Cheap Ham

Sometime around the mid 1990s I picked up a contract to set up a payroll system at a hotel, nothing particularly unusual about that other than the hotel was in Barbados and with a lack of any of the sort of remote control software that we use today there was nothing else for it but to pack a suitcase and go to Barbados to do the job, I of course being the boss volunteered myself for the task because as I said to my rather disappointed staff “I wouldn’t ask you to do any job that I wasn’t prepared to do myself” and so it was.

We, or rather I did the trip for five years, what can I say it was hell, an all-inclusive hotel, a complete suite given to me each time, fridge pre-packed with bottles of Banks beer, seven days at someone elses expense doing something that should only take two days but the British Airways scheduled flight was on a seven day turnover, I tell you, I was exhausted every time and it was not like a free holiday at all, not even one time, no sir.

So after a couple of solo visits I deemed to take the family with me, I’m good like that and anyway Suzanne said that I couldn’t go again unless I took them all the next time, so they came the next time, the girls would have been about five and nine years old, halcyon days, we checked into the Gatwick Hilton for a free night before our early morning flight.

Sat in the bar at around 5pm we decided to book a table in the rather posh restaurant behind us, posh enough to have a lackey stood at the door looking down his nose at all the customers and stopping people who didn’t look wealthy enough and asking them if they were wealthy enough to eat in here other wise there’s a McDonalds in the airport lounge, that sort of posh, very posh. I can carry off posh when I have to, its easy, you tilt your head back slightly so that you’re looking down your nose at the man who is looking down his nose at you and you adopt a voice like 1950s actor James Mason, the sort of voice that people think “He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, better just agree with him”, James Mason had it in spades, James Mason could slip past the snooty maitre d’hotel and so could I, even dragging a five year old Jodie along behind me while she was picking her nose.

We were shown to a table and some other uniformed servant brought us a menu and took a drinks order, all the while I sat there totally unaware of how much this was going to cost but glancing around thinking, “Well this is all rather nice”.

My eye was caught by a familiar face sitting right at the next table, a chap sat with another chap deep in conversation, a familiar face in side profile, I hate spotting famous people because I don’t do the normal fawning gushing sort of thing preferring instead to ignore them, smile, say hello and then look straight past them as if they were just an old lady who’d opened a door for you, Nigel Mansell was having none of the star struck behavior from me that day,

I turned my attention to the menu and the age old problem of what to feed two children in a posh restaurant when all they really want is beans on toast. I snuck another look as I opened the menu, yep, definitely Nigel Mansell, according to Wiki he’d have retired from motor racing by then so I haven’t a clue what he was doing there, maybe he just saw me and wanted to have dinner sat next to me, it might be like that… “FOOK ME- HOW MUCH!” the voice in my head cried in anguish as it spotted the prices in the menu, Jesus wept, I could feed this whole hotel in McDonalds for what this meal was going to cost me but instead of profanity I thought about what James Mason would say as a uniformed slave came across to take a food order.

So we ordered something low priced for us and skipped a starter “Oh I couldn’t possibly, not after that large luncheon today” said my James Mason voice, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast but they didn’t need to know that, but what to order for the girls for they too had only eaten half a ton of chocolate in the car on the way down and hardly anything of any use to the human digestive system. “Do you just do a ham sandwich for the children ?” my wife asked and the lacky answered in the affirmative, that would do fine then, two rounds of ham sandwiches for the children at £10 a sandwich, I tell you, they even ate the fooking crusts that day and no messing.

Now let me tell you about Jodie and ham sandwiches. As anyone who shops in Asda knows, there is ham and there is ham, there is proper ham, sliced off the joint and presented on waxed paper at the proper butchers counter, or alternatively you can buy a sealed pre-pack of 100 slices of what Asda call “Wafer thin ham” and when they use the word “ham” in that sentence they usually follow it with “LOL” for some of the tracing paper thin pink stuff might once have been ham but after it had been through lots of factory processes to get to be a paper thin slice theres no telling what it is now.

Well Jodie liked wafer thin ham, she would not eat the expensive stuff at all, didn’t even recognise it as ham, couldn’t get her to put it in her mouth, not one slice, “Ham” in Jodie’s language meant “wafer thin ham” and nothing else would do, we called it “cheap ham” in our house as a joke but the name stuck and Jodie always asked for “Cheap ham” indeed at 23 years of age she still does.

We sat and waited and chatted and eventually our meals arrived and two very expensive ham sandwiches were placed in front of our children, Amanda tucked into hers as if it was the first thing of subsistence that she’d eaten that day, as indeed it was, but Jodie just sat there staring at hers.

She slowly poked and prodded one of the quarters of the sandwich then bent her head down to table level and lifted up one corner of the bread, slammed it back down and sat bolt upright, a most indignant face on her, “MUM” she shouted, shouted so loudly that most of the restaurant could easily hear, “THIS ISN’T CHEAP HAM IS IT?” Suzanne whispered across the table that it was ham and it was nice and just eat it, “I’M NOT EATING IT IF ITS NOT CHEAP HAM” and she didn’t, I had to eat the bloody thing, well at £10 for a fooking sandwich so would you – anyway, the point of the story is that Nigel Mansell looked across and smiled and waved at Jodie, there, smiled at by Nigel Mansell, there aren’t many people in the whole world who can say that, maybe he liked just cheap ham too.

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