It was like a war zone in Marks and Spencer's cafe this afternoon.
The beleaguered staff, all looking shell-shocked, were doing battle with limited space, seriously depleted
equipment and queues of grumpy customers, among them Mr B, doing his best to get back in touch with the dormant Patient Side of his character.
According to the brightly enthusiastic notices, pinned up all
around us, we can look forward to a brand new, very exciting cafe. But not until Thursday. Meanwhile a section of Menswear has been commandeered for a makeshift cafe. Tables and chairs have been marshalled, a makeshift serving counter created, a large fridge
for the storage of sandwiches stands in one corner. Next to the coffee machine a table has been placed on which cartons of milk, cardboard cups and table napkins are crowded together. To one side is another table set with cheese scones, pastries and a carrot
cake (complete with iced carrots) presumably to incite a tantalising expectation of Things To Come among those unfortunates in the queue. A bit like Disneyland, where you queue for hours watching TV screens to keep up your flagging enthusiasm.
Though there is hardly room for two people behind the serving counter, there are at least six staff milling around apparently not sure what to do. Every so often, another staff member appears, to be welcomed by her colleagues
as if she has been sent in to save the sinking ship. "It's been a terrible day!" the woman clearing the tables tells me feelingly.
At all the tables within my ear-shot, the general consensus seems to be that
it might have been better not to have opened at all, perhaps enabling work on the refit to be completed more quickly as a result. I remark to Mr B who has returned to our table bearing two egg and cress sandwiches and two cups of coffee after queuing for 25
minutes, that it might have been better had every member of staff been given a specific job to do, rather than everyone trying to do everything.
I make this suggestion in the sure knowledge that I have absolutely
no experience or expertise in the field of mass catering. I have never so much as operated a till, unless you count the colourful red and yellow cash register from the Early Learning Centre which comes complete with a scanner - though unfortunately this doesn't
actually work at the moment because I can't lay my hands on a screw-driver to open the battery compartment. As a barista, which I understand is the posh name for the person who dispenses the lattes from the coffee machine, rather than some kind of Legal Eagle,
I would be All at Sea. I am sure I could clear tables and wash them down, take egg and cress sandwiches (or any other type of sandwich) out of the fridge and probably, given mop and bucket, clear up after spillages.
It really is turning into one of those days. We spend ages at the check-out while the customer in front of us dithers about - then we cause equal frustration to the person in the queue behind us when the cashier notices that the plastic film on our
paella is split. Mr B goes in search of a replacement but, horror of horrors, there are none left. We pay for our shopping, minus paella, and I send Mr B outside for a calming cigarette while I find something else for dinner.
In W.H. Smith we find our normal exit is barred so we have to go round the long way. As we emerge, we see our bus disappearing into the distance. It really isn't our day. "What's wrong with the world today?" Mr B despairs. Worse things happen at sea,
I tell him.
Suddenly everything starts to improve. We only have to wait four minutes for the next bus. When we get home, we read the last two chapters of Seb Coe's autobiography (see yesterday's blog) which
cheers us up no end. What's more Tottenham Hotspur, Mr B's team, win their London Derby against Arsenal.
I hope the afternoon also improved for the poor staff in the Marks and Spencer's cafe. I hope lots of
people bought a slice of carrot cake, that the coffee machine didn't break down, that the customers waited patiently, talking of the Bulldog Spirit and how it was Worse In The War.
Failing that, I hope Thursday
comes round really quickly for them and that their bright, exciting new cafe is everything they hope for. We may pop in next Saturday to check it out.
So long as I can persuade Mr B that Normal Service Has