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Quainton News archive - Quainton News No. 37 - Winter 1978 / 9

Why we Welcome the Catering Vehicle, W64 - Anthea Hanscomb

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A T Lyster - W64 passing through Blackthorn Village

Bev and I were definitely not thinking in October 1977 when we allowed ourselves to be talked into providing Sunday lunches for working members! Frank Boait was the first to come to us with the suggestion that, if cooked lunches were available, members would not go to the pub from 12 until 2pm. and come back legless and unable to do any useful work. Instead they would do their drinking in the evening. A powerful argument, one had to admit. John Carter on the other hand took a more persuasive line with his suggestion that two such charming and young (cor!) ladies would be only too happy to feed the poor, hungry, cold men. So suitably flattered we went into action on 6th November 1977.

We began in a modest way with soup and steak and kidney pies and baked beans, Mars bars and Kitkats. This menu was increased a few Sundays later by the addition of mashed potatoes (Smash). Then a request for sausages was received and suggestions that apple pie wouldn't come amiss!!

The Booking Hall had become the dining room with seating for ten people at a pinch, so we had to have two sittings for lunch. We took their orders down in an exercise book, ticked them off when they were served and again when they paid. We kept accounts which our Treasurer, Andrew called "primitive book keeping" and at the end of 18 weeks when he saw the books I thought he would never stop laughing. I fear he must have a terrible picture of my household accounts!

We began with enough plates, one knife and a few forks. Several members instantly came to the rescue with more knives, forks and dessert spoons and our canteen got under way. Bit by bit a pattern established itself and by January we knew the wishes of our customers and were providing sausage, mash and beans, steak and kidney pie, mince and onion pies, bread and butter as an extra for Dave Simcox, four sausages for Mick Hatton, and two poached eggs for David Potter. He had a sensitive stomach then but has now had his appendix out and we hope it is back to normal. We were providing about twenty lunches each Sunday.

One bright spark, John Carter, suddenly realised that I was arriving on the site each Sunday morning between 8.30 and 9, having walked down from the White Hart. He thought that Sunday breakfast was a distinct possibility - if he played his cards right, which meant more blasted flattery! So a large pan full of porridge was provided each Sunday. Then Frank said if I was prepared to do porridge how about bacon, eggs and fried bread? Well, in for a penny in for a pound and you might as well wash up five plates as well as five cups that have had porridge in them. So a cooked breakfast for those who had stayed over night in the Mk 1 coach became the order of the day.

Bev and I had our problems working in a room not designed as a kitchen. In the old days it was the Porter's room. Dishing up the food, as the first dinner sitting arrived at 1 pm., was a juggling act. Nowhere to put the plates and they were blazing hot. One Sunday Bev managed to get some potato in my hair and I nearly plastered her with baked beans. Our customers were often very badly behaved, banging on the table and shouting 'where is it then?' We had to be very firm with them and threatened starvation, expulsion and worse. It had no effect. It goes without saying that the Stores Officer, Dave Potter, was the more difficult to please. During the 18 weeks of our canteen service he had about 30 poaches eggs and at a rough guess I would think he complained about 24 of them!

By 2pm it was all over and we could have our own lunch. Fortunately for us, Mick was keeping an eye on the order book and made sure everyone paid. It is just as well he did because in the rush of things we didn't always remember to tick off the names of those who had paid, or chase up those who hadn't! Then there was the washing up to face and with a bit of luck we would be able to get away from the terribly steamy atmosphere for a fifteen minute break before they were all back again, at about 3.15 for tea, coffee and Mars bars. "last cups of tea and coffee 5 o'clock, prompt", we would tell them, but there was always someone who would come rushing in as the last cup had been washed up, the last Mars bar sold and the takings counted. "Just one cup of coffee", would be the plea, "You can't refuse, I'm dying of cold/thirst/worn out, and I've been stuck under an engine/coach/on the roof/the far end of the site, for HOURS." So on with the gas again, cupful of water in the kettle - boil you stupid things - and sure enough another head would appear round the door."Oh, good, you haven't closed yet!" "Yes, we have and we are going home NOW". "Oh, no, you can't, just one cup of coffee ... " "We know, we've heard if all, you've been working hard .. .... .. !" And so it continued until Easter and at the end of 18 weeks we had made a profit of £111 which went towards the Refreshment Coach.

