Some time had passed since I had last visited Stirchley Morries, and it had almost left my mind completely. Term had resumed and our peaceful schedules of endless research had been shattered by the need to teach fresh-faced undergraduates about induction and the sequent calculus.
However, something even more (intentionally) disruptive was now occurring. The UCU were striking at the start of December over pensions, falling pay, the gender and ethnic pay gap, precarious employment practices, and unsafe workloads. As noble fellows who agreed with their sentiments, Todd and I had elected not to go onto campus so as not to break the picket line. We joked that we should go and get a ridiculously large amount of mince pies and deliver them around the picket lines to show our support. Then we realised that this was a fantastic idea and we should do it. And while we were we might as well go back to get another Morries brekkie.
After the avocado-related shambles of our last attempt, I thought I might shake things up a bit and get an omelette instead. During my youth I often consumed cheese and mushroom omelettes from the Morries in Chippenham: you would get a whopping two omelettes and beans and chips, making this an exceptionally substantial meal. I looked forward to reliving the only happiness I had ever experienced as a child.
The Morries in Chippenham, which we were not visiting today.
Unfortunately, my dreams were instantly dashed and thrown into a particularly large bin from which there was no return, as there was no mention of omelettes on the menu. I made a loud comment about this to Todd and a man sitting nearby said I should just ask them to make me one. I nearly choked as I looked at this man of immense power who I had never met before talking to me, and I made an awkward smile and walked away before he could try and interact with me further.
Instead, I had a much better idea. Instead of substituting the entire breakfast for a meal that didn't exist, I would just ask them to substitute the avocado for another hash brown. That such a simple solution was so effective shook me, and for a second I understood what it was like to be a reviewer telling me that my work was too simple to be published.
We joined the queue and then another spanner was thrown in the works. There was a sign saying that they were doing a deal where you could get a main meal for £5. Despite this being more than our brekkies would cost, Todd and I were immediately sucked into the chance of saving hypothetical money, and we left the queue to return back to inspect the menu and see what counted as a main in today's avocado-laden world. It turned out that none of the mains were really that appetising though, and getting a brekkie was clearly the best option. So in the end we didn't save any money, despite morally saving money by not opting for the more expensive meal that we would have saved money on. We returned to the queue once more: in the time that we had spent achieving nothing, it had not moved.
After some time, as Morries don't employ enough people in their kitchens, we reached the till and ordered. Having learned from our mistakes last time, we already had a table in mind and when the lady asked I pointed to it confidently. My cool composure was then destroyed instantly when she asked 'are you sure you want that one?'. I was thrown into confusion as I wondered why she would say this. Was something wrong with the table? Or was it just because she saw Todd was sitting there and she thought I would rather spend my meal with better company? Although this last statement was true, I doubted it was what the lady meant. After thinking about this for some time, I said 'yes', and the transaction continued.
I ordered my tea, but I stumbled over my words and then the lady said something and I didn't hear what she said. Rather than asking her to clarify what she had said, I used my initiative and just took a cup from the crate of cups anyway. I'm not sure if I actually got charged for this tea as upon close inspection of the receipt I couldn't see it. Maybe it just gets included in the cost of the brekkie. Seconds later more confusion occurred as I could not find any milk next to the tea machine. I didn't want to immediately go back to the lady to ask her where it was, so I went to the table. And lo and behold, the previous occupants of the table had left us some milk! This was truly a one-of-a-kind brekkie of wonders.
As I sat down I realised to my horror that in my haste to obtain milk I had forgotten to get the other crucial component of any brekkie: salt. I considered getting up and going to get some, but this seemed like a lot of needless effort. I was still pondering the problem when someone came and brought us our meals: seizing the opportunity instantly, I asked politely if we could have some salt, and it was delivered to us post-haste. Once again, I had beaten the system.
Soon our brekkies were finished, and we set into the store proper in order to locate suitable mince pies. To be as inclusive as possible, we had decided that we would get vegan mince pies, which are actually very common these days: we have clearly progressed as a society! As soon as we walked into the fruit and veg section we observed some mince pies on a plinth, and made a beeline for them. But these were only lattice mince pies, a poor imitation of true mince pies, so we did not give them much attention.
