It is 8am and I have succeeded in getting to my desk in central London, despite the train company’s best efforts to the contrary.
My rumbling stomach signals to me that it is in need of some attention – a cooked breakfast – the highlight of my otherwise predictable Public Sector, boring, mundane, empty day. The food will be exceedingly naughty but tremendously nice.
My working day starts at 5.30am with a soft alarm jingle on my smartphone. The feeling of annoyance this creates is inversely proportional to the supposed soothing nature of the tune. The more gentle and calm the sound the more irritated I become. This is probably to do with my middle-aged, mid-career, comfortable life in rural middle England. How ungrateful I sound in the safety and warmth of my middle-class repose.
I rise, toilet, shower, dry, shave, dress, drive, walk and commute my way to the office – one of the many great big ugly concrete buildings in Whitehall.
After a couple of hours inhaling the stale musty air which the cleaners have re-distributed evenly around the office with their unpropitious vacuuming, I reply to some tedious emails, plan my meddlesome day, make routine conversation with colleagues and am relieved to find myself looking at 10am on the clock on my PC. I have not eaten today and now need to address this feral instinct.
I walk out of the office on the fifth floor and take the lift to the ground to present my Security pass at the card reader by the Exit.
I brace myself for the looks of contempt from the Security Guards as I leave the building. I am convinced that my blank expressionless face has a look of guilt on it, the look of a slacker who is somehow being paid to leave the office for some gentle mastication. I rehearse the excuses in my head in case I am confronted. As I cross the lobby I settle for a nod in recognition of the important role they perform and this earns me a ‘Good Morning’ from the guard in return. He must be either exceedingly bored or has forgotten his training and accidentally reverted to being a human again, someone with a character and soul. For certain it is not a sign of warmth as his open-leg stance and general demeanour does not allow for such languor.
Hold on – why should I feel guilty about having some food? Why should I feel guilty about needing to eat? I have already completed two hours productive (yeh, maybe choose another word, eh!?) work, which is more than the lazy gits that are walking the other way ‘IN’ to the building. It is laughable that 10am is rush hour in reception – it is the same in all Whitehall buildings. ‘Flexible Working Hours’ it is referred to as; the reality is something different, it should be called ‘Optional Working Hours’. With this in mind, I feel cured of any guilty feelings and walk out into the sunlit street.
I have taken the time and explained my lengthy commute and start-of-day routine to many of my colleagues, but it does not engender feelings of empathy and understanding that I seek. Perhaps that is the problem, the fact that I am looking for validation that what I am doing is somehow ethical and certainly not unprofessional. In any case, I remove my Security Pass and turn left down Petty France and right on to Broadway, W1. My conscience eases more, the further away I get from the building.
At the end of the road I cross into Strutton Ground and a few yards down on the right is a café – ‘Le Pain du Jour’. Its’ plain dark red dirty plastic illuminated signboard with gold lettering spans the width of the narrow shopfront but is rendered completely pointless as the canopy shielding the sun from the contents of the window, makes the sign invisible from street level. Less ‘Bread of the Day’ and more ‘Bread ‘coz I say’.
But inside they make the best bacon sarnie’s and coffee and all for a meagre £2.10. When my colleague tipped me off that I was going to the wrong place and wasting too much money in those High Street coffee shops, you know the one’s that I am talking about, I was curious but doubtful that a central London café could offer a decent breakfast at such a ridiculously competitive price. How wrong I was; how often this is; how hungry I am.
I step inside and am greeted with a pleasant smile and a ‘Good Morning. What can I get you love?’ It is warm already today but the front and back-doors are open creating a little through-draft to counter the fatty smell and stifling heat.
‘Err bacon sarnie and a coffee please’ I reply, shuffling my coins into the correct amount. I do not need to delve into my wallet for such an amount, which invokes the small happy accountant inside me. I have the exact amount of change, poised in readiness to hand over to the polite lady. I am a pro Londoner commuter; there will be no queuing behind me like an amateur day-tripper, fumbling for their ticket or money, whilst all of London waits angrily behind.
‘Baguette or bread? White or brown? Butter and sauce?’
I pass the test answering all the questions correctly and hand over the required amount of money. To say this represents good value would be a gross understatement – the quality and price are both from the small sock compartment of the top drawer.
I point to the tiny courtyard situated out the back of the café and take my seat on the budget table and chairs trying not to break either as I sit down. The chairs are fragile and tiny as if they come from a dolls house. With the builders that are often in the café, I am surprised there are not more accidents with their heavy clothing and boots snagging on the flimsy furniture and dragging off the contents as they stand and walk off. In my office trousers and shirt, the metal feels sharp and uncomfortable.
My coffee arrives as promised in a takeaway cup and the same lady brings my sarnie on a proper plate within two minutes. The decking out the back is clean and the walls freshly painted white so even the world’s smallest outdoor seating area does not feel dark, dingy or dirty.
I finish my sandwich, the chunky fresh bread is easy to eat and with the perfect amount of ketchup it does not squirt down my shirt or drip onto my plate unnecessarily. The sauce has been administered, I reflect, by someone experienced in the matter of sauce deployment.
I finish my mouthful, wipe and scrunch my paper napkin and push the plate away with a feeling of contentment. After a quick slurp of coffee through the safety lid, I feel ready to start my day.
I stand, carefully disentangling my legs from the thin but deadly metal furniture and take my plate and coffee back into the café. I leave my plate on the service counter which earns me a smile and a ‘Thank you’ from the lady who brought me my breakfast. I say the same thing in reply without breaking stride and walk back out the way I came in, feeling like a regular.
As I step out into the sun to walk back towards the office, I notice the smell of fried food on my shirt. But my belly is full of food, my pocket is full of change and the sun has come out to play. Now all I need is to find a shady tree to have a little snooze. The Government Department where I work will do just nicely.