We have two kitchens at work, for tediously historical reasons. Each of these houses a coffee machine. In the farther kitchen from my desk, indeed in a separate building, is a miniature Gaggia: solid, unfussy, single-function. If you don’t want an espresso, and you can’t make what you do want from espresso: you’re out of luck.
In the nearer office is some sort of towering, complicated contraption called a Magic Café or Robot Coffee or similar. A rather lest robust construction than the Gaggia, it has a kind of plastic exoskeleton into which water tank and bean-hopper both fit. Hidden underneath all this is a grinding, straining, steaming core controlled by several confusing buttons and frequently flashing a pattern of warning lights that only the hefty manual can decode.
The internal convolutions of the Magic Robot terminate in two nozzles (one of its options is to produce two cupfuls of whatever it produced last, you see); recently, one of these became entirely blocked. This led to the Robot delivering black syrup in a rather lopsided manner. At around the same time, the coffee itself started to taste dreadful. Long experience shows, though, that it does this every now and again anyway. A day’s babysitting of the machine through its cleaning cycles improved the taste as always; but it didn’t unblock that nozzle.
I began to feel uncomfortable watching it. Seeing coffee pouring from only one side kept reminding me of the problems I’ve had since breaking my nose nearly two decades ago: it made me want to find a handkerchief or Sudafed spray. Also, the remaining functioning nozzle would dribble coffee for several seconds after production had ostensibly finished, as the left sinus drained into the right and then out into the cup.
Enough, I decided last week. I attacked the nozzle with the sharpest, longest point that an office has to offer: a straightened paperclip. Almost the whole clip managed to disappear up into the machine’s tubes and pipes. I flicked it sharply, left-right then back-forward; then I traced out a weird processing ellipse; then a Spirograph trail. There was no real resistance to the paperclip, no sudden moment of release; but when I next ran Robot Maker, coffee dribbled, then gouted, then poured out of that left nozzle. Success!
I felt quite proud of my efforts for much of the rest of the afternoon, as one does when a minor non-work triumph starts to ring around an office. Every now and then someone else would discover that the Robot Café could dispense ambidextrously, and call down the corridor to point it out. And each time I would bask in the slowly waning praise of my co-workers.
It was all going really rather well, as cup after cup was dispensed with ease. Only when my sweariest colleague said to nobody in particular “how did half a fucking cockroach end up in my coffee?” did I remember that whatever had been blocking the nozzle all that time did yield rather easily to my paperclip; also that, as discretion was the better part of valour, there was nothing more discreet and hence valorous than my heading next door to use the Gaggia. Just for a change.