The English do not know how to cook. Simple. So, what do they do for food? They invented some tools which help them half cook their food, namely, the toaster and the oven. Breakfast time is the most crowded time in CP office. After all, thats the only meal where you would get some recognizable form of food – bread, english muffins, bagels. There is an assortment of breads, jams, spreads and syrups kept on the table. You can help yourself to any of them.
I developed the habit of having toast every morning after coming to England. The toaster in our office is the most used and lively machine. 🙂 Its kind of moody. It does what it feels like. I would have a meeting at 10, reach office at 9:45, rush to the toaster at 9:47, put in two slices of bread and wait – knife in hand to spread the strawberry jam. The toaster would sense my urgency, smile to itself and return the bread untoasted! Then I would have to put it through again. Time 9:50 AM. It would again smile to itself and return the slices – this time burnt! Well, whatever, I would spread the jam and butter or chocolate spread and pay at the counter – time 9:55 AM. And then rush upstairs to the lift. 9:57 at my desk. Open laptop get connected, 9:59 in the meeting. "Aw, burnt toast", my client would say. My standard reply, "You know the toaster downstairs." We would exchange meaningful smiles.
So, what was it about the toaster at CP office? There is a board on top of it which says Do not adjust the heat of the toaster. Only speed can be regulated. But people will always be people and they like to meddle with things that ought not to be meddled in. Machines, when fiddled with behave in strange fashions. They work beyond the logic with which they were designed. In human interest, it would be better to either discard such machines or accept them as they are. But complaining doesnt help. It is funny but true that people kind of associate themselves with machines – its like how your car or bike will listen to you and how your burner will heat evenly. Even pieces of steel have behavior patterns and work for particular hands.
To continue with the toaster, when I did not have the meeting at 10 O’ clock, my ears would be open. Someone would be commenting, "The toaster is not toasting at all. Wonder why its called a toaster." And they would come up with all kinds of wierd names. The best so far has been to name it "Machine". Some think that they know toaster mechanics. So, they would try to adjust the knobs and try to arrive at the right combination of heat and speed day after day to no avail. One of my toaster mates would say "My slice ran 3 laps today morning to get toasted." Some used to get very frustrated and in frustration issue out very unmeaningful words. Some would say "There it goes again." It was an ideal place for casual dialogue and venting one’s feelings. People preferred that it worked improperly, for a proper toaster doesnt add spice to breakfast time. One day they removed the toaster for repairs. And people felt as though a friend had gone away. I heard comments like "Oh, he ll back tomorrow. I bet they cant repair him." "That toaster can NEVER be repaired." and "Oh, he was fine as he was. Why do they need to repair? You just needed to run your slice through twice or thrice." True to their feelings, the toaster was back the next day. People welcomed it by placing more load on it than ever and it responded throwing even fiercer tantrums than before. But people loved it and enjoyed it. No one can repair anything that didnt want to be repaired. Then life goes on as normal.
One fine day, MS sends some guy from US who isnt used to any of this unmechanical life. He expects things to function and that too properly and that too in London City! Right from stepping in, he complains "This place is crazy." His second day in and he asks the receptionist where he can find breakfast and she directs him to the toaster. I like to think that she did it knowingly. Ok, fellow comes to the toaster and gets his toast returned to him as he entered it. He tries once more with the same result. He asks the guy at the cash counter who just says try again. 🙂 He starts thinking and applying logic, turns the knobs and turns off and on the toaster. He puts the slice in and it starts burning inside, I mean emitting real fire flames. He calls for help and people next to him blow it off. Then he says "There has got to be a setting that works. Why cant they just set it and like, you know, pull off all the knobs so it would just work perfectly fine?" I spit my water into my glass in laughter. One guy comes up to this fellow and says "Life buddy. Relax. Its breakfast, take your time, put your bread through the toaster, try a couple of times and you ll get it fine. Come on, try".
This guy looks as though he has heard a gospel from an apostle. Unwillingly, he enters the slice into the toaster and in one minute, perfect toast. Many of us exit the canteen with "There you go." and leaving the American looking at his perfect toast and the imperfect toaster.