Magazine article The Spectator

Sandwich Trap

Magazine article The Spectator

Sandwich Trap

Article excerpt

Dimly, I remember the time when you could buy a sandwich as the result of a perfectly normal interaction between two human beings facing each other across a counter. You would ask for something, they would give it to you, you would hand over money. But that was before UK sandwichbuying was standardised. I do not know whose idea standardisation was and no doubt it has brought many benefits for the customer. But you need to have your wits about you.

Do not fall into the trap I did when I put my veggie option down on the counter and feebly started trying to ask for tea.

'Can I have a . . .' 'Eat in or take away?' 'Take away. Can I have a . . .' 'Do you want a bag?' 'Er, yes. Can I have a . . .' 'Napkin?' 'Thanks. Can I have a . . .' 'Any teas or coffee with that?' 'Ah, thank goodness . . .' 'Any muffins?' 'No, not muffins! Go back a step! I want a cup of . . .' 'That will be four pounds fifty please.' 'Oh dear, I want a cup of . . .' 'Enjoy your day!' The sandwich operative was now staring into the middle distance waiting for me to put money into her hand.

'Do you think I could have a . . .' She started talking to a fellow worker in Italian. Clearly there was no room in the official sandwich-buying procedure to insert a request for tea ad hoc and as I had failed to insert the demand successfully into the official opening for tea it was now hopeless to protest. But surely there must be some way back?

I thought about submitting a written request on one of the suggestion forms entitled 'We Care What You Think'. But sometimes the simple solutions are best. So I took a deep breath and shouted at the top of my voice: 'I want a cup of teeeeeeeeeea!' The shop fell silent. A chill wind whistled and the cheery South American background music gave way to Enio Morricone striking up the opening bar to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Horribly, something like recognition of my existence crossed her glassy face. She paused, murderously, as if to say, 'So this is the game you are wanting to play!' 'Tea . . . with milk?' 'White tea, ' I said, now relishing being so subversive as to utter one of those racist beverage remarks we are discouraged from making nowadays.

Without turning -- of course she was not going to take her eyes off me -- she shouted over her shoulder at her colleague, 'Tea with milk! …

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