What’s that low but persistent rumble in the distance? It’s not thunder, it’s tutting. Waitrose has announced that from April 3, they will no longer serve free coffee to their customers and the British middle classes haven’t been so affronted by anything since the Chelsea Flower Show lifted its ban on gnomes. (For one year only, 2013. Dark times. Let us never speak of this again.)
This development has been greeted with glee by some, delighted at the prospect of aisles no longer cluttered with purchase-free caffeine junkies. Their happiness will no doubt be short lived as plucky little chancers cram the tills, queuing to pay for a single grape or green bean (take THAT! capitalist oppressors) in order to collect their ‘free’ refreshment.
For others, Waitrose’s greatest crime against the smooth running of civilisation comes from their insistence you now complete your transaction before you can collect your free coffee. What fresh hell. For many of us, caffeine is the only legal substance that will get us through the Big Shop. You need it to spur you on as you steer through fresh produce, dairy and beyond, not when you’re trying to wrangle ten bags for life into the back of a Volvo.
But Waitrose, at the risk of sounding churlish, you’ve brought this grumpiness entirely on yourselves. I’ve watched enough legal dramas to know that you should never ask a question in open court to which you don’t already know the answer. Similarly, you should never give a treat which you later withdraw. Ungrateful humans will only remember the removal of privilege, not your generosity in having granted it in the first place.
The truth is Waitrose, and you should know this, you can forget about decent schools, many of us fork out a premium to live within the catchment area of your wholesome, artisanal, organic embrace. We’ve scrimped on the square footage and convinced ourselves we don’t mind about the lack of view/parking/en suite so we never have to be more than a mile from cooking chorizo and Fevertree tonic ever, ever again.
That, dear Waitrose, your ‘essentials’ range includes amber bath foam, profiteroles, gooseberry fruit fool and champagne flutes makes us feel a little less alone in the world. We don’t even mind that the accident in the alliteration factory lead you to name perfectly innocent herbs ‘Simple Sage’, ‘Romantic Rosemary’ and ‘Tantalising Tarragon’. We thought we were friends. We had an understanding.
For those of us who feel bereft, betrayed, there is hope. Rumours spread quickly yesterday, at school gates and on dog walks, in offices and factories, in all places where slightly tired people gather, that Pret à Manger’s staff still have discretion to give you free coffee if they like you. Charm offensive over the beetroot and radish on rye in 3, 2, 1…
But there is another way. My father, a tolerant person in all other respects, is continually appalled at the dreadful modern affectation of being unable to walk more than 20 yards without clutching flat whites in our feebly under-caffeinated hands. Perhaps he has a point. How can we chastise toddlers who remain too long dependent on their dummies when we’re unable to complete the most simple of tasks without holding a cup in a death grip? We’re better than this.
Perhaps, after all – and as I have often suspected – Waitrose is here to save us from our baser selves.
Love and a Licked Spoon is written by Debora Robertson, food writer, editor, enthusiastic kitchen botherer and optimistic planter of pretty and edible things. She lives in north London with her husband Séan, a dog, a cat and a mountain of cookbooks and seed catalogues. She is ideologically opposed to rectangular plates.
Her latest book, Declutter: The get-real guide to creating calm from chaos was published by Kyle Books in 2018.
Dogs' Dinners: The healthy, happy way to feed your dog was published by Pavillion Books in 2018.
Gifts from the Garden: 100 Gorgeous Homegrown Presents, was published by Kyle Books in 2012.
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