Due to the unprecedented increase in outbreaks of violence in cake shops, the police are now offering training to retail staff so that they are better able to deal with pastry related assaults. Because of the international shortage of sponge fingers, many cakes are now in short supply, leading to disappointed and angry customers and heated exchanges across the counters of the nation's favourite stores. It's a sad but telling fact that cake rage is now recognised as one of the major causes of injury and disfigurement amongst 20-35 year olds.
So what exactly can underpaid, overworked and shamefully exploited shop workers do about the problem? Superintendent Fairley Hampton of the North Yorkshire Constabulary's Fast Response Catering Team was on hand to give us a few tips.
"Any situation in which you're dealing with high levels of icing sugar and custard is inevitably going to be dangerous," the Superintendent told us. "The smell of freshly baked doughnuts is enough to send even the most reserved of characters into a furious spiral of destruction. Obviously, it's best to try and defuse the situation with a combination of diplomacy, compromise and flapjacks. But sadly, this isn't always possible."
Superintendent Hampton has devised a programme of self-defence, specially tailored for shop workers. Based on the ancient Japanese discipline of Kaykendo - the art of pushing a chocolate eclair into someone's face - the programme aims to teach staff how to defend themselves using whatever they find around them.
"For instance," the Superintendent explained, "do you realise the damage that an Eccles cake can do in the right hands? And a cream slice can stop an assailant in his tracks at a distance of ten feet, as long as it's within its sell-by date. Of course, you need to know how to handle these cakes properly, as mistakes can lead to tragedy. If you find yourself on the business end of a treacle tart, you're going to think twice before you try anything. But if it should go off half-cocked, it's far more likely to cause serious harm to whoever's wielding it."
Sadly, Superintendent Hampton has personal experience of these sorts of injuries. He was a young constable during the infamous cake riots of 1985 and saw many young men and woman - protesters and police officers alike - cut down in the prime of life by the furious onslaught of pies and pastries. On one occasion he was called out to break up a bun fight at a city centre night-club. However, things got badly out of hand, Hampton got caught in the crossfire and in the ensuing chaos he was hit by a trifle at close range.
"It was probably the most terrifying moment of my entire life," the Superintendent admitted as he recalled the incident. "I was struck full in the face and I went straight down. Everything sort of happened in a blur. I couldn't see a thing, but above the screaming and the jeering I heard someone shouting instructions to finish me off. Then someone close to me said that they had a Christmas pudding, and that's when I thought my time was up. I... I honestly thought that pudding had my name on it, y'know? I really believed it was all over for me. But, thank God, backup arrived just in time and they dragged me to safety."
But Superintendent Hampton's troubles weren't entirely over. He was rushed to hospital where doctors told him he was in serious danger of losing his eyesight if they did not operate immediately. The trifle had done more damage than they had at first suspected. After removing the surface layers of custard and cream, it became clear that a number of pieces of fruit shrapnel had lodged themselves deep within his eye sockets. It took surgeons almost twelve hours to remove the majority of these pieces and save his sight. Thanks to their skill the Superintendent's eyesight was returned to normal - although when he's tired, he still has a tendency to glimpse cherries on the periphery of his vision.
It would be natural to expect someone in Superintendent Hampton's position to avoid all contact with cakes from that point onwards. And, in fact, in the months following the attack he was plagued by weird and terrifying nightmares - most of them featuring a Swiss roll called Spongy Norris who would lurk behind hedgerows and threaten to smother him with his giant meringue hands. But when a close colleague was killed whilst trying to defuse an unexploded gateau, the Superintendent realised he finally had to face his fear. He made it his mission to instruct people in the proper use of cakes, so that they could deal with cake attacks and defend themselves if necessary.
"People working in cake shops are on the front line," he told us. "Each day, they find themselves surrounded by some of the most dangerous foodstuffs known to man. It's only right and proper that they should learn how to use them."
Inevitability, the Superintendent is not without his critics. Some people are worried that training workers in such matters will lead to an escalation of cake-based felony. People in cake shops, they say, shouldn't throw scones. But Superintendent Hampton believes that he is just preparing them for the inevitable.
"It's already happening," he told us. "Many criminals already have access to semi-automatic pastry, and despite all our efforts to stop the proliferation of dangerous buns, I'm afraid it's a battle we just don't seem destined to win. Only last week a security van was held up in Kensington High Street by a gang armed with sawn-off profiteroles. And, on the very same day, customs officials arrested a man in Dover for trying to smuggle a laser-guided Battenburg into the country. These people were all caught, but in the grand scheme of things such isolated successes make very little difference to the overall crime figures. Cakes are far too easy to come by. At the end of the day, as long as somebody can just walk into a shop and buy a fudge brownie or a coconut macaroon, we will never truly get on top of this problem."
Superintendent Hampton's sentiments seem to echo the ideas of many MPs who want to restrict the sale of cakes to the general public. They want to see a national cake register set up, so that cake purchases can be properly monitored and recorded. And some hard-liners want more dangerous cakes, such as Bakewell tarts and strawberry cheesecakes, to be removed from the shelves completely. And Superintendent Hampton is reluctantly forced to agree with these measures.
"It's a great pity," he said, "but sadly, it's necessary. I'm just as fond of a flapjack or a fruit fancy as the next man, but I'm very much afraid that the day when you will need a licence to buy an apple turnover is almost upon us."
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