Friday, 21 October 2011

Loyal or Habitual?


Some mornings are just a bit dull: inspiration is elusive, the in-tray is full of trivia and there’s no one around to talk to. On such mornings I need to kick-start the day so I shun the desk, get washed and brushed-up, step briskly out of the front door and go in search of coffee. The only problem is that, within five minutes walk of my front door, there are least (without counting properly) 25 coffee bars to choose from so, as the door closes behind me, I become embroiled in a decision-making process fraught with unwanted anxiety.

The process is a struggle between logic and emotion. How do I choose the optimum venue to get the feel-good factor I crave? Should I go to one of the bustling coffee bars on the main road, where I could, by association, catch a little energy? Would I prefer somewhere quieter on a side-street where I might study the paper, undisturbed by hubbub? But then, busy or quiet, which of those slick, themed chain establishments - Italian, Spanish, American or South-American - should it be?  Then, just as I’m making progress, conscience intervenes to remind me I should support the newly-established, worthy-but-cheesy, fair-trade independent. By contrast- and for proper, old-fashioned service- how about that posh hotel lounge with (if the weather’s fine) its south-facing patio? But how decadent is that? Surely I should make better use of my time and go to the one in the bookshop where I could browse; or maybe the one in the art gallery where I could get cultured? Then again I’m tempted by the fashionable bar where the seats are comfortable and cast a glance over at the local deli where they are not. Perhaps I should narrow the choice by deciding which type of coffee I fancy: medium-roasted in a cafetiere or dark-roasted espresso?

It’s now getting on for lunchtime so I take the lazy way out of my dilemma and decide to deploy one of my loyalty cards – the one with the most stamps on it. I know they didn’t invent loyalty cards just to help indecisive people like me; they are really a nifty device to keep us overpaying for cups of coffee in anticipation of the eventual accumulation of sufficient points to get a ‘free’ one (in which case they should rightly be called Bribery Cards). But my problem is solved and that coffee does taste so much better for being free of charge.

Nevertheless, I feel pathetic about my reliance on the loyalty card and begin to reflect on the subtle, insinuating danger they embody: their pernicious effect is to encourage habitual behaviour - and I don’t need much encouragement for that. Not only is my wallet is stuffed with cards but they have also spilled out and infiltrated my head in such a way that I have acquired quite a few ‘virtual’ loyalty cards of my own. I have one for French wine, one for English ale and one for a certain style of jazz to name but three. In fact my virtual loyalty cards, rather like my plastic ones, have accumulated, unnoticed, to a tipping point: that at which they define my lifestyle by excluding the possibilities of novel experiences.

So, enough of this timid, repetitive, self-assuring behaviour; next time the morning is a bit dull I intend to set out on a (sort-of) systematic attempt to take coffee in every one of the venues that qualifies as within five minutes walk. The resulting experiences will be laboriously turned into a novel and published under the title ‘Sod the Loyalty Card’.

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