For the rest of this year I have become more or less the permanent "washer up" on Open Days and Steaming Sundays and any other time I have been at Quainton. Most reluctantly I had to give up firing early in 1977. I had seen our new Doctor to complain about an extremely painful right thumb. "Have you been doing anything out of the ordinary?" he asked, as he prodded at my thumb and I yelped. "Not really," I said, "but we have some terribly hard coal for the engines at Quainton and I think breaking it up with a rather small coal hammer might have started it off." There was a short silence while he digested that. "Of course you are all steam enthusiasts,! remember your husband mentioned it. Why are you breaking up the coal ? " "Because I fire on an engine on Open Days" I replied, warming to the subject, "and large lumps must not be used or ... " my voice trailed off. The Doctor was looking at me, an expression of disbelief on his face, I'm sure he was thinking, How on earth could anyone be so daft. There was a long silence. He wrote something down, examined the notes in front of him and asked, "How is your shoulder?" My shoulder?" I was decidedly taken aback. "That was ages ago, wasn't it? I was painting a ceiling, but it is alright now, thank you." I added hastily. "But why do you ask?" "Because it is amazing the damage you women do to yourselves - take a rest from firing those engines." The only thing he didn't say was "at your age" but it was written all over his face!

So here I am taking a rest from firing those engines - and secretly heart broken. Refreshments is far harder work, boring and just like being at home but on a bigger scale! On the Open Days of course we have the marquee where the refreshments are served. Everything has to be carried out to it - counters, cookers, bottles of gas, crates of milk, food, cups, plates, the lot and back again at night. My job has been to collect up the used cups in a large basket, take them to the kitchen and wash them. Sometimes, if there is no one else available, I fill the water containers, as they are emptied, and carry them back to the marquee. They weigh a ton! Also there is the food to be handed out to helpers who bang on the kitchen door just as your hands are in the water. When we are really busy it is touch and go whether I shall keep up with the cups, the lowest we got was six left when I staggered back with a basketful! of clean ones. One just doesn't stop, it is to and fro the whole time, non stop for about two hours during our busy period, which is usually 2.30pm to 4.30pm. (Hearts beginning to bleed? There is more to come!) The washing up has been carefully worked out. We have an electric water heater which was meant to be used for tea and coffee, only it dishes out scummy water (because it is so hard at Quainton) and so it is only used to heat the washing up water. It stands on the counter in front of the window so the sink has to be filled using a jug. Then the washing up bowl is filled and put on the table. Detergent is added to the water in the sink and the cups are washed up, rinsed in the bowl on the table and put in the plate rack on the draining board. When most of the water has run off them they are put in the basket sitting on a clean towel on the counter so that any remaining water doesn't drip onto the shelves below. When the basket is reasonably full I gallop to the marquee with it and collect the next lot of cups, having left some soaking in the sink ready for rinsing when I return. (Yawn- yes, I know this is awfully boring and I assure you I am finding it just as boring to write, but there is a very good reason for all this as you will find out shortly!)

Rubber gloves are worn, of course, as the water is as hot as can be borne, more hygienic, and wellington boots are an optional extra because lots of water gets on the floor as the cups go from the bowl on the table to the draining board. (And, you will be asking, if you are nice, how is your thumb? How kind of you to enquire, far worse! After the August Open Days it was actually swollen AND my back ached!) On Steaming Sundays we serve the refreshments in the Booking Hall on the big counter in there and the kitchen has to cope with someone washing up and someone pouring tea and coffee. Sometimes it is the same person doing both, sometimes there are two of us, we collide nearly all the time because (yawn) the water heater is on the other side of the person pouring out the tea and coffee and two of the kettles are beyond the water heater ..... But I needn't go on (thank goodness for that) because you have got the message - it is unworkable and we only manage because we have to and because something better is on the way!!

By the time you read this in your Winter Quainton News, Bev and I and we hope Jo, will be running the 'Workers Canteen' again and dishing out the Sunday lunches in our usual cheerful ('if you don't like it you know what you can do') way. Also the new Brake Coach will be in and work on it will have begun. There will be a lot to do to get it ready and I have been begging Mick Sell (Catering Manager) and John Carter, who is in charge of the restoration and fitting out of the coach, to try and have it ready for Easter. It would make the lives of the refreshment ladies so much easier if we have a properly organised kitchen to work in and think of it, no more carting cookers and counters into the marquee. But Mick and John say 'no way' unless more people come forward and help with the work. So please do spare some Sundays and come and help us. There are lots of you we haven't seen for quite some time. If you ring up either Bev at Aylesbury 5478, or me at Amersham 7297 and order your lunch we will be delighted to welcome you to our cheerful 'Workers Canteen'.

Also if we can get our refreshment coach working soon you won't be faced with another long boring article, this time next year, on how I wash up cups. So please, PLEASE be gorgeous men and come and help us.

The text in this Quainton Railway Society publication was written in 1978 and so does not reflect events in the 36+ years since publication. The text and photographs are repeated verbatim from the original publication, with only a few minor grammar changes but some clarifying notes are added if deemed necessary. The photos from the original publication are provided as scans in this internet version of this long out of print publication.

Why we Welcome the Catering Vehicle, W64 - Anthea Hanscomb - Quainton News No. 37 - Winter 1978 / 9

Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
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Page Updated: 17 November 2017