On the house…

You will probably be aware of the clever ‘free coffee’ thing that Pret-a-Manger employ; whereby an employee can hand out a coffee for nix to anyone of their choosing – and no doubt, mostly customers who are easy-on-the-eye are on the receiving end of such charity.

This is a neat ploy. Customers being made to feel special and no doubt in turn, vying to charm their way to a free espresso.

But it has a downside too, namely that what about the Pret regulars who have never been so lucky. And have always been required to cough up.

Like me.

How do we feel? The ugly and the dispossessed. What is it with me? Huh? Am I not smiling enough?

I should explain that this anxiety of mine is not acute. I do not go in to a Pret, stressed in the hope of a free coffee. My spirit is not dashed when they point at the machine for payment.

But this said, it is in my mind somewhere, it must be, percolating away (a good choice of word)  and was fully crystallised when Harry casually announced recently, that he’s had loads of free Pret coffees.

‘Really?’ I exclaimed. “How? What? Why? What the hell…”

Full disclaimer now – what I am about to relate was not achieved with any specific or cynical intentions…

But yesterday, in Pret – I received free coffee (plural, in fact) for the first time –  a little breakthrough and life milestone for me.

In town with Nikki – we enter a Pret. Nikki promptly heads for a seat, knowing that her coffee will appear before her. And with good reason as well – firstly, sore feet, due to wearing flattering but excruciating shoes and secondly, it being her birthday.

The man serving has an air about him. Tall and super good looking, he exudes confidence; a black guy with a shock of cool hair and a smile that could stop traffic. He has a manner about him too to go with his physical gifts.

In London, practically nobody working in Pret hails from the UK – something the chain has been criticised over – but it is something that we Londoners don’t very much care about. We just want our drinks, right? This bloke has a mild accent – hard to place and this further intrigues me. Certainly not from the UK – and I wonder where – however, in these times of heightened sensitivity, asking about someone’s origins is generally beyond the pale. Even if it comes from genuine interest and curiosity and furthermore this social crime is considered even more grave if it is being asked of a person of colour.

Whilst I have little truck with this and I am interested in people and their stories but equally, I am not a fool and I know the rules. But back to this guy and his easy manner. Because somehow I sense that he wont care a jot. That he wont be offended at all and so I take the leap.

“New York City.” He responds casually and again with that smile of his.

Not, just New York. But New York City, no less. Like the Big Apple – the world City of New York needs qualifying with City.

“But my parents are from the Caribbean.” He adds by way of explanation. We get chatting. Studying at university in London, I imagine his student life is markedly different from my own.

It’s a friendly exchange as proven by my coffees being on the house.

I shake his hand which is probably not the done thing and shows my age.

This £5 saving is exciting news to share with my wife – the birthday girl – but Nikki is much less excited than me. In my bag is my diary and I hope that it might contain…

But finding my diary in my bag is not an easy thing. I should explain…  We have almost collapsed in to Pret having just visited a TK Max in Covent Garden – in order to buy a comfortable pair of shoes for Nikki to see her home “…because my feet are bloody well killing me.”

Quite an indulgence and why the free coffees are particularly welcome.

So in my slim and moderately sized shoulder bag to go with water bottles, keys, wallet, a diary and some other bits and bobs are two discarded shoes that once belonged to my beloved wife.

It’s a struggle, but I locate my diary and as I hoped, I have a photograph. It is a split photo with Tom on one half and Spider-Man on the other.

Oh, and it is signed.

I venture that this barrister most likely gives his free daily coffee allocation to a beautiful girl and around his own age – and very rarely, does he waste it on an odd looking middle aged bloke with a bag bursting at the seams.

But a good choice as it turns out…

Because on leaving the branch – me walking, Nikki limping and still making a meal of it – I approach the counter again. And this time, I have an air as well.

I hand him the photo…

“This is our son. He’s from New York City as well…”

And now we both smile.







