March 03, 2017

Women Aren't Funny: An Ode to Greggs, and the politics of the office lunch

What did you have for lunch?
When I was freelancing at Vogue one day a few years ago, I suddenly felt an urge. I recognised that urge. It was one, which had been with me for many years, and which I knew how to satiate. At lunchtime, I slipped away from the pristine offices in Mayfair, just off Regent Street, and round the corner to...McDonalds. I felt like a spy. I kept kidden, kept concealed, when, just as I thought I was safe, I locked eyes with the fashion intern, who was paying for his quarter pounder with cheese. Our eyes met, froze, and then a mutual agreement passed silently between us - 'We will never speak of this.'
Now - I loved working at Vogue, it was nothing like The Devil Wears Prada, everyone on my desk was extremely nice and not at one point did I feel judged or bitched about for not being clad in head-to-toe new season Gucci. Everyone was very normal with two arms and legs and a head. HOWEVER. I knew, that if I was to bring in a McDonalds to the office, it would have been the talk of the office for the rest of the day, possibly week, I wouldn't rule out months, nay, the year. Alexandra Shulman would have mentioned me in her recent Vogue memoir as 'the street urchin who once brought something called a McChicken Sandwich onto the premises'. I expect I would have shared a similar fate to Tatler Alan.
For, there is, inevitably, the culture of the Office Lunch. What to eat. What to avoid. What is looked down on? What is unacceptable? You'll have all gone rogue one day and thought 'Fuck it I'm gonna get a pizza / fried chicken / something that isn't 80% leaves' and then thought 'Never again' when you see the amount of attention it draws.
Let me whirl you around to the present day. This week, myself and my esteemed colleague Caroline decided to go to Greggs for a starter before the usual salad-that-costs-£12. At first we waited in the bitter cold outside (the queue was of course, out the door) and excitedly talked about which pasty would be ours. When we got to the till, Caroline, ever the maverick, said 'Fuck it, shall we just get our whole lunch here and sit over there?' Pointing to the plastically leather benches by the door which would be or home for the next hour. I silently nodded in agreement, wondering whether she might be The One. We purchased the only thing we knew how to, a Sausage, Bean and Cheese melt. Now, if you have never had one of these (Sally in the office, get your priorities right) then picture a warming embrace after a bitterly cold walk, a kids tea sat on the sofa on a sunday night, an orgasm wrapped in pastry, and you can start to begin to imagine it. It's a pouch of warm beans for fuck's sake.

We talked, we laughed, we cried (ok we didn't cry). But that hour spent in Greggs, post-pasty, onto the tomato soup, washed down with a carton of Ribena and finished off with a CREAM APPLE DANISH (I hope you are reading this alone) was one of the best lunches ever. Free of judgement, as we watched the world of construction go by. In the world of the Builder's Lunch, there is no judgement, there is no hierarchy, there is no salad. There is only golden, flaky pastry, tumbling out of their mouths as they shout inappropriate comments to women on the street. The liberal modern nature of their lunches is offset by their archaic attitudes to gender inequality, but hey, life is a balance. 
I used to work in Greggs, it was the best job I'd ever had. Every Saturday in the town centre in Corby Greggs I would do seven hours, with three breaks (back in the good old days) and my personal menu would be as follows:

Morning Break: Ham and Cheese bake (now discontinued, bloody delicious)
Lunch break: Diet coke, Mexican Chicken Oval Bite
Afternoon break: Custard slice / Apple Danish / Cream doughnut (I was impulsive on desserts)

As an aside, if you came in and your job was cooking the pasties, you were 'On bake off' which is all I ever think about these days when I hear of Mary Berry and co. At the end of each shift, I could take home whatever we didn't sell, and they gave the rest to the homeless, they said. It was this take-home policy, which we're fairly sure, is the reason for my Dad having high cholesterol, as every Saturday he would pick me up, eyes gleaming with excitement, as I loaded pineapple tarts, custard tarts, and his favourite loaves of fresh bread into the car, which he would have with his Saturday night curry and single beer. We were living the dream. Until I went to Uni and ruined everything. Despite the fact that in Leeds, where I went to University, you could often stand in the town centre and see two to three Greggs at a time, minimum. Greggs is a way of life for anyone north of the Watford gap, but South, is a different story. People from London and below look at you like you're some sort of lunatic if you talk about Greggs or any of it's products. They sneer at a steak bake, cower at the thought of a cream bun, and are baffled by anything in the luke warm cabinets of our mothership.
The North / South divide could be solved if Greggs were allowed to open up as many premises in the south as they have in the north, where they are on par with local authority. Here is an accurate map of Greggs perception throughout the land:

This week, on that lunch, in Greggs, reminded me of simpler times, and what a great place it is. 

Caroline posted this of said lunch. To which Greggs responded. Following this, a huge twitter conversation took place whereby I realised my friend Daisy had NEVER HAD A GREGGS. But! Greggs heard our war cry (because I tagged them) and we are now eagerly anticipating Greggs to fund Daisy's first ever pasty. It was then, that this moment happened, which the last ten years of loyal service has been leading to:
They followed me. Greggs followed me. I have a direct line to the Kings of Pasties, the Queens of Fresh Cream, the Keepers of Sausage Rolls. So if you ever need anything, you know where to come. I'll finish this love letter on something which I all think we know should have happened, and which we can only dream of for the future of the 'shameful' lunch. Peace out.
Tweets about Greggs: @missahaddow
Pictures of my hair: @alexandrahaddow