Jane finally struggled into the office twenty minutes late. It had been a nightmare commute through steady drizzle trapped in a never-ending queue of traffic. A roadworks sign read 'Delays expected'. But now she was finally here, where was everyone else? The whole place was eerily quiet. Surely she hadn't forgotten about a training event or away-day? Slowly she became aware of the quiet hum of computers switched on, the still-wet coats and umbrellas hanging from pegs. Then suddenly she made out the faint sound of voices carrying along the corridor from the kitchen at the far end of the office. Curious, she put down her bag on her desk, arranged her hair in her make-up mirror and crossed the office to the fire door.
The sound of laughter was emanating from the kitchen, but Jane was unprepared for the sight that met her eyes. Her office colleagues were scattered around the room involved in various curious tasks. Shaz and Jen were bringing two large saucepans of milk to the boil on the stove. Meanwhile, in the middle of the room, Claire and James were mixing what seemed to be flour and milk in a big bowl. To Jane's right, Steve and Emma were splicing what looked like pieces of vanilla on a chopping board. And finally Jerome, the office manager, was standing back, supervising the whole business, observing critically with his arms folded.
'What on earth are you lot all doing?" Jane erupted, a look of bemused incredulity on her face.
'We're making blancmange' replied Jen enthusiastically. 'What kept you?'
'Making blancmange? What on earth for?!'
'We got a memo from head office about it this morning - they want us to make as much of this stuff as we can by the end of the week.'
'I've already sent for more supplies,' interjected Jerome without a trace of irony.
'You're having me on?'
'Not at all. Go and check your emails if you like. Would you mind giving Claire and James a hand with the mixing?'
'But why? What's this got to do with selling office stationery?' asked Jane, shaking her head in disbelief.
'Beats me,' Jerome responded. 'But as long as they go paying us for it, I don't really care.'
'Is this a wind-up, Jerome?'
'Well, it did occur to me to give HQ a call to make sure that someone wasn't having a laugh, but no, that's our orders. Ours is not to reason why, as they say. We're on group commission for how much of this stuff we can make, so you'd better get stuck in.'
Jane did as she was told. The world was becoming more surreal by the minute. What surprised her most was the speed and willingness at which the others were getting down to the job! No questions asked. Perhaps they'd covered that ground before she got there.
'How was the weekend?' Emma asked. 'Get up to much?'
'Erm...did a bit of cooking,' Jane replied, one eyebrow raised.