I visited Buckinghamshire, over the weekend. At the time I didn’t really know I was in Buckinghamshire. As far as I was concerned, as soon as we took the sliproad, we crossed over to that purgatorial parallel dimension that all motorway service stations inhabit: a place that has no position in either time or space, it simply is. Anyhow, by this point my posse of droogs and I were feeling the effects of our night of debauchery in our nation’s capital. My brain felt as though it might benefit from a proverbial oil-change, or risk turning into a sort of greyish fluid and spilling from the gaps in my skull like the yolk of a rotten egg.
This particular service station is where J D Wetherspoon have decided to open their latest branch. I’d heard about this, though I didn’t actually know that we were going to be stopping there. (We actually intended on visiting some other service station, for no reason other than that it had a ‘meeting’ room, and that the second ‘e’ in the sign advertising the meeting room was blacked out, and that when we pronounced the resulting word aloud, it sounded a great deal like a Jamaican lady saying ‘my things’. Obviously, this was a source of great amusement.)
Blogs like this should ideally pose a question, so here’s mine: Is it really ethically defensible to open a pub in a motorway service station? Your answer might depend on your ethical framework, I should imagine JD Wetherspoon would deliver a long and infuriatingly equivocal one. I’ve therefore prepared some further questions. Is the M40 now a more dangerous place to a drive than it was this time last week? Or, to put it another way, is your risk of dying on this road now higher?
I submit that the answer is undoubtedly yes, and it would take some pretty stunning evidence to convince me otherwise. This is the dumbest idea since the previous night, when my friend dared to drink the juice from the bottom of a barrel of undercooked oysters. Or were they mussels? I do hope the vomit has now been removed from the sofa. It was a rather disconcerting shade of red.
Wetherspoon’s have, admirably, reminded their patrons not to drink and drive via signs on the doors. This message rang with the same sort of sincerity Jimmy Saville might have couched the statement ‘you are eighteen, right?’ In other words, I think this is what’s known as ‘covering your back’. As a general rule, it’s bad for business when you make unabashed declarations of psychopathy, however honest they may be.
We didn’t go to Wetherspoon’s, anyway. Not out of any sense of moral outrage. We just didn’t fancy it. A pub is where you hang out. Who wants to hang out at a service station? We instead sat in the main hub, where our nostrils could drink in the competing stenches of the fast food emporia. In the toilet, there was a man eating an ice cream. Jesus, the world is a terrifying place.
Someone’s going to come to some harm as a result of this pub. I wonder how JD Wetherspoon will respond when this inevitability finally comes to pass? I imagine they’ve already had this board meeting. They’ve probably even prepared the press release. It’ll probably blame the driver. It’s not as though they’re putting a gun to anyone’s head, after all.
Of course, they’d be at least partly right. But would they not also bear some responsibility for facilitating this hypothetical tragedy? If I sell a notorious axe murderer an axe, would I not then bear at least a little bit of responsibility when the guy goes and chops the nearest prostitute into tiny pieces?
I guess the buck stops with the perpatrator. Once the drunk leaves the pub, their activities aren’t really any of JD wetherspoon’s concern. Even if something bad happens. If I recall GCSE business correctly, such events are termed an ‘externality’.
noun: externality; plural noun: externalities
“a consequence of an industrial or commercial activity which affects other parties without this being reflected in market prices, such as the pollination of surrounding crops by bees kept for honey.”
I other words, an externality is where you make some terrible mess and someone else has to clean it up. This particular externality will be comprised of a slight decrease in overall quality of driving within a 20 mile radius of this service station. Of course, there stands a chance that something really awful will occur within that radius; maybe some semi-inebriated trucker will plough his Scania into the central reservation, spreading the mechanical entrails that once comprised a Subaru across a mile or so of the M40, and the actual entrails that once comprised a family of four alongside them. That’s a pretty grim image. What will happen then?
While staring blankly into space, willing the throbbing in my brain to stop, I pondered this question. Then the guy at the burrito stand added another. What sort of bean do I prefer? They have two kinds, you see: the black kind and the refried soupy kind that look like they’ve been drained from the stomach of a roadkilled skunk. I went with both. I think beans are my new thing, by the way.
The focus of the anti-drink-drive movement is very much one of personal responsibility. Drink-driving is condemned, and rightly so. But peddling alcohol – in a place where it its consumption is substantially more likely to result in injury or death – is not. Curious, I think you’ll agree. But then, I’m not one to criticise, as I do exactly the same thing, albeit in a smaller location where the societal damage is more subtle.
The family of four would be a worst-case scenario, in any case. Maybe it might just be one single orphaned male, with no-one in the world to care about him. I suppose business would just carry on as usual then. It’s simple economics, really; but no less depressing for it. I’m glad the burrito was there to lift my mood. It really is an excellent hangover cure.
Until next week.
PS. The Australians know how to put an anti-drink drive advert together. Here’s a collection, and I warn you: it doesn’t hold back. It’s even got that REM song in it.