The first rule of diet club. You do not eat all the pies. The second rule of diet club. You DO NOT eat all the pies.
There was no denying it, Penny was a big woman, and a career sitting in a civil service office wasn't exactly helping her lose the pounds, particularly as our office was directly over a Tesco supermarket and the lure of the the daily cream cake run. To be honest, it was doing none of us much good, and the girl with the sandwich trolley was often lucky to escape with her life.
So, it was hardly surprising that Penny should come in one morning with the news that her doctor had ordered her to lose weight. About three stone. And rather than having a spare limb lopped off, she was going to do it the hard way - by not eating and taking exercise. Being civil servants with nothing to do except count the cars in the Tesco car park and work out the day's most popular colour, we jumped on this chance to do something - anything - like tramps at an all-you-can-eat dustbin.
We all set ourselves target weights, drew up a hugely complicated graph, and set out the rules of Diet Club in the best Civil-Servantese. I had a stone to lose, Mark two, and Jeff, the skinny streak of piss, actually had to put on weight. Andy, because of his dicky heart was excused, and was put in charge of liberating different coloured pens from the heavily guarded stock cupboard to make the graph more interesting. Andy was a militant vegan, recently made reduntant from a health food shop. When he told the Job Centre this fact, they immediately found him employment at an abattoir, cutting up freshly slaughtered cows. The civil service was his second choice.
Monday was weigh-in day. You had to go down to Boots the Chemist, put your twenty pence in the electronic scales, and by the miracles of the microchip age, you were to bring the read-out back to Andy for verification and proper recording on the graph, which was prominently displayed on the wall, just under my Joy Division poster.
Jeff: "Who's this Joy Davison bird, then?"
In effect there was only one rule to Diet Club: don't cheat. Monday mornings were spent swearing off the cake and squeezing the biggest log possible out on the toilet before lunch. You'd wear your lightest clothes, even on the coldest, wettest of winter days, and we would all sit there, starving, waiting for lunch time and the dash down to Boots for the computer slip of doom. All except Jeff, who would stuff his face stupid in front of us, and Andy stunk the place out which his herbal tea.
The desperation on a Monday was palpable. Penny steadily lost wieght, while Mark's steadily headed up the graph and mine see-sawed up and down like a see-sawy up and down thing. The forfeits were enough to encourage steady weight loss - essentially being everybody's tea-making and paper-filing bitch for the whole week, physically restrained from spending money on the sandwich trolley.
Reports soon reached us that Mark was offering money to colleagues to act as ringers at his weigh-in, and come back with a slip showing a stunnig weight loss. This, naturally, could not be tolerated, resulting in the severe punishment of hiding his cigarettes and getting the switchboard to bar phone access to his mate's betting shop. Mark was a desperate man, and desperation makes us take desperate measures.
It was three o'clock on Monday afternoon. We had all reported back from our lunch-time weigh-ins with a series of respectable results. Penny was particularly pleased as the weight was simply melting off her, straight onto poor old Mark. Just a shame he seemed to have left the office at one and rather neglected to return. Had he done a runner?
Security, ten floors below us, rang our extension. Could somebody come down and vouch for a staff member who has mislaid his pass? Of course we could. I went. Anything to get out of real life actual work. And God, was it worth it.
There in the reception area was the security guard, a burly police officer and Mark, wearing nothing but his crusty y-fronts and a blanket.
"Yeah, he works here," I said trying not to laugh, "but usually he's got clothes on."
Poor, poor Mark. He'd got to Boots the Chemist, and desperation took hold of him. Spurred on by that TV advert of that fella taking his clothes off in the launderette, he put his money into the weighing machine, stripped down to his pants, and as the world stared, he jumped onto the scales for his best weigh-in for weeks. When he stepped down from the scales to get dressed, he found that some joker had done a runner with all his clothes. It was only a matter of time before there was this blue flashing light and an invitation to spend the afternoon in a bang-you-in-the-ass police cell, which he politely refused.
I let him have his clothes back. Eventually.