diamond geezer

 Wednesday, February 17, 2010

9.00am Doris wheels her trolley round the corner from the kitchen to the meeting room. She's been in the building since daybreak, firing up the hot water and ripping the clingfilm. Her collated handiwork now stands waiting in the corner by the door. One screw-top jug filled with non-Starbucks coffee. One giant thermos filled with once-boiling water. A bowl of teabags, both standard and non-standard, alongside far too many sachets of sweetener. Five teaspoons and assorted crockery. A litre of sustainable tapwater. A jug of milk, shrinkwrapped for hygiene. And a plate of assorted biscuits, specially arranged with the chocolate fingers round the edge, just like Doris does every morning.

11.00am She creeps back into the room to collect what's left of her beverage selection. Better-behaved attendees have placed their dirty cups on the lower levels of the trolley, but the rest of us still have our brown-stained receptacles closer at hand. Doris moves amongst us to collect them in. She smiles graciously throughout, returning to the door in twos and threes until the working surface is cleared of debris. "Shall I leave the biscuits?"

12.00noon Lunch arrives, and the meeting instinctively turns around to see what we've got. The Prestige Sandwich Selection, by the looks of it. Doris has been around long enough to remember the days when she and Jean sliced the bread and spread the butter themselves in the kitchen nextdoor. Now she serves up somebody else's triple-filling baguettes and hummus wraps, shipped in via refrigerated van from a packing shed on a surburban trading estate. Cheaper than in-house, apparently, and better able to meet verifiable health and safety criteria. It's probably only me, but I'd far rather one of Doris's tuna and cucumber sarnies than a taramasalata-stuffed bagel with a mixed leaves garnish.

2.00pm Our meeting has restarted, and there's much to clear away. Half a platter of sandwiches lies uneaten (seems the vegetarian selection wasn't popular today), and Doris balances our used plates delicately on top. The fish nibbles never really took off either, and most of the soy sauce remains unpoured. There's still sufficient food here to feed four more delegates, or a group of staff in the office upstairs, or several hungry homeless folk frequenting the pavements nearby. But no, the regulatory time limit has passed, so Doris knows these perishables are all destined for the waste bin back in the kitchen. "Shall I leave the fruit?"

3.00pm Somewhere, out of sight, Doris has enjoyed a belated lunch of probably sandwiches. Now she returns with a second drinks trolley, freshly chilled and steaming for our afternoon sustenance. One single gold-wrapped biscuit rests atop a plate of digestives, custard creams and bourbons, its tempting chocolate interior awaiting the lucky soul who reaches the trolley first. There'll be a pause in the meeting soon, no doubt, please, before the tapwater loses its cool. Doris takes her chance, and slips away.

4.00pm One final reappearance, and Doris nips around to clear the day's detritus. Her coffee wasn't quite so popular this afternoon, but at least the unused teabags can be recycled tomorrow. As for the milk, that's a whole half pint we've barely touched, and never will. Doris declutters with good grace, then shuffles off with the trolley to her kitchen sink retreat. She knows her days are numbered - there'll soon be no more meetings here and an enforced retirement awaits. And then she'll get to serve up tea to an audience of two, or maybe one, for as many mornings and afternoons as life will have her. We'll all miss Doris, but not I bet as much as she'll miss us.


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