The true mince pies could be found at the back of the store, concealed from casual customers. Luckily Todd and I are anything but, so we located them fairly quickly. There was an interesting assortment of baked goods, but we were distraught to find that none of them were actually vegan. Surely Morries had not missed this golden opportunity to make money off the vegans? Unperturbed, I extracted my phone and navigated to the Morries website, intent on discovering which of their products were suitable for vegans. I was astonished to find that Morries did in fact sell vegan mince pies, and they were none other than the lattice mince pies we had dismissed so casually earlier! We had been taken for fools!
We quickly returned to the plinth at the front of the store. Fortunately for us, our earlier fallacy had not come back to bite us, as there were still plenty of boxes for us to take. We decided that sixty mince pies would be enough, and each grabbed five boxes, before heading towards the self-serve checkouts to purchase our goods. On our way, Todd had for some reason decided that he was now a comedian, and kept making various quips about the products we passed. Even if these had been puns of quality, I would not be able to regale them here as I wasn't paying attention. I had probably already heard them in a tiktok from 2019 anyway.
The lattice mince pies.
It was now time to pay for the pies. I noticed that the self-serve checkout immediately in front of me was out of order, so I went to another one. But Todd went to the broken one, despite my warnings! For a few seconds he stared at the screen, wondering what to do, and then came to join me at mine. I tried to make him go to the back of the queue for his error, but he didn't want to do that so I gave up. To make matters worse, he tried to show off his incredible new scanning technique to me, but I didn't care.
With pies in tow, we returned to our bicycles. We discussed potential routes to the campus: we could take a route along the canal, or we could take the 'scenic route' up to Raddlebarn Farm Drive. The problem with the latter was that it started with a very big hill. I noted that to get to the canal we would also have to go up a hill to Mary Vale Road, but this apparently was less of a problem: the canal would make up for it. We headed out of the Morries car park and towards our destination. But just as we were about to pass the turning to the scenic route, Todd was gripped by madness. He said 'actually let's go right', contradicting literally everything we had just discussed. Nevertheless, I obeyed the command and turned right, which apparently was not what I was supposed to do because I was subsequently the victim of a torrent of rage including comments such as 'why did you cut me off'. This comment was rooted in falsity, as I had given him plenty of room and there was no traffic around whatsoever to cause any issues. Later on I overtook Todd again and was subject to even more unjustified rage.
Despite this turbulent cycle, we eventually arrived at the Grange Road gate, the first stop on our mince pie mission. But there was a slight problem: the picket line was nowhere to be seen. This was mildly concerning, but we surmised that they must have opted to focus their efforts elsewhere. We cycled around to the next gate, the South Gate. But the story was the same here: nobody about. We proceeded to the East Gate, after struggling up the non-trivial incline of Edgbaston Park Road. There was nobody there either! Next up was the North Gate, but we had no luck there. On the way there I overtook Todd again as he pulled into a layby for no apparent reason: this time I did not hear the rage because I was speeding away from the approaching cars.
Our last chance was at the West Gate, where we knew that several rallies had been held on previous days. Everyone must have been there instead! We traversed there quickly, cycling two abreast because it's safe and legal, and finally were greeted by a huge crowd of...
...air particles navigating around a completely empty space. Where had everyone gone? Todd consulted his sources on Twitter. Apparently, all the picket lines had dispersed at midday every day so far and if we'd actually paid attention we would have known this. So this meant that we now had sixty mince pies to scoff. While I was thinking about this, Todd realised that his bike might have had a puncture, and this justified his poor riding: I remarked that this was unlikely to be the case. In response Todd called me a terrible person: I made an excellent strawman back and won the argument.
Although this is a flippant blogpost written for the sake of comedy, the threat to workers in higher education is very serious. For more information about why the UCU strikes are necessary, visit https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/11896/Why-were-taking-action.