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Catering? more like a course in paperwork

I thought we had too much paperwork in Basic Skills, but now I have seen Extreme Paperwork. Catering is like an American ticker-tape parade - the stuff just falls from the sky. It takes the first hour of today's theory session just to sort out the students' tracking sheets. Every bit of theory and practical work has to be recorded, including "live" sessions in the restaurant.

There are dozens of units and every item is marked, signed off, verified and logged. For practical work, most of the evidence gets eaten, so photos need to be kept. Baz is filing a picture of himself hanging up coats for old ladies who cannot reach the coat hook, to show his customer service skills.

The current unit is on serving drinks, and students must describe the modus operandi of different types of watering hole. Their experience is largely limited to local knowledge of nightclubs and pubs, but a few are able to describe the requirements of pool bars from their exotic holidays (to places I can't afford).

Jars of pickled gherkins are, it seems, rather passe. Naked women on sticks are very much in. Gradually it dawns - these are cocktail decorations. If I am to be of use to this course, I really must get out more.

Finally the students are asked to design a cocktail and name it, and the best recipe will be served in the training restaurant. There is much sniggering as they vie for the filthiest name to cause the maximum embarrassment at the bar.

The following week we have an inspection and have been told it is essential to start and finish lessons on time. Come Monday morning, the tutors swagger in with the certain knowledge that we are safe at least until midday. Inspectors always descend on the main campus to meet Management on the first morning of the inspection, and won't be fanning out until lunchtime. Who, then, is this stranger, standing in a corridor at our farthest-flung venue, fuming outside a locked classroom at two minutes past nine, with not a lecturer or a student in sight? It is not a good start.

Thereafter, staff take it upon themselves to discreetly follow the inspectors in order to "txt" their colleagues about imminent arrivals.

I pray they won't hit our rowdy catering class on a theory session, but of course they do. The students are unusually subdued. The inspector has asked to meet six of them when the class ends, and they are all convinced they are about to be expelled. I don't put them out of their misery by explaining that the inspectors do not chuck students out.

The department eventually gets a good grade, so they must have been scared enough to give a good account of themselves. After the inspectors have gone, I come across a couple of the catering students in the study area, trying to fill in a form. It seems that one of them is applying for a job with British Rail. To my surprise, he did work experience with BR and liked it.

I think Gleneagles hotel, I think Orient Express. The dream fades as I discover he has been in the catering team on an intercity express. "When the train goes really fast," he explains, 'it's difficult to keep control of the trolley. The sandwiches can end up all over the place."

Ah well, they can't all be Jamie Oliver.

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