You will probably be aware of the clever ‘free coffee’ thing that Pret-a-Manger employ; whereby an employee can hand out a coffee for nix to anyone of their choosing – and no doubt, mostly customers who are easy-on-the-eye are on the receiving end of such charity.
This is a neat ploy. Customers being made to feel special and no doubt in turn, vying to charm their way to a free espresso.
But it has a downside too, namely that what about the Pret regulars who have never been so lucky. And have always been required to cough up.
How do we feel? The ugly and the dispossessed. What is it with me? Huh? Am I not smiling enough?
I should explain that this anxiety of mine is not acute. I do not go in to a Pret, stressed in the hope of a free coffee. My spirit is not dashed when they point at the machine for payment.
But this said, it is in my mind somewhere, it must be, percolating away (a good choice of word) and was fully crystallised when Harry casually announced recently, that he’s had loads of free Pret coffees.
‘Really?’ I exclaimed. “How? What? Why? What the hell…”
Full disclaimer now – what I am about to relate was not achieved with any specific or cynical intentions…
But yesterday, in Pret – I received free coffee (plural, in fact) for the first time – a little breakthrough and life milestone for me.
In town with Nikki – we enter a Pret. Nikki promptly heads for a seat, knowing that her coffee will appear before her. And with good reason as well – firstly, sore feet, due to wearing flattering but excruciating shoes and secondly, it being her birthday.
The man serving has an air about him. Tall and super good looking, he exudes confidence; a black guy with a shock of cool hair and a smile that could stop traffic. He has a manner about him too to go with his physical gifts.
In London, practically nobody working in Pret hails from the UK – something the chain has been criticised over – but it is something that we Londoners don’t very much care about. We just want our drinks, right? This bloke has a mild accent – hard to place and this further intrigues me. Certainly not from the UK – and I wonder where – however, in these times of heightened sensitivity, asking about someone’s origins is generally beyond the pale. Even if it comes from genuine interest and curiosity and furthermore this social crime is considered even more grave if it is being asked of a person of colour.
Whilst I have little truck with this and I am interested in people and their stories but equally, I am not a fool and I know the rules. But back to this guy and his easy manner. Because somehow I sense that he wont care a jot. That he wont be offended at all and so I take the leap.
“New York City.” He responds casually and again with that smile of his.
Not, just New York. But New York City, no less. Like the Big Apple – the world City of New York needs qualifying with City.
“But my parents are from the Caribbean.” He adds by way of explanation. We get chatting. Studying at university in London, I imagine his student life is markedly different from my own.
It’s a friendly exchange as proven by my coffees being on the house.
I shake his hand which is probably not the done thing and shows my age.
This £5 saving is exciting news to share with my wife – the birthday girl – but Nikki is much less excited than me. In my bag is my diary and I hope that it might contain…
But finding my diary in my bag is not an easy thing. I should explain… We have almost collapsed in to Pret having just visited a TK Max in Covent Garden – in order to buy a comfortable pair of shoes for Nikki to see her home “…because my feet are bloody well killing me.”
Quite an indulgence and why the free coffees are particularly welcome.
So in my slim and moderately sized shoulder bag to go with water bottles, keys, wallet, a diary and some other bits and bobs are two discarded shoes that once belonged to my beloved wife.
It’s a struggle, but I locate my diary and as I hoped, I have a photograph. It is a split photo with Tom on one half and Spider-Man on the other.
Oh, and it is signed.
I venture that this barrister most likely gives his free daily coffee allocation to a beautiful girl and around his own age – and very rarely, does he waste it on an odd looking middle aged bloke with a bag bursting at the seams.
But a good choice as it turns out…
Because on leaving the branch – me walking, Nikki limping and still making a meal of it – I approach the counter again. And this time, I have an air as well.
I hand him the photo…
“This is our son. He’s from New York City as well…”
And now we both smile.