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The decline of Western Civilisation as evidenced by the tea available in the Morrison's Cafe.

One of the less edifying aspects of the culture wars in which we find ourselves more or permanently (and tiresomely) embroiled in these fervid times is the concept of keeping it real. That is to say, "authentic". A peculiarly modern notion which sniffs at any evidence of artifice, of pretension, of (whisper it) thinking you're better than other people. It is this tendency which makes Love Island the love that dares speak its name loud and long, and woe betide you if you think it's a bit rubbish. It is this tendency which saw poor old Lucy Mangan get pilloried on Twitter for admitting that she'd never seen Dirty Dancing. Get back in your ivory tower, you speccy pseuds, you're not REAL.

In a country where the PM derides a recent predecessor as " a girly swot" and popular culture is celebrated and seriously engaged with as never before, it is indeed a brave person who sticks their head above the parapet to criticise any aspect of the quotidian. Because "real" is the most important thing, "real" is only thing. It's what "the people" like.

So it is with a degree of trepidation that I write this. Sometimes "the people" are honking morons who don't recognise that they're having the piss ripped royally out of them. There are any number of aspects of modern life on which I could focus to back up this thesis: Brexit, the gig economy, the gutting of communities, the transformation of football into an entertainment product. But what I'd like to ask you to consider is the tea that's available in the Morrison's café. The strongest piece of evidence of the erosion of the quality of daily life that I can find without getting far too social realist about it for this time on a Tuesday afternoon

But first, I need to establish my "real" bona fides. So let me say this, I've drunk a lot of truly appalling tea in my time. I spent years as a site joiner and roofer, drinking gallons of weak, sweet piss out of polystyrene cups (though the view from the rooftops generally made up for it). I also spent time working as a university lecturer, so drank a lot of even worse tea from institutional china (though I suspect that might not be "real" enough). I've paid my dues. I know a bad cup of tea when I taste it.

Now, before you start accusing me of being a tea snob, please be aware that I'm not talking about the rareified air of the tea tasters, those purveyors of broken orange pekoe, silver shoots or any of the other wondrous things that can be done with the dried leaves of camellia sinensis. They, in their turn, would sneer at my bog standard Yorkshire with a spot of milk (milk? sacrilege!). All I'm talking about his a half-decent brew, refreshing, bracing and, crucially, hot. The sort of thing which is supposed to be the backbone of the myth that Britain tells itself, the sort of copper-coloured liquid served on sun-dappled lawns next to something straight out of bake-off. The hearty mug brewed in a crisis. Tea, tea as most of us know it. That's what I'm talking about. It's supposed to be the national drink.

So the grey, tepid mess that I had to serve myself in Mozzers got me thinking good and hard about the decline of Western Civilisation. It was beyond awful, but that wasn't even the worst thing about it.

But what do you expect? I hear you cry, it's Morrison's café, not the Savoy. And that my friends, is precisely the point. Why should the good people of Morrison's café-land have to put up with this shit? But more of that in a moment. I should explain it's not a place I normally go, snob! snob! shouts the gallery, and with some justification, but in my defence, should I require a tea or coffee that much there's generally somewhere else a short distance away which will be better - and this is the crux of my argument, so do bear with me for a paragraph or two. In this instance, I was waiting for a key to be cut, too short a period to go anywhere else, too long a period not to do something, so a brief cuppa it was.

And o my friends but it was hellish. Metallic, cheap, devoid of any merit. But there were three aspects of the experience which particularly annoyed me, and into each it's easy to read evidence of the degradation of the average person's lived experience. Firstly: you had to make the damn thing yourself. Now this particularly unpleasant little capitalist trick is beloved of the supermarkets, fond as they are of self-service check-outs. What is sold to the public as ease and convenience basically translates to "we want you to do our job for us because we're too cheap to pay actual people". I was tempted to invoice them for my time. I don't expect my customers to come into the kitchen to reduce and mount their own sauce, I don't expect them to dunk their own chips in the fryer, that's what I'm paid to do. The removal of people from the process has been a creeping part of the overall capitalist masterplan for the last umpteen years, and whilst it makes economic sense, it's socially destructive. Witness the loss of counter-staff at banks, the industrialisation of the complaints process, the outsourcing of call-centres, they're all part of the same phenomenon, and they all make people's lives demonstrably worse.

Secondly. Tiny plastic pots of UHT milk. There is absolutely no excuse for this outside a budget hotel. There is particularly no excuse for this in a supermarket with an aisle which is absolutely full of milk just a few short yards away. This is evidence of convenience taking precedence over end product, and taste and environmental concerns can go fuck themselves. It's the worst sort of blanded-out penny-pinching. It actively says "we don't care if you like this tea or not". But safety, they will argue, to which my response is: do you mean arse-covering? It only takes one law-suit. UHT milk is the end-product of a litigious culture obsessed with avoiding blame to the detriment of all else.

Thirdly: it was bloody heaving. This, to my mind, is the worst part of the lot. I would normally head off somewhere else to get something better, I don't mind a short walk, but lots of people seem to be content with making do purely with what's been put in front of them. The place was full of people eating and drinking substandard, poor-quality dross with very little evidence of enjoyment, doing so purely on terms of price and convenience, because it sure as hell wasn't taste. Danny Baker used to have a good line about being called a champagne socialist: "My Dad would say, so what, why should only the rich buggers drink champagne? Nothing's too good for the working classes". My point here is that Morrison's could, with a minimum of tweaking, serve a far superior product to their customers: but that their customers resignedly settle for the crap they dole out is evidence that the battle is already lost.

To paraphrase Gramsci: Things comes to pass...because the mass of citizens abdicate their responsibility and let things be. Perhaps, after all, we're getting the cup of tea that we deserve.


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