We have a tradition in our office that on Friday afternoons (the busiest afternoon of the week) I buy chocolate biscuits for my colleagues.
I always buy the same biscuits – M&S Extremely Chocolatey Milk Chocolate Rounds. Our local M&S (in Kensington High Street) doesn’t seem to know how to keep track of its stock, so very often they run out of the Milk Chocolate Rounds and I have to buy White Chocolate Rounds instead. But White Chocolate Rounds go down just as well.
I can’t quite remember how this tradition started. I work for The Independent and on Friday we have early deadlines, combined with what is usually the biggest paper of the week.
I seem to recall that on one occasion we were once faced with a massive paper and hardly any staff to cope with it, thanks to a flu epidemic. I bought some chocolate biscuits at lunchtime and handed them round in the hope of boosting morale, and legend has it that we got the paper off on time. It hasn’t worked since, but the custom is now established.
Part of the ritual is that people usually respond with the same phrases, like a sort of liturgy. They often say: “That’s just what I need to get me through the rest of the afternoon.” Lots of them say: “Chocolate biscuits! Yay, it’s Friday night!” Some just say: “Oooh, thank you very much.” And a few say: “No, thanks.”
I’m always very suspicious of people who refuse a chocolate biscuit. I mean, how can they? Are they on a diet? (No, people who are on diets can never resist chocolate biscuits. I speak from experience.)
Are they trying to prove that they are some sort of Ubermensch, capable of resisting the quotidian temptations to which us lowlier mortals fall prey?
I always feel there is some moral dimension to these abnegations; that these colleagues have looked iniquity in the eye and said: “Retro me, Satanas.” Or, rather, retro me, M&S.
However, even the refuseniks have their own rituals. One colleague, Ian, never takes a biscuit, but is most offended if the opportunity to do so is not forthcoming. Every week I solemnly offer him one and he just as solemnly turns it down. Another colleague, Julian, always smiles or laughs, and shakes his head.
Yet another colleague, on the picture desk, looks disapprovingly at the Milk Chocolate Rounds but will greet a White Chocolate Round with a cry of delight. I’ve never worked that one out.
There is a set time for the biscuit ritual too. They cannot be distributed before 5pm, as this is when the night editor starts work. The night editor is the person who steers the paper on through the evening, like a lonely helmsman on a stormy sea. He (it usually is a he, unless I’m doing it) is most certainly in need of a chocolate biscuit. Probably two or three.