Coffee Shop Writer
This is the last of my six Christmas blog posts and it was dark times in early January when I underestimated my shopping in Asda and, for the first time, actually had to pay for a carrier bag; the law having been changed in England, three months earlier, requiring large shops to charge for plastic bags.1 That’s a whole six pence I wasn’t going to see again. The propaganda stated that it was a bag for life and meant that now I’d have to carry it around with me everywhere I went, for the rest of my days, like a pirate curse, because I sure as hell didn’t want to end up having to pay for a second one.
Before Christmas I was out buying a couple of two pint pudding bowls off Bury Market when I overheard the owner of the bakery stall espousing how people travel there from as far as Glasgow, Scotland, because it was considered as the last proper old-style market.2 With 350 stalls I guess I’m just spoilt by having it on my doorstep, and there’s no wonder it seems to win so many awards… if there’s not that much opposition.
I really do love Christmas week and look forward to holing up and surviving on a diet of stuffing and coleslaw and Christmas crisps. We always get the latter from Marks & Spencer although my Mum beat me to the festive crisp shopping this year yet she came back with a few odd packets and said that there wasn’t much there. I’m sure I raised my eyes to the ceiling, put it down to her increasing old age, and determined to go and do the proper crisp shopping myself because, after all, they’re Marks & Spencer, a byword for quality, and they surely don’t just run out of stuff.
Saying that they were always in the news for how badly they were doing and every so often I return to give their clothes another try, assuming that they must have improved since my last visit, and the worst case was when I found all the trousers made out of shiny space-age material with no belt loops because, apparently, there was no need for belts due to the elasticated wastes which they all had.
The last time I checked, earlier in the year, there were lots of trousers, and they all had belt loops, but they also advertised a “Stretch Active Waist”, which apparently would “guarantee a greater freedom of movement”, and promised to “move with you”, whilst allowing for “growth”, which does make you wonder about the middle-aged spread demographic that M&S still seemed to be exclusively aiming for.
As I tried a couple on and, whilst overhearing the changing room woman talking about me, I found them both to be little too tight in the crotch and so went looking for a longer pair to discover that for a 36 inch waist the 33 inch length was as far as they now went… meaning that not a single pair of trousers in the entire store would now fit me.3
I’ll give them another couple of years of shoddy profits to see if they finally get the message and start making sturdy and robust normal clothes for normal people again.
I don’t understand how Marks and Sparks keep going out on a limb to alienate their customers – they introduced a carrier bag charge, eight years earlier, voluntarily – but when I went along there next to get the Christmas crisps to my horror I discovered that all the old flavours which we knew and loved were gone and had been replaced with a pretentious new range that was all “Salt Marsh Lamb”, “Prosecco and Winter Berries”, “Scottish Langoustines”, and Roast Chicken which contained actual real free range British chickens.4 The prospect of local chickens being looked after ethically during their lifetime to just be ripped apart and pointlessly put into packets of expensive crisps seemed abhorrent to me. And I didn’t even know what a Langoustine was, Scottish, or otherwise.5
Well that was Christmas ruined then, I guessed.
I returned to Bury Market to get myself a consolation sprout stick from the greengrocers although after last time, carrying it home like a giant organic knobbly fairy wand, I had no intention of turning down their previous offer and instead asked them for a carrier bag. As the sprout stick was twice the size of the bag it looked ridiculous, poking out as it did, but at least it now had handles… although that was before the grocer then forced another bag over the bulbous head which thus concealed the whole thing from view of the casual observer. Thinking this was a little bit unnecessary I said to her: “I’m not ashamed of it, you know”, but then I did get two carrier bags out of them, for free, which in this day and age was an achievement.
In the old days I’d have been questioned by the staff in Costa Coffee, carrying in a mystery item, but those days seem to be gone and I entered unimpeded to work on my so-called book – my tale of woe about a failing writer who sits around in a coffee shop dreaming of success – and, with my editing and footnote adding, things are starting to come together as I approached the four hundred page mark which, I thought, was surely enough to be called a book whichever way you cut it.
All I needed to do was put the finishing touches to it and then conquer the literary world.
A new barista in Costa, after wanting a detailed explanation of who I was and what I did, told me that they also had another writer who came in. After another new starter had recently reported, after being informed by the manager, that I had been sitting around in there for seven years, but talk of another writer was news to me. She said that he had a poster up on the notice board, and everything, and I probably shook my head as if it was of no interest before later nonchalantly creeping past to have a look on the way out and finding that not only did this guy have his own poster, but that it was A3, and that this other writer actually had a book out already: it sounded more of a misery memoir than mine, was £14.99, and only 204 pages.
And so forget conquering the literary world because, as it turns out, I’m not even the most famous writer in my own sodding coffee shop.
1 – They myth being that they used to be free: they never were. They were paid for, obviously, out of the prices charged for the goods and, as prices haven’t suddenly dropped since the change in the law, if you chose to buy some nowadays… you’re therefore paying for them twice!
2 – And when I lived in Bangor, North Wales, I was stunned to see the travel agent there advertising day trips back home, on a board outside their shop, literally to just visit the market as if it were some glamorous holiday destination.
3 – My friend Emma told me that she’d also encountered similar disappointment at the hands of Marks & Spencer because they no longer did long-length pyjamas for the taller lady either.
4 – Emma also warned me away from the Prosecco and Winter Berries because they tasted of sour fruit and contained tiny golden stars which, she said, were harder to get rid of than Christmas tree needles. Imagine that, a friendship seemingly based around mutual antagonism from a certain high street retailer.
5 – A langoustine, according to my dictionary, is a Norway lobster. So I feel for all those confused Scottish Norwegian lobsters, because I didn’t check the crisp packet ingredients but what are the odds, like the chickens, that they were in there too… whatever they are.