“Can you eat three cream crackers in a minute without stopping to take a drink?”
That was the challenge offered by BBC’s Nationwide programme, that bastion of early-evening viewing, news analysis and regular Nutter-of-the-Day spot. Today’s nutter was a pub landlord who offered that very challenge to his customers, charging them a quid a time for the privilege of taking part, with the lure of a tenner if they succeeded. Not many did, and the landlord looked like he was well on his way to his first million.
It certainly grabbed the imagination. It was the “Did you see it?” topic in the school playground the next morning, and one of the kids whose mother happened to be the school dinner lady brought along several packets of Jacob’s finest to spread the three-in-a-minute gospel, charging twenty pence a throw. He went home minted.
The craze, by happy coincidence, came just a couple of weeks before the school’s Christmas Fayre, complete with crap Olde Worlde spelling, and the promise of yet another new car for the headmaster. Straight onto the bandwagon we jumped, and signed up for an exclusive three-in-a-minute stall. We were even given a whole classroom to run the stall from, such were the expected crowds for the event.
Perhaps the organisers were blinded by the success we had had the previous year, when our stall had been one of the most successful there had ever been. The premise was simple. Two weeks before the event, we ran around the school taking pictures of all the teachers. “It’s for a project, sir” was the excuse. Then it was straight off to the darkroom to run off photographs of our esteemed educators in various sizes. On the day of the event, the photos were mounted on a large board, and punters were invited to part with their money in return for the chance to throw darts at their weekday tormentors. Even after subtracting our *cough* expenses, the Head’s new Toyota fund made more than three figures.
We got a few tables, chairs and a jug of water in case there were any choking emergencies, and Ernie’s mum turned up with a huge catering box of short-dated cream crackers she had bought on the cheap from the wholesalers. We were ready to go.
The doors opened, the punters flooded in, and true to form, no matter how hard they tried, no-one was able to down the requisite three crackers to win the promised tenner. Even the school fat kid, Big Mac (honest! that’s not the kind of thing you can make up) couldn’t manage it, and by God, he tried enough times. Like the previous year, we took a fortune, even after the subtraction of *cough* expenses and the school committee were more than pleased with our efforts.
But there was one fly in the ointment. Did I mention that Ernie’s Mum’s huge catering box of cream crackers was HUGE? The box was like the inside of the TARDIS, and no matter how many you took out, it was still full. There was enough in there to feed an entire army, and even after a couple of hundred punters having a go on the game, with only three or four requiring hospital treatment, we still had about three million of the bloody things left. What, in the name of God, were we supposed to do with several thousand almost-but-not-quite out-of-date cream crackers?
Ju-Vid knew exactly what to do. His chaotic brain worked differently to ours. That’s why, looking back from the relative safety of the twenty-first century, we always got ourselves into so much shit.
“Hey!” he said, “These things fly exactly like frisbees!”
And he demonstrated the fact by wanging one across the classroom. He was right. It DID fly exactly like a frisbee, right up to the moment it hit Cookie on the forehead and shattered all over the place.
“You git!” responded Cookie, grabbing a handful and chucking them back, scattering crackers across the room like a blunderbuss. Now, that looked like a good idea. All six of us grabbed handfuls from the box and ducking and diving behind tables, we started full-scale cream cracker warfare.
Let us quietly close the door on the battle raging in Room Ten of the school’s language block for a good quarter of an hour, while elsewhere the head handed out raffle prizes and congratulated the pupils, parents and teachers for their generous support, quietly going through the 1981 Toyota catalogue in his head. People applauded, held their prizes proudly to their chests and began to drift off home.
Now, see the scene from the point of view of Miss Olga, the school’s terrifying deputy headteacher, doing the rounds of the classrooms to make sure everything had been tidied away properly. Room seven - clear. Room eight - nice and tidy. Room nine - clear. Room ten. Room ten. The door appeared to have a table pushed up against it, and there’s rather too much noise going on in there to be healthy. She went back to the school hall and fetched Mr Prince, our arch-nemesis, former boxer and fearful PE teacher. With one good hard shoulder barge the door swung open. Doom.
I don’t think I really need to describe the scene to you. Six fifteen-year-old kids and an unlimited supply of cream crackers in an enclosed space. As the two teachers walked in, several of these crackers were still airborne, skimming through the air to join their wasted brethren lying several inches deep on the floor. They crunched underfoot. there was no point denying anything. Caught, as they say, like a Treen in a disabled space cruiser.
Prinny, the king of the imaginative and ironic punishment not only let the shit hit the fan, he also made damn sure we cleaned it up afterwards. This one broke all records. Not only did we have to clear up our mess, we had to stay behind after school until the end of term helping out the cleaners - not for the first time either. On top of that, we had to write a 1,000 word essay on why we shouldn’t waste food, which he promptly tore up in front of us without even a passing glance, coupled with two weeks doing home economics instead of metalwork. Then there was the indignity of a midwinter cross-country run, thrown in because old PE teacher habits die hard.
That certainly taught us.
It was during one of these after-school do-all-the-hard-work-for-the-cleaners sessions that we made a terrible discovery. There, in room ten, pushed into an alcove and forgotten, was a half empty box containing about five million cream crackers.
“Here!” said Ju-Vid, ”These things fly like frisbees!”