47 thoughts on “On the house…

  1. Chetouane nasrine says:

    Well its nice to celebrate your wife’s birthday and i have to say nice choice of word .you are an amazing writer✌

  2. Team says:

    That is very lovely of you it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day sometimes just a smile can really make someone feel special, in this case it was a great day all round l hope Nikki ended up having a wonderful day

  3. Ellen L says:

    This is such a sweet story. I didn’t know Pret gave out free coffee! I hope Nikki had a good birthday. By the way, I loved the way this was written, you’re very talented.
    Ellen xxxx

  4. Aparna says:

    This warmed my heart. Dominic Holland- you truly showed me that life is about these little things. Keep spreading that energy 🙂

    • Kenisha says:

      Wow you are a great writer Dom and I know I can come to your blog for a little humour every few days when I’m down. You made my day so thank you so much.
      Oh and Happy Birthday to Nikki

  5. Melanie Lafleur says:

    This made my day… Laughing out loud in a emergency room here in Quebec City Canada your text put a smile on my face and made my pain (I’m not dying no worries) go away for just a little bit… Love reading you

  6. AmyP says:

    What a lovely anecdote! You sir, are a good man. It’s nice you took the time to strike up a conversation with the young man. The world would be a better place if more people took an interest in one another!

  7. Matt says:

    Very well written as always Dom. I think I spotted you in Charing Cross actually a few weeks ago (you took a right to go down the exit towards embankment rather than straight ahead and out through the main exit/entrance if it was you) but I wasn’t sure as you looked taller than I’d imagine you would be! Haha. Hope all is well.

  8. Elisa says:

    it’s a nice story. only I don’t understand so well but I think I need to be a little older and better able to read English.

    from Elisa

  9. Serena says:

    First time I finally manage to read something you write… (my phone doesn’t like you I guess … ).
    This is so cool! It’s beautiful from time to time to read that there still are some people who manage to be kind just because, and not to gain something. Because when you act kindly without expectations of getting something back, that is usually the time you do! Thank you for sharing it with all of us Dominic! OH! And Happy belated birthday to Nikki! <3

  10. Pamela says:

    You are a treasure. Your blogs always brighten my day! Your are an amazing writer! Finished I, Gabriel–loved it!! Reading Eclipsed now! Thoroughly enjoyed it! Keep it coming!! Happy Birthday to Nikki! Sounds like her day was pretty special!!

      • Renee Gao says:

        Hope you, your wife and the rest families have a nice day.
        Actually I started follow you is because I am a “over-age” fan to your eldest son, but I do love your way to tell stories, it do made my days,thanks Dom!!

  11. Lorraine says:

    Such a nice anecdote Dom. One good turn deserves another. Hope your coffee tasted all the better for it I hopeNikki enjoyed her birthday

  12. Lorraine says:

    Great story Dom. I’m sure the coffee tasted all the sweeter ☕☕, nice payback for the NY guy. I hope Nikki enjoyed her birthday

  13. Lorraine says:

    I’m sure your coffee tasted all the sweeter for the treat Dom ☕☕ Very nice payback for the gesture on your part. Hope Nikki had a great birthday

  14. Sara says:

    It’s these small, unexpected and wonderful human interactions that make the world a better place….. and happy belated birthday Nikki x

  15. Bethan says:

    Your stories are great!! I’d love to give you a free piece of rare Clogau Gold Jewellery in exchange for a signed photo… but I would most definitely get fired 🙁

  16. Faith says:

    Love this Dom and it’s so true it doesn’t take a lot to show interest in someone particularly in the service industry where they are often so badly treated . My kids always used to moan at me when they were younger that I was constantly striking up conversations with strangers in queues or with our waitress/waiter , and now they do it too !

  17. Ames says:

    Well I can safely say that I was unaware of this Pret deal and I’m now thoroughly offended that I have not been granted a free drink, thanks Dom! :)))

  18. Star says:

    What a perfectly lovely story. I love hearing people talk about where they are from. I find with a bit of interest people open up often reveal a sense of joy or wistfulness depending on how long they have been away from their home. It’s a bit easier for me though; I work with international students.
    Best wishes to your wife on her day and on the recovery of her feet!

  19. Regina says:

    What a lovely story! It contained so many of my favorite things! Good looking men, TK Max (known as TJ Maxx here), NYC, free coffee, Spider-Man, and of course you. Also, happy (late) Birthday to Nikki.

  20. Audrey says:

    Nice story and you’re setting an example for husbands to carry their wives footwear! Please tell Nikki belated happy birthday and also that all my super chic New York City friends (which I am not) wear comfortable walking shoes when rushing around and then switch into their heels once they arrive at the swanky location, BUT I have as yet to see one of their husbands help out.
    You rock! Keep writing.

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