had a quid in it, and the bun level had dropped. The mechs stood around in the corridor grumbling and extracting their false teeth from assorted mouldy bits of rock, cursing Jane. Geoff and I collected our hot water for tea and got out quickly before we ruptured ourselves with silent laughing and were lynched by the mob.
Jane's Fighting Buns had struck again!