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Tuesday 11th February 2003

In my thirteen month crusade to lose weight (last week got down to 13 stone, but put on a couple of pounds on tour this week. That elusive 12 stone something seems destined to remain just a dream) I have managed to overcome many of the psychological links between food and mood or occasion.
As I’ve said before, I realised that I used chocolate both as a reward or as a comfort (as well as quite often, something that tasted really nice) but I have managed to overcome that association.
One link that I find harder to conquer is the one between a long car journey and the need to stop at services to buy sweets and crisps and unpleasant pasties. So when we took a welcome break at a Welcome Break on the way to Leicester I couldn’t resist the urge to head for the pick and mix (sorry, that should, of course be “pick ‘n mix”, life is so hectic we can’t waste our time with those two unnecessary letters) for some unpleasantly sugary confection. I chose two pink shrimps, three big yellow bananas, three gob stoppers (regular size, not giant), four liquorice allsorts, five toffees and three bits of fudge. Naturally I also stole a couple of sweets and ate them as I was choosing. You have to off-set the inflated cost of the service station prices by getting a couple of bits of candy for nothing.
I took my 19 sweets to the counter to pay for them and was told that they would cost me £2.03. Two pounds, three pence for 19 sweets? Even taking into account the two pieces I stole, that’s practically ten pence a sweet. How can Welcome Break possibly justify that?
OK three of the sweets were gob stoppers, which are quite heavy and you might expect to pay 5 pence each for them (though might still feel a bit ripped off), but the lightweight liquorice all-sorts surely bring the average down. Yet I am still paying ten pence for one of those tiny bits of liquorice with a white filling (I don’t believe they were even Basset’s liquorice all sorts, but one of the inferior copies).
The woman at the till was clearly embarrassed “It’s two pounds, three,” she said, “is that all right?” I said that it was, but I hadn’t fully taken in the full horror of what she was telling me. I thought that that price included the newspaper and bottle of coke I was also buying. So I ended up paying for the over-priced fripperies.
Now you might expect that for ten pence a throw, those sweets would be fit for a king, and possibly have real diamonds at their centre, but although some of them had gone almost as hard as diamonds as they sat exposed to the air (and whatever else dripped into their plastic boxes) I’m afraid that your regal expectations would be confounded.
The liquorice allsorts were stale, one of the yellow banana things seemed to be mutated, as if it had been partially dipped in fluid and then dried out again and the shrimps were a bit too pink and might possibly have been genuine sea creatures that had been found in a puddle by a sewage outlet and then dipped in sugar solution to be sold to children. OK, maybe not. But the sweets were not good and did not live up to their 10 pence price tag.
So, how can I get Welcome Break back for their blatant theft of around £1.96 of my £2.03? I think that by stealing a couple of sweets each time I go I am just playing into their hands. All I am getting is a couple more horrible sweets and they have clearly factored such thefts into their prices and marked them up by about 10,000%. No, I have a better plan and you can help me implement it.
Next time I am at a Welcome Break and there is a “pick ‘n mix”, I am going to fill a bag with sweets. And I mean fill it. I am going to take one of those big “pick ‘n mix” bags and literally pick as many different sweets as I can and thoroughly mix them. But I am going to avoid any sweets that are already wrapped up. I want the sweets and their sugary coatings and their flavours to get thoroughly entwined. I am then going to take the bulging bag of sweetmeats to be weighed. I will presumably be asked for around fifty pounds for my purchase. The woman at the till will be embarrassed and say “Is that all right?” and I will say, “Oh no, that’s far too expensive. I won’t bother thanks,” and then I will walk away, leaving the astonished employee with a massive bag of sweets. Welcome Break will then be left with the choice of throwing the sweets away or employing someone to un-pick and (sorry, ‘n) un-mix them and put them back in their containers. If the contamination process has been effective then this will not really be possible. Very shortly the pick ‘n mix will look too unpleasant for anyone to buy.
Now if I do that alone it will not make all that much difference, but if we all do it, and we all e mail our friends and tell them to do it too, then Welcome Break will have an annoying problem on their hands. I will write to them and let them know what is happening and tell them that they must
a) decrease the cost of their “pick ‘n mix” to an average of one pence a sweet (allowing up to 3 pence for large or novelty candy)
b) increase the quality of the sweets, so they are made by recognised major brand manufacturers and are in prime condition (neither hard nor water-damaged)
c) re-name the facility as “pick AND mix”. We, their consumers, will not be short-changed and demand all the letters of the words used to be present.
I am serious about this, and urge you to join me in my crusade. For the moment let us concentrate on Welcome Break service stations. When we have won that battle we will move on to other pick and mix criminals.
It is your right to change your mind, so don’t be swayed by any staff who attempt to force you to buy the bag of sweets that you no longer want. Let’s see if we can make a difference.

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