Saturday, December 16, 2006


You have to look closely to see just how much of a rip-off £2.20 is for 120g of fucking feta and olive salad. I counted seven olives and three pieces of cheese, mixed up in a nice enough slodge of fresh herbs and decent olive oil in my punnet, which I picked up out of courtesy from a curious visit to the doomed deli down the road. It was tasty enough, for sure. The woman, a thirty-something sandal-wearing type who is clearly into her flans, quiches and bakes, felt so guilty about asking me so much for so little that she first asked me if £2.20 was aright and then, when I resignedly murmured “yes”, threw me a free wholemeal mince pie. But she won’t instead think to drop the price a little because she probably views her little venture as if it were some kind of fashion statement to her friends rather than a shop where local people might want to buy food from. I left, looking forward to my little plastic lunch, in the full knowledge that I would never return.

More worryingly, however, is a similar waft of keenness to chase the Christmas buck at the airport shop – my single supplier of everything really, and where I was certain to spend £50 stocking up in this week. But the bloke on the butcher counter put and end to all that by refusing to put aside a couple of turkey, chicken or game-bird carcasses for me so that I could do some nice thick saucing with the roast goose that I am trying in vain to get excited about cooking next week. But it wasn’t to be, since their kitchen department had allegedly instructed him to save all such waste for some turkey gravy of their own. However, I could “buy some ready-made from the shop when it’s done” pointed out said butcher helpfully. I turned away in obvious disTaste, scrunched up the A5 sheet of festive offers I had picked up to peruse and headed for the till with my bag of sardines and lump of best Barrow Gurney topside.

What is the fucking point of spending months nurturing a good relationship with your fish and meat suppliers -- via a skillful combination of the right amount and frequency of trade, time spent making staff feel as if they have just taught you something new and a slow but steady personalization of the chat about the “real each-other”, kids and jobs and background etc -- if you can’t rely on them for a few poxy bones three or four times a year?

I couldn’t have been more courteous. I had waited until the queue at the counter had subsided before bothering them with the bones question, swiftly ordering my beef and then coming back when it was free. And I know these people very well indeed, given the constraints of the staff—customer relationship. In the year since they opened they have become some weird kind of second family, themselves being largely made up of one family. But yesterday’s scene couldn’t have been more different to that of a year ago, when fresher faced butcher bloke was only too keen to cut and sell me for half the price all but the crown of a free-range turkey plus a free bag of all the bones I could use and more. Oh no, there was no problem at all before he realized he was going to see me virtually every week of his life from then onwards. Not to mention the fact that his fillet steak has shot up from £22 to £28 per kilo in the same period.

Am I expecting too much? Am I too loyal and deluded by my own sense of importance? Insisting on boiling up your own bones rather than pay someone to do it for you is, after all, clearly an arsehole sort of thing to do that only an obsessive amateur cook would bother with. But all I am asking of the human race is for people to think. If they then decide “fuck him”, then fucking great. But to divert me to the processed version is to cease treating the customer as an individual. And all I can do with the might of my single consumer vote is, go elsewhere for my festive fayre this year.

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