Coffee culture comes to Kentish Town!
"At last," cry the yummy mummies with their seven hundred quid prams, and the skiving office workers with their 8-cup-a-day habits, and the minimalist, generation-zero, no-office freelancers working off a laptop wherever the internet is free.
The big news on my local high street in North London is that a Caffe Nero is coming.
“At last,” cry the yummy mummies with their seven hundred quid prams, and the skiving office workers with their 8-cup-a-day habits, and the minimalist, generation-zero, no-office freelancers working off a laptop wherever the internet is free. “Coffee culture comes to Kentish Town"
For them, the arrival of the first big coffee chain outlet on a high street that was once not even posh enough to have a McDonald’s (we were KFC only until 1996) is the sign that finally they can live modern urban lives in NW5, dependent as they are on endless gigantic cartons of warm milk (barely flavoured with the cheapest coffee known to man) like big, fat, badly dressed toddlers.
“But there are millions of coffee places already,” I tell them. “There’s Tolli’s and Flapjack’s and Renoir and all sorts of other cute little independent places.”
“Yes, but they don’t have free wi-fi,” moan the morons. Is it coffee they want, or digital services? “And they don’t do loyalty cards.”
But the coffee’s cheaper already, because they don’t have shareholders to satisfy or a vast empire to sustain, so ten coffees here is much cheaper than nine at Nero with a free one thrown in. And then of course, they don’t have eight different sizes of every drink which are all synonyms for “massive”. And when you ask for a cup of tea they don’t try and force you into buying a muffin the size of your head.
And they don’t wear a Santa hat for the whole of December (but without smiling, so that they look like a serial killer in a Christmas horror film).
And they don’t have stupid huge great black and white murals on the wall, featuring skinny, slightly-passed-it women laughing loudly on a pavement café in Florence.
And the people sitting in them are not trying to kid themselves that this is Central Perk out of Friends, and Rachel’s about to come in and show off her new haircut (admittedly, because the people sitting in them are mostly tramps).
I’m really sad about the coming of Nero, even though I will drink their coffee ahead of Starbuck’s and Coffee Republic if there’s nothing else to be had, and I will admit that until the chains came along it was very hard to get a decent cup of coffee in this country. Because it is the thin end of a very thick wedge.
We used to have a very diverse high street here. It was 80 per cent independent. But then the credit crunch put the squeeze on the slower businesses. Woollies went and allowed Sainsbury a foot in the door. A sports shop could no longer afford the rent, moved away, and Prêt a Manger came in. Now the chains are muscling in, the landlords are putting the rents up, and my favourite restaurants and shops are starting to disappear because they cannot compete with giant, centrally owned corporations. Of course, the value of my house is going up all the time, because this is the sort of world that estate agents find easiest to sell.
But soon I will know the names of none of my local shopkeepers. And none of them will know mine. The street will be less friendly, and thus less safe. I will not be able to buy meat from a man who has butchered it himself, or nails from a man who knows his ironmongery, or apples that haven’t been shrink-wrapped into a plastic tray. The soul will have gone from my neighbourhood and my life will be the sadder.
But, yes, I will be able to drink a long hot frothy pint of factory-farmed milk and spend my afternoons googling things for free.
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