Frivolous Monsters

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.

Sprout Boy

From the BBC’s 2015 animated festive advert Sprout Boy.

     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.



Single Post Navigation

14 thoughts on “Coffee Shop Writer

  1. M&S are just doing what all the retailers are busy doing reducing the quality of their offer (cheaper fabrics etc), but charging the same or even more for the garment especially when they attach a snappy ‘brand’ name on said goods! Which brings me to the “other author” – for one ghastly moment when I just glanced at the front cover picture I thought it was Rolf Harris!

    • I’m glad you agree about Marks and Spencer and that it’s not just me. I do not buy many clothes but there are many times I’ve been in there and been unable to buy anything, for reasons stated above. I remember the old days and it didn’t used to be the case.

      Regarding fabric I have taken to feeling up trousers and rubbing them between my fingers to feel how thin they are. Also some supermarket trousers, if you hold them up the light, you can actually see through them.

      I’ve never seen Rolf Harris and I’m pretty sure that my local Costa Coffee isn’t where he’s serving his penance! When I was at Bangor they did book him for one of the Summer balls. Out of my five years there I only ever went to one, but as most of the music acts they booked meant very little to me I always wished I’d been to that one… and part of me still does. Still, when I did go I had a girlfriend, so it was all the more important for the special company. The last I heard, though, they were serving up Rolf with a whole load more charges so he may never get out at this rate.

  2. I love M&S, but then I’m of the demographic (horror!) of ” woman I’m her sixties ” “granny” who the young complain they cater to, but hey! We are the baby boomers with all the money and time. So what’s wrong with that?
    I also love Bury market, where the council have been very clever in keeping the traditional market and market Hall and building a modern shopping mall alongside it. Unlike Bolton council…. Don’t get me started!
    I think the bag charge is very discriminatory. Because for years I’ve been able to carry one of those fold up in a little pack nylon bags, in my handbag, but where does a male carry one? Too bulky for a pocket… Maybe it’s just a conspiracy by the manbag makers…that’s my paranoid view anyway!

    • I’m convinced that no generation beyond geriatric want “proper” and “smart” trousers that are made of wipe-clean plastic material with elastic wastes. I keep trying through.

      The lady on the bakery stall also bemoaned how the council had treaded her local market in Lancashire somewhere – Haslingdon? – saying the council invested in it, did it up, then put the rents up massively, so all the market traders left, so all the customers left, and now there’s only a handful of stalls there. Let’s hope Bury council doesn’t mess up.

      I am unaware of Bolton market’s woes.

      I did feel overly targeted, as a single man without a car, with the bag charging as I do most of my shopping “of the moment”, always picking up bits before a long walk home. I do normally have my big bag – not quite a man bag – with me, but it’ll only carry so much. Still, it’s all for the best, I guess.

  3. I’m sorry to hear about your M & S crisp disappointment. Prosecco and Winter Berries sounds like a ridiculous and disgusting combination for a crisp packet – are you being serious? What are they up to? I won’t, however, hear a word against their knickers and bras although I am guessing you wouldn’t know about that – or is it not politically correct to make such assumptions these days?
    I am used to lugging ‘bags for life’ around with me as France has had the ‘no free carrier bag’ rule since before we moved here 11 years ago. However, if you want to stock up, you can just visit the fruit and veg market where they are freely available stuck on nails at intervals along the stalls and, afterwards, floating about the street until the clean up squad arrive. Doesn’t make sense does it? Having said that, I do agree with the rule having seen vile images of what discarded carrier bags can do to wildlife and sealife. Every little helps.
    No wonder your Costa writing rival is more famous than you. Can you, hand on heart, say that you could hold two small children AND a dog mesmerised like that with your story telling skills. Anyway, it’s definitely not Rolf Harris – it’s Gerry Adams isn’t it?

    • You are right in that I have zero complaints about M & S knickers and bras. At least they’re getting something right then.

      The Prosecco and Winter Berries have to be seen to be believed – I’ll try and find a picture and post below – and as to Emma’s comment about the stars to me they looked, on the packet, like the sort of cake decorations which are never vegetarian… not that M & S seem to worry on that front any more.

      It is good to hear how massively plastic bag consumption has dropped here, and I am sure for that reason it is a good thing, but I used to reuse all mine anyway for the bin and now sometime soon will have to buy some especially for that. I do appreciate the occasional free bag I get from a small shop now. Holland & Barrett have gone all paper bags to avoid having to charge for them.

      It’s funny but when I bemoaned this book poster to friends one of them, Rachel, pointed out exactly the same thing as you wondering whether I could captivate a dog. With my stories I don’t know if they’re suitable for children or dogs.

      He does look a bit Gerry Adams from that angle. Not seen him in the flesh, but this is at least his second book I’ve found out and they get good reviews too.

  4. Prosecco and Winter Berry crisps.

    • That is so wrong!

      • All I want is proper nice crisps that you can pick at through the Christmas week. This faux added glamour just seems pointless all round.

        p.s. This blog post has now been picked up and linked to by ‘Prosecco Daily’ so I’m a high-flyer now. First with the Prosecco news… even if that news is about a product I saw in the shops, and didn’t buy or taste, before Christmas.

  5. They decided to fine plastic bag users in Dallas this year as well, it lasted thirty days. It was law and everything. But, as I am usually in the habit of carrying reusable shopping bags with me, it wasn’t that much of a change. Just a tad weird how quickly it came and went.

    • Wow, I didn’t know that. It seems so odd. They say it wasn’t in line with the what the electorate wanted… but then that was the whole point of it. As Texas has the whole “gas guzzling” image then I guess this doesn’t help their image as consumers of the earth’s resources. Thanks for letting me know that.

      • I have noticed that there is a higher percentage of people using the reusable bags since all that went down. So if that was the purpose of the law in the first place, it succeeded and maybe there is no need to further penalize the populace. As you said, the bags were never “free.”

    • It is more about what’s being sent to landfill though, with none biodegradable plastics derived from oil…

      Here they say that plastic bag usage – in England only, because Wales introduced it a bit ago – is down 80 % already. It can only be a good thing in the long run.

      From Hollywood films we are all led to believe that in America everyone gets their shopping packed into brown paper bags, anyway, so I guess film and TV lies!

      • Yah, Hollywood. Paper bags are used, but I would say a majority of people that I see leaving the grocery store use plastic bags, with a growing trend of reusable (canvas) bags becoming the norm.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: