Flames roared, and thick, black smoke
billowed from the upper windows. Ron Andrews reached the public
telephone box, breathless from his desperate run. He frantically
Which service do you require: police,
fire, ambulance, crisps, peanuts, twiglets...?
The part of Rons mind screaming
urgently of the nearby conflagration watched helplessly as that
part responsible for speech was pressganged by curiosity. Crisps?
Er...yes. This is the Civil
Emergencies and Snack Foods Helpline.
Ron could not stop himself, Snack
Thats right. You must have seen
the 24 hour helpline numbers on packets of snacks?
I sometimes wonder if anyone rings
That was the problem. I worked for a
crisps helpline for five years, and only got ten calls - four of
those were wrong numbers.
Why didnt they scrap the
The company thought it important for
public relations. Also, theyd invested thousands in my
training. Of course, I used my own time and money studying their
crisps too. Theres nothing I dont know about their
manufacture and distribution - from when they are first
synthesised at the petrochemical plant, to when they arrive in
the shops. My employers crisps were my whole life.
So, what happened?
Well, helplines for other snack foods
were having the same problem. Also, with the cutbacks in public
expenditure, the 999 service needed sponsorship, so
all were combined. Anyway, what was it you were ringing about?
Oh God, yes!!! The big warehouse in
Waterford Lane is on fire.
No, no!!! Thats the main crisps
depot. The snacks will be destroyed!!! Whatever are we going to
Try not to panic, man....Cant
you call-out the fire brigade?
Oh yes...Good thinking. No, thats
no good, theyll get them wet. Has the fire spread to the
building with the red doors?
Ron peered through the smoke towards the
compound. Not yet, but its close.
The Cheddar Cheese with Spring
Onion flavour are in there. Youve got to get them out!
Somehow, despite the searing heat and
choking fumes, Ron rolled back the lorry-bay doors to reveal one
hundred cardboard boxes. He could only lift five each time, but
managed the twenty trips before finally collapsing and loosing
When Ron awoke, there was a stranger by his
Well done, Ron, said the
stranger, Im Martin Wittless, the 999
operator. I wanted to be the first to let you know that all two
thousand bags of the crisps you rescued are safe and undamaged. I
dont know how I can ever thank you.
Ron noticed the two policemen standing
behind his visitor. Why the police? he enquired.
They have to be with me whenever I
leave the psychiatric hospital, replied Martin. They
say I did a very bad thing getting you to save those crisps, and
especially not telling the fire brigade about the fire. It grew,
unchecked, for another hour and finally gutted the whole of
Southampton City centre. We saved those crisps though, Ron,
Martin smiled vacantly, his eyes glazed and distant, and
thats the important thing.