Richard Herring: The silence of the hams
It was Saturday night and I was out on a date with my wife. I had bought her a hot chicken jalapeño wrap from Pret a Manger in Hammersmith.
No one can say I don’t show this woman a good time. Just because we’ve been married for nearly three years does not mean that I am going to slack off on the romance. We were eating in too. Hang the extra VAT. Only the best for her.
I noticed a slightly shifty man perusing the sandwiches. He was squeezing rolls, dipping his finger into the hot cheese and bacon croissants, sniffing at a box of macaroni cheese. Maybe sometimes you have to squeeze the melons at a grocers, but surely this was a bit too much.
He looked like he was up to something, but it was late and the staff were more concerned with cleaning up. He loudly asked if they had any tomato soup, but unsurprisingly they weren’t holding back any products at this hour. But this was all for show. He was making it look like the thing he wanted wasn’t there to give him an excuse to leave. He chose his moment carefully, picked up an artisan French ham roll, threw it into his open coat and left. The perfect crime.
I was the only person who had seen this audacious theft. Maybe I should have alerted the staff, but he looked like he needed the food and like he couldn’t pay for the food. And also it was unlikely it would get sold now. It’s true that leftover Pret food goes to the homeless, and I felt there was a good chance that this man might be just cutting out the middle man.
I wasn’t going to grass him up. Let the man have an overpriced sandwich for free. He was like Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to himself.
I didn’t expect to see him again. But in about the time it took to wolf down a slightly crunchy and pretentious ham roll he was back at the scene of his crime and going through the same sandwich-groping charade. This time the exit was blocked by the manager who was sweeping up, so the thief changed tactics. He selected a croissant and another sandwich and took them up to the till. I was intrigued to see where he’d go from here. Had his conscience got the better of him? The cashier ran his purchases through the till, as he pretended to peruse the drinks menu and started to eat his sandwich. He was taking his time and the manager passed comment, but he insisted that he was about to pay. Now he started on the croissant.
Was this his masterplan? Just to eat the food before he could pay for it and then reveal he had no money?
Yes, as it turned out, it was. Still with half his food to go he got out a bank card. He put it in the machine, but there seemed to be a problem. He took it out and wiped it (it was probably covered in croissant juice) as he pawed more food into his gullet. The pantomime continued but the card was predictably declined. So he checked his pockets for money and was surprised to find that he had none.
Were the staff going to call the police? Of course not. They just asked him to leave. I was glad that they were charitable, but was also taking notes.
Next time I take my wife out on a Saturday night, we’re eating for free.