In the early 1990s there used to be an advert on television for a high street bank, where a woeful customer claimed that they had gone into their high street bank only to find that it had changed into a “trendy wine bar”. This advert was so naff, mainly because the word “trendy” or the words “wine bar” were already obsolete and quaint by the 1990s, but it became a phrase that you could tag on to anything. “I went into the doctor’s earlier…” said Mum. “And it had changed into a TRENDY wine bar!” the kids would chirrup from the back seat. “I went into the bedroom just now…and it had changed into a TRENDY WINE BAR!”. It was supposed to articulate the sense that the UK high street was being changed beyond recognition by the first generation of booze drinking professionals, who were intent on avoiding the pie-and-pint pub and went out to get sloshed on wine instead. Eventually, even the banks saw the silly humour and briefly resurrected the phrase in adverts not so long ago, but twenty years ago the British high street was an innocent place indeed, if the worst thing that could have happened to you when you thought you were going into Nat West was that someone would thrust a glass of chilled Chilean Rose in your hands.
Fast forward twenty years, and we can see that it was the wine bar that died. Entertainment venues and drinking holes are closing down constantly outside the golden cocktail circle of Inner London. But the banks are everywhere. You can’t avoid them and, God knows, I’ve tried. They have less customer service or face-to-face communication in order to afford more branches. The TSB used to be the “Bank that likes to say………YES!” but having been gobbled up by Lloyds’ astute black horse, it is now the bank that likes to say “Press 1 if you want to hear your balance. Press 2 for standing orders. Press 3 to continue to underwrite the UK debt of this state-sponsored institution, like everyone else….” A lot of banks liked to say YES, actually, especially in the 1980s when you could get an Enterprise Loan for funds you could then spend on fags and holidays. It was pretty straightfoward then. We knew the banks were the enemy, and we understood that new and imaginative means of clawing money out of them had to be found. But now we are surrounded by chummy, sickly banks who look like they want to get into bed with us, promising Saturday opening hours in garish posters featuring leering cashiers proffering baskets of croissants, trying to be friendly by saying “Hi!” when you ring up to complain at them, and generally winding up every single person I have ever met in this country. The escalation of friendliness of the UK high street bank has gone hand in hand with the limitation of money, iniability to provide debts and unhelpfulness in a time of economic austerity. I find this sinister.
The only King that can command troops enough to shove the nauseating bank out of the way is the cunning stunt of a cafe that might be called Barstucks. Now, if the high street bank was advertising their services today it wouldn’t mention trendy wine bars. It would be : “I went to the bank and found some Seattle bastard shoving a pint of foamed milk at me.” A 1980s wine bar, or a UK high street financial institution is usually too fumbling and British to have dreams of global mastery or a superiority complex, but they do their jobs very efficiently. Barstrucks wants to take over the world, has a superiority complex to rival that of Naomi Campbell, knows precisely what insiduous steps to take to push itself globally forward and does all their basic jobs badly. It’s almost as if a European has handed them a guide for how to make coffee and they have gone through it point by point and done the opposite. They make coffee wrong. They cannot do the only one thing a coffee shop is ethically, financially and commercially bound to do : make a decent cup of coffee. There is little nobility in contriving to sell the British public buckets of shite in massive paper cups that contain boiling hot beverages that taste like Nescafe mixed with boiling baby milk formula. Neither do you ricochet off the dignity scale if you hide behind a schmear of self-congratulatory “community work” involving occasionally taking coffee mugs to old age pensioner homes whilst fronting a massive global corporate shitmonster of endemic proportions. Beans are ethically sourced, apparently, but no one mentions the people who work for slave wages to pick them. Why the inane desire to make people drink bitter, over-roasted, scalding, unhelpful and terribly dismal beverages? What do they think we are? Americans? Why say “Hello there!” chirpily and ask how my day is going? It creeps the populace out. Barfucks doesn’t like me. It has no interest in how my day is going. It likes my money. I’m not even going to go into the bizarre grammatical lexicon of the Barfucks barista, but I can hear Samuel Johnson turning in his grave from here.
When the department stores are burnt out and even Primark can no longer function in an economic depression, some awful, aggravating barista will still be there, green uniform behind slightly sticky pale beech counter, asking if you want an extra shot with that. Yes, preferably with a gun too, I’d reply, before swooping over the road and ducking into a Caffe Nero – if – that is – it has survived. Tarbucks is the most appropriate reminder of the great homogenisation of the UK high street of the last fifteen years. Pret a Manger doesn’t begin to be quite so offensive, although their staff are a bit creepy as well. But Garfrucks clique-y terminology, it’s crappy “Rainforest” safe wooden slats, that dubious hole into which 100 mucky wooden coffee stirrers get dumped beside the sugar and napkin stand, the old-fashioned 1990s feel of it all, these are just a few reasons why this ‘ere Bluebird is showing Sneershucks into the Room 101 of coffee emporiums. Do you want vanilla syrup with that?
Here is this Thursday’s Bluebird pledge : Please can all the Cartrucks be turned into trendy wine bars? We miss those little wine bars and their air of full filofaxes, optimism and economic resurgence. It’s just what we need. We don’t need to go into our coffee store and be forced to read about how they’re smugly “backing youth” and random “farmers” whilst the cafe is full of out of work people keeping warm and applying for jobs online. We want to go out and have fun and giggle alot and flick our hair about and squabble over whose turn it is to buy a round of Argentinian plonk. Then we want to take turns to re-enact Delboy’s infamous fall through the bar routine. It’s not a night out if no one does the “falls through a bar routine”, whether intentionally or unintentionally. We don’t want to sit about glued to some sad old laptop, with a dreary skinny muffin and a cup of coffee that tastes like gnat’s wee. I would give 100 lattes for Cartrucks and all its poverty of grammar to be vanquished and replaced by thousands of bars called “Julie’s” or “Ginger’s” and written in pink neon swirly writing, and which would be full of robust New World wines at old style prices. Goodbye “Hi! How’s your day going?” and hello “My mate saw you in the corner and I know he’s had a few -right- RIGHT – but he basically really loves ya would you like to give him your number?” Yes, it would be overbearing and sexist and slightly offensive, but not nearly as offensive and vomitworthy as Warbucks on a do-gooding rampage. Let them become trendy wine bars. Bring on the cocktail umbrellas. We must take steps to rid ourselves of the boring glut of Barstrucks outlets that we have allowed to trespass into our cities, nipping small businesses and independent cafes in the bud before they have had a chance to breathe. Indeed, anything would be better – with the possible exception of more high street banks.
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