The Ballad of Tiffin at Dawn

This tale recounts an almost true story, told in the music hall style of monologues as popularised by Stanley Holloway. It’s origin lay in the short-lived, but fun Coffee Club at my former workplace and a challenge I’d made to my then boss for a bake-off, mano a mano, with tiffin as the traybake of choice.

The challenge was branded ‘Tiffin at Dawn’ by a friend and, at the event itself, the original result was a draw. The winner was ultimately decided by a bystander who was asked to cast a deciding vote.

The only literary licence in the monologue is that it was not my boss that coined the phrase ‘Tiffin at Dawn’; that originated with the friend and colleague that acted as umpire (sadly, she was also friends with my boss, so no chance of any helpful bias).

Students of the monologist’s art will recognise that Marriott Edgar’s 1066 (The Battle of Hastings) served as a template for my effort and, like many of Holloway’s monologue renditions, this is best spoken in a faux north of England accent.

The Ballad of Tiffin at Dawn

I’ll tell of the ‘Battle of Traybakes’
As happened in times just gone by
When Carey ran out as the winner
And Phil left wi’ mud in his eye.

You see things had become a bit boring;
Nowt much happened as could be called fun.
So at meetings we sat and we pondered
And we wondered just what might be done.

But Phil knew that some folk liked tiffin
So a plan went around in his mind,
Where he thought of a ‘Coffee Club’ meeting
Wi’ traybakes and stuff of that kind.

“We can all get together and chatter,
Aye, that’d be right sort of grand!”
And a smile crossed his face as he stood there
By his stove with a tart in each hand.

So folk were all tellt to get ready
And, if fancied, they all could take part
To come up wi’ best sort of traybake
To show off their culinary art.

Well, how good were our efforts at baking?
‘Twas flapjack and cookies and cake.
Fine pieces, all sticky and gooey,
Like things that your granny would make.

But we did it a little bit different
Our goodies were all put t’vote
And them as were best were the winners,
Although losers were not wi’out note.

So our time were spent chatting and chewing
And stuffing our faces with cake
‘Cos the top thing in all the proceedings
Was to taste ‘em (for tournament’s sake!).

The best were like Manna from Heaven,
Oh, they went down a rare kind of treat,
And even though some looked disastrous
They were usually quite toothsome to eat!

And a good thing about all the meetings
Was the folk that’d each lend a hand,
In case Phil were left there, still standing
By his stove with a tart in each hand.

But things were not always so simple
And wi’ a candour to make your heart chill
Carey sent forth a brand new commandment
That no-one should vote for poor Phil.

Well, this was not in a fair spirit
So bristling and wi’ daggers drawn
He challenged her there to a bake-off
And she sneered: “D’ye mean Tiffin at Dawn?”

“Aye lass”, he said all indignant,
“Me tiffin’s the best in the land”
And wi’ that he returned to his station
By his stove with a tart in each hand.

Now the weeks till the bake-off went slowly
But we still got together to meet
And we carried on turning out traybakes
(Well, we had to have something to eat!).

But finally the big day were on us
A pleasant and mid-summer’s morn,
So Carey and Phil both woke early
For a wee spot of tiffin at dawn.

They’d settled on Helen as umpire
To see that the bake-off were fair,
‘Cos she were the only one trusted
As an honest or impartial Chair.

And at first, things seemed kind of even
With neither side duly concerned
As colleagues got stuck into tasting
And slowly the votes were returned.

At ‘alf-time Phil thought he were winning
Like he’d played with the wind and the slope,
But Carey dug-in as she battled
And she never once gave up on hope.

She fixed him a stare and she wisecracked,
As she fought hard to tek back command:
“I’ll larn thee to stand smug and haughty
By your stove with a tart in each hand!”

It were tense; and then it got tenser,
Wi’ nerves shredded down to the raw.
Then Helen she blew final whistle
And declared the result were a draw.

Now this might have satisfied many
But Carey and Phil said “No way.”
“We want this thing here to be settled
For once, and for all, and today!”

So it went to a penalty shoot-out
Which the bystanders thought might be fun.
‘Till at last Helen told the assembly
It were Carey, not Phil, that had won.

But that weren’t the end of the gatherings
There were others that followed that day
And we still tasted traybakes and judged ‘em
Though Phil’s spirit had melted away.

Until finally the Coffee Club ended
It were more than the poor lad could stand.
Now he lies where he fell when it finished:
By his stove with a tart in each hand.