Donald MacInnes: Even though I'm Scottish, free stuff can't be good for you


I have dealt with the erroneous perception of a skinflint Scotland before, so forgive me if I make mention again. I do so only because of an incident last Sunday, while I was at work. It happened at the moment of the straight-sets win by Andy Murray in the Olympic tennis (over a man clearly masquerading as Roger Federer). As the newsroom cheered, someone near me shouted: "You would think, as a Scot, he wouldn't be interested in the Olympics, as there's no prize money! Hur hur hur!" Comedy gold.

As an example of how the value of something is not as crucial to us as might be imagined, I offer my lack of attraction to "free stuff". In fact, it was only but 10 minutes ago that I again rejected a freebie from a stranger.

He and his cohorts had set up a stall across from the paper's offices and were handing out free bottles of some sort of fruit-flavoured water. I strode past, ignoring the proffered beverage, and entered our building, muttering.

As you would imagine, given our ant-like numerousness, commuters in London are often targeted by this kind of marketing, but I'm sure that the whole kingdom is being offered handouts, be they oaty breakfast bars, sachets of shampoo or swigs of booze.

And it is this last one which really crystallised my hatred of freebies. I was walking through London's Victoria station a few years ago and noticed a multitude (from the Latin word "multito" meaning "we genuinely have no life") clustered around a stall branded by Ireland's most famous drink.

The stall had been set up to resemble a pub and minuscule tumblers of stout were being handed to the panting mob. We're not talking smallish glasses here, but the kind of micro vessel you get with bottles of cough syrup. I watched in unchecked amazement as people QUEUED UP to receive one of these little soupçons of Guinness, which they imbibed while leaning laconically on the stall as if in an actual pub.

These were mostly businessmen on their way to work, but were happy to line up to be handed less than a mouthful of stout. Why? I'll tell you why: because it was free. This really seems to be the only criterion required to make someone line up, mute and expectant in their docility; like sheep awaiting a dose of anti-worm medicine.

No thought was evidently given to what this behaviour might do to their sense of individuality. If such a thing existed at all. Depressed, I strode past, muttering.

But then, being a miserable sod, I'm probably not their target demographic. Then again, I'd guess, neither is Andy Murray. Thank goodness.

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