The Three Cornered Cross, a pub in Wimbourne, Dorset, has the boldness to serve lunch throughout the afternoon on a weekend, unlike the more ‘traditional’ pubs nearby which stop serving lunch at 2pm (I know! I have barely got my appetite by 2pm – it seems very old fashioned). Anyway, The Three Cornered Cross turns out fairly decent fare, but much to my consternation, my lunch there was marred by a total overbearing slavishness to ‘Health and Safety’. Every time I hear this phrase, my eyes start to roll into the back of my head, as it usually signifies some way in which to curtail enjoyment or spontaneity.
My friends and I sat outside in the garden to enjoy the good weather and all ordered fish and chips. Always, when I order this dish, part of my enjoyment ritual is to slather everything in masses of vinegar, over several intervals, plus a liberal serving of ketchup on the side, and tons of salt. The reapplication of vinegar throughout is crucial, as I believe that its power wears off after a few minutes. I know other people that enjoy the same ritual, as weird as it sounds. Anyway, the pub served up a very handsome looking plate of fish and chips, but I could see no sauces on the table, so I requested them. We waited a few minutes, during which time I tried to contemplate eating my food without cutlery or salt and pepper, as we were still waiting for these too.
Eventually, a young member of staff appeared at our table wearing a starched white apron and holding aloft a narrow, horizontal tray with 10 china pots. He asked what sauces everyone would like. We requested vinegar and ketchup, expecting to be given two pots for the table. But oh no. We were solemnly presented with the pots and tiny spoons, which we had to pass round the table dosing our food with little dabs, before having to give them back to our waiter. Oh no, this would never work, I thought.
I asked: “Could we keep the vinegar on the table please?”
He replied, “Sorry, I need it back I’m afraid.” He looked a little sheepish.
I said: “But what if I want more vinegar in a minute? I need lots of vinegar…and will possibly want more ketchup too…”
“Sorry, it’s for health and safety reasons, we can’t leave the sauces on the table.”
“I beg your pardon? Health and safety?”
By now, this young man looked tired, and possibly a little afraid of me. I wasn’t giving up – this was ludicrous.
“We need to keep the sauces refrigerated. Which is why I can’t leave them here.” By now, he was edging away. Don’t hurt me, crazy lady…
“But vinegar never goes off! And ketchup is also very vinegary, it would take ages to go off…” (Vinegar is a preservative, FFS…)
By now my husband was kicking me under the table. Leave the poor guy alone, his eyes were saying. I took a deep breath and smiled. “Never mind. We are finished with the sauces,” I said, even though I was ready to scream. Our friends looked down at their plates and their small dabs of ketchup.
I watched our waiter scurry off with his platter of sauces, whereby he retreated to a small wooden shed at the side of the pub garden. I saw him crouch down and open a fridge, no doubt refilling his little jugs with more fridge-cold condiments, ideal for making your food go chilly the moment you sprinkled them on. It looked like an immense palaver. I bet he questioned his job and got asked this question about the sauce situation over and over again.
I wasn’t finished with my ranting, especially as the acquisition of cutlery had also been a mission (but I’m not going to go into this now). As I shovelled rapidly cooling chips into my mouth (their heat loss hastened by the chilly vinegar), I exclaimed: “What a RIDICULOUS system! It’s totally mad not leaving the sauces here…” and so on for the remainder of our meal. In my mind a scenario of surreal and inescapable proportions was unfolding itself, a bit like Russian dolls, where you open one to find another lurking inside.
“What if a table of eight people sat down and all wanted different amounts of sauces and took ages serving themselves, and then another table of six sat down moments later, and also wanted sauces at the same time? There is only one sauce waiter…” I was in full flow. “…and then, one table wanted more ketchup because someone had forgotten to request it at the time, but the sauce waiter was occupied with the newly arrived table? And then, another table wanted mustard, but the sauce waiter was busy refilling his tiny pots in the shed?”
Dear God. This had really got my goat – it was ‘Health and Safety’ gone completely up its own arsehole!
Anyway, rather than calming down, I continued to scrutinise the poor sauce waiter as he made his dismal trajectory around the pub garden, his pots of sauce clinking ominously on his wobbling tray. It seemed like a laborious waste of time.
And this, dear readers, is where The Three Cornered Cross lost all my respect as a diner – humiliating their waiter into this bizarre ritual of sauce Nazi-ism, and frustrating their vinegar/mustard/ketchup hungry public. Just give us a selection of bottles of sauce that we can help ourselves to, or at least a basket of sauces per table like any normal pub, and don’t fob us off with silly rationing, as it makes you look incredibly tight-arsed.
And don’t get me started on our epic wait for cutlery, and the salt and pepper pots that were delivered in an ornamental tin watering can, I’ll bore you to death! Harrumph…
The Three Legged Cross
Dorset BH21 6RE