I had to go to Addenbroookes Hospital yesterday. Cue the long, boring journey from Sussex to Cambridge, made longer and more boring by the road works that only appear at the start of school holidays.
Most political geeks like me have mini-causes ingrained in us. They achieve absolutely nothing but they make us feel better. I cannot buy a Murdoch paper, I refuse to buy drinks at Starbucks and I never, ever, use Motorway Service Stations.
Yesterday however, I had no choice. Just past Gatwick, I remembered I was supposed to have a a "full bladder" for the particular appointment I was attending and needed to stop to buy some drinks.
Once inside the soul destroying, plastic and chrome cattle shed I made my way past Costa Coffee - £2.69 for a large coffee and around £2 for every cake. Exactly when did we accept paying £2.69 for a cup of coffee? Every member of staff was of ethnic origin, surely not seeing the fruits or these extraordinary prices in their wage packs?
Then on past the "casino". Yes, really, there are mini-casinos to squeeze a few more pointless quid out of people making their way around the country. Makes perfect sense.
My husband decided he wanted a BigMac and queued with all the other economic-sleepwalkers for his bit of cardboard soaked in fat. Their staff too were all black except the two managers who were white and shouting at these minimum-wage slaves as if they were animals.
Finally I got to the "shop" This is not really a shop, it is exploitation in it's purest sense. I picked up a carton of Ribena (Normally 79p) and headed for the till. "£1.35 please" said the man crammed into the space behind the checkout, who was so morbidly obese that his hands morphed with his arms that morphed with his entirely round body.
I couldn't help myself. "£1.35?!?!?!? But that's terrible"
"Not at all" he replied from his dizzying minimum-wage perspective "You're just lazy. If you'd been better prepared, you wouldn't have had to stop here."
I promise this was his answer. To his customer. Who was a little curious about why she should pay double for a product for no good reason.
This blog post formed in my mouth, but I swallowed it whole. I wanted to suggest to him, that someone earning minimum wage might think again about judging his neighbour for not wanting to be exploited and instead, judge the out-of-control excesses of a capitalist system that has made it OK to charge us prices we can't afford.
I wanted to point out that FTSE 100 Executives got 32% pay rises last year, whilst he was almost certainly taking a pay cut due to inflation.
I wanted to point out that the energy companies were all announcing billions in profit in almost the same breath as raising bills for customers like him by up to 20%.
I wanted to point out that he was working in a "shop" in which he almost certainly could not afford any of the products.
I wanted to point out that the only reason "shops" like the one he was working in could charge such exorbitant prices was because we were a captive market. Without leaving the motorway and risking getting lost, few had any choice but to pay £1.35 for their Ribena or £2.69 for their cup of coffee.
But what was the point? I looked around me. The place was swarming with customers, cheerfully queueing up to be financially-abused. No-one questioned the price of their coffee or bagel or beak-burger. There are always a few old ladies translating the prices into "old money" shocked by the resulting shillings and pence tally, but they are getting rarer, replaced by the generation who have given up.
If, one day, I stop to find coffee has reached £10 a cup, I won't be surprised. There is, after all, only one way to keep shareholders in every increasing profits. I would be less surprised to see people cheerfully paying it. Yet another area of their lives where they know they're being shafted, cheated and mocked, but one they stopped questioning years ago.
I found the whole experience more depressing than reading the Daily Mail. We never stand up to anything any more and in fact we're happy to pay £2.69 for a cup of coffee. We're all middle class now and it makes us feel aspirational and a little spoilt to pay three times as much as we need to for a little slice of acceptance.
Our wages barely pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads, yet we have been sold exploitation in a beautiful box all tied up with the most alluring shiny bow. It happened so long ago, none of us remember what's inside the box any more. We're too distracted by the pretty wrapping.