Festive cheer?

Hello, and welcome to a special, festive edition of the TC editorial…except that there is actually nothing festive, or indeed special about this. I’ve little doubt you will soon be, if you aren’t already, heartily sick of everything to do with the season, and it’s going to be tough enough trying to get through it without me adding to your misery. The last traces of any seasonal goodwill were trashed by the computer crash which means I am typing this in for the second time, when there are a million and one things I would rather be doing [full list available on application]. Suffice it to say that decking the halls with boughs of holly is not high up there…

So, therefore, this week you get exactly the same random drivel you’ve had the other 51 weeks of the year (or slightly less, allowing for technical problems, holidays and general inactivity) — in this case, chocolate machines on the London Underground. These have been a source of frustration, profit and (very occasionally) chocolate for as long as I’ve been down in London.

Back in the early days, these were primitive creatures of the drop-down type, like a cigarette machine in a pub, whose main feature was their absolute unpredictability. You put money in, about the only thing guaranteed was that you would not get out what you expected: you might receive no chocolate, two bars of chocolate, or occasionally even more money back than you put in. This delightful variability made waiting for tube trains an entertaining and sometimes rather profitable experience. On the other hand, I very nearly got arrested for criminal damage after an encounter with one particularly recalcitrant vending machine, but that’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, isn’t it?

These were then replaced with something altogether more hi-tech, electronic, digital and tamper-proof. Just far less fun. Your only chance of scoring some free chocolate here is to look out for a particularly STUPID tourist, who has a problem grasping the concept of “put your money in, choose your confectionery, take your item”. They do exist, and occasionally will abandon a loaded-up machine when their train pulls in, allowing you to sweep majestically across and grab the winnings, albeit usually at the cost of missing a train.

It has been mooted, however, that there is a secret code to these machines, a backdoor combination which, when punched in, would allow for the vending mechanism to be “tested” [roughly translated, freebie chocolate for all]. But, despite much drunken pushing of buttons, no such combination has been found, and it was on the verge of being written off as an urban legend. But, while doing my Chr*stm*s sh*pp*ng earlier in the week [brief pause to gloat: I’ve got mine out of the way!], I overheard two kids, one of whom demonstrated what was at least A secret code, if not the Holy Grail for which we seek.

The number is [conspiratorial whisper] 110. Punch that in, and you seem to get some kind of status message, usually “Ok!”, but sometimes referring to “Con Switch 14” and the like. Needless to say, research into this topic is now continuing with increased fervour, and readers are encouraged to try random button pushing of their own next time they’re travelling through London. All further information on the topic would be very welcome…

And with that, I’m off to indulge in the previously mentioned million and one other things. The next time I pick up a mouse, we’ll be in the last year of the Millenium [yes, I know it’s not really; send all pedantic quibbles to Peter Mandelson]. Have a…bearable one, and I’ll see you in 1999.