Chris Jones


I often wonder what the canoe club buys
One half so precious as the stuff it sells,
But maybe it’s best not to ask.


I ripped the top off a small cardboard box, which had held a subtle blend of non-fat milk and non-milk fat, loaded it with three teas and three coffees, and set off to work the tables and the street. McDonalds workers are not allowed to call their fries “chips”; it amazes me they’re allowed to call them food. What could I call my drinks without risking prosecution under the Trades Descriptions Act? “Non-specific high-temperature beverages” I yelled. “What’s he on?” they replied. It got better when I had some helpers: they knew the words. Lindsey, Anna and Padraig, thanks a bunch. Nice t-shirt, Anna. Whatever killed Ian Dury, bet it wasn’t sausage rolls. Kathryn was with us for a while, selling quizzes. Trouble was, every time she stopped moving, she became invisible. That’s because she was wearing Fairport camouflage gear: a bright yellow wristband, a white top with rainbows at the neck and cuffs, and a pixie hood. A pixie hood: I ask you? Hey, did they have any in my size? There was an amazing variety of costumes: even saw one bloke dressed as an airline pilot. How cool is that?

Padraig had an inspiration to help with the shortage of tables. In the shed he found one, which had two and a quarter legs, and he propped it up with a wooden board. As we walked away, he said something about it being a bit rickety. “It’s OK” I said, “Don’t knock it” then realised what I’d said and doubled up helpless with laughter. He gave me that pitying look which kids reserve for sad people who laugh at their own jokes.

Sometimes the drinks didn’t sell fast, even when we offered small discounts to endangered species like cyclists and morris dancers; mostly we couldn’t run fast enough to satisfy the demand. People in the queue were suffering from the sun and last night’s beer, and couldn’t get enough tea, coffee, water, juice and Coke.
Don’t know how many drinks we sold: must have been hundreds. Most people were well pleased and lots came back for more. One lady said she couldn’t drink the tea. It did look a bit dodgy: maybe a fault in the non-milk fat. I apologised, gave her the money back, tipped the stuff on the floor, said “we’re not here to rip people off” and sat in a patch of sunlight to polish my halo. The one and only time Anne and I went anywhere with Ryanair, the lady in front of us bought a cup of tea, for £1.50. It was lukewarm and very pale grey, with a tea bag floating in it like a dead rat in a canal. “This is the worst cup of tea I have ever tasted”, she said. The stewardess replied, “Well, I don’t make it” and walked away.

All in all, it was a great laugh and well worth doing. I know the guys in the kitchen, cooking in more ways than one, worked a lot harder than me, for a lot longer, and the customers never saw them. But they appreciated what was being done, and will come back again and again. And it looks like we’re OK for the rent for another year, doesn’t it?