Pembroke: Merrill's deprived tuckers

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The Independent Online
DON'T crack the 'no such thing as a free lunch' gag at Merrill Lynch. You might get a distinctly frosty look. Traders at the firm's New York offices used to receive free sandwiches at their desks each day, but the privilege is being withdrawn. As of 5 July, staff who shuffle millions of dollars every day will have to pay dollars 5 for their lunchtime fodder.

The economy measure will save Wall Street's most profitable firm almost dollars 500,000 a year and bring it into line with its competitors - with the exception of Goldman Sachs. But Merrill says it has no plans to close its executive dining rooms, where top brass entertain guests and put it on expenses. 'It's quite a different matter,' the firm insists.

WHOOPS, there goes another egalitarian principle. Ben & Jerry's Homemade, the socially conscious Vermont ice-cream maker that has taken the American yuppie market by storm, has abandoned its rule on pay.

Ben & Jerry's proud claim was that the chief executive would be paid no more than seven times the salary of the lowest-paid worker. Now, in its search for a chief executive, that principle has been shelved.

But the ice-cream firm is retaining some of its quirkiness. Candidates for the post are required to write a 100-word essay on 'Why I would make a great CEO'. And the job ad states that only 'the gentle-spirited need apply'.

AS FURNITURE orders go, it was a strange one. One wooden chair. Must be five feet three inches in height. Specially strengthened for persons of ample girth.

This is no ordinary stick of furniture. The order, received by Robert Thompson, maker of Mouseman furniture in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, was for the speaker's chair in Tonga's parliament. I hear that Mr Thompson was told by the British ambassador in Tonga that the average weight of residents of the Pacific island was 17 stone. He duly produced a chair four inches wider than normal with a reinforced seat.

Pembroke has no details of the dimensions of the speaker, but the chair, thought to have cost about pounds 6,000, is reported to be fulfilling its supportive duties with distinction.

STILL no danger of Brentwood boy Alan Sugar kowtowing to the toffs at his financial advisers' office in the City. Announcing Amstrad's takeover of Viglen, a direct sales computer firm, the Spurs chairman trumpeted: 'Morgan Grenfell are going to be a customer. They don't know it yet, but they are.'

THERE will no doubt be mass orderings of mineral water in City wine bars today in honour of Drinkwise Day, promoted by the Health Education Authority.

But according to a survey by Mori, one-third of workers do not know if their company has a policy on lunchtime drinking or not. Directors, the survey says, often do know but don't care. Four out of five company directors approve of a tipple at lunchtime, even though half of them admit their firms ban alcohol in the workplace.

What was that about 'do as I say, not as I do?'