A week ago I found myself snugly contained in a polite but well maintained kettle, right outside the Starbucks I’m blogging in right now. That outdoor space is, of course, known as St Paul’s Churchyard. My newfound comrades and I, three or four thousand strong, were prevented from leaving by the police. As the early hours of OccupyLSX progressed our human needs became ever more urgent, our call of natures ever louder. We queued politely for the toilets in Starbucks.
Personally I’ve never fully grasped the issue which some people have had with Starbucks over the years. Doubtless they are not as commercially innocent as an independent coffee shop run by its owner. The people who normally break its windows are violent thugs. This movement has worked hard and continues to work hard to isolate these criminal elements. This isn’t a glib comment. We have repeatedly informed every shift of police that come along that at the first sign of trouble makers we will stand back and point at them so as to enable their swift arrest. This strategy has been successful. A week ago today evening though this practice did not need to come into play. Our personal needs overcame everything else. I’m sure the irony of us obtaining relief from Starbucks was not lost on any of us.
Just before Starbucks closed last Saturday night, the police provided us with some fresh water and toilets so that their kettle did not abuse our dignity. At the same time they rushed in to protect Starbucks from our spending power. When the kettle was lifted a week ago today (last Sunday), our new found appreciation of this corporate citation was undiminished. We were welcomed with open arms like a miscreant family member returning to the fold.
Since then St Paul’s Cathedral’s restaurant was closed (not yesterday as their public statement – the now infamous “Open Letter Number One”) to us. Unable to put our coin into the church coffer, Starbucks took it instead but returned familial love previously unfamiliar to old hands in the protest movement. Many of us only used their toilet. They had no problem with that. I’m sure we inadvertently drove away much of their regular custom, which must have taken away a much higher turnover of coffee consumption than we manage. They had no problem with that. They even gave us hot water for free. These gestures have all proved too controversial for the church to adopt.
The irony is not lost on any of us. I myself have been educated in the world of this drug. Coffee culture is not something I knew much about before. This morning I finally figured out why other people can drink it much quicker than me, why I find it so bloody hot. It’s because I was wasting my breath asking for milky coffee. Turns out you have to put the milk in yourself. Starbucks’ staff never patronised me with this information, they never told me how to pray. Some days they even forgot to ask me to pay (I reminded them). How very different our relationship with them, compared to the church.