I want to start by saying that I have pretty high regard for the standards of the John Lewis Partnership, the eponymous department store chain and the Waitrose supermarket division. I think its goods are generally of superior quality; its ethics are less lamentable than most large-scale retailers; and the somewhat cooperative model of ownership warms the cockles of my little red heart. Staff seem happy; suppliers (at least, those I know from my local farmers’ market) have nothing but good words for the company.
When a spiffy Waitrose opened up in my town exactly two years ago, it improved my life more than I care to admit. Shopping went from being a terrible chore of agonised decisions over the least-worst option (mostly to do with the constant tug of the much cheaper own-brand pushing small-scale independent producers off the shelves and my desire not to contribute to the hegemony of the supermarket giants by buying it), conducted in poor lighting, concluded by the insult of an outrageously long wait to be checked out by a surly, incompetent, abject specimen of human misery, the whole horror topped and tailed by a battle to cram my rather small vehicle into a parking space of churlishly mean proportions and slide myself in and out between the SUVs on either side.
In contrast, the local Waitrose is an oasis of wide-aisled, naturally-lit calm, filled with high quality produce sold by seemingly happy, friendly people (tellingly, after two years, staff turnover has been very low, and they still all seem happy and engaged. You might think it odd that Vladimir Putin – or is it Daniel Craig? – appears to have a second job in a supermarket, but honestly, if you’d seen my local Waitrose, you wouldn’t be quite that surprised. I’m a little scared of him, frankly, but everyone else is certainly very friendly. And Vladimir probably just doesn’t have a naturally warm demeanor. But I digress). Anyway, generally Waitrose is a joy (although I deplore the shocking tendency to insane over-packaging). If there is a queue of more than two people, they open another checkout. Really. Why, even the parking is a joy. I have never once had to breathe in before slithering between my car and an encroaching SUV. Mostly though, I feel comfortable in the belief that they have not consistently and relentlessly squeezed everyone along the supply chain until the pips squeaked in search of an extra penny of profit, and that one way and another, the food I bring home may cost me a tiny bit more, but that overall, my retail pound is spent in a way that creates the best ‘value’ for the greatest number compared to any of the other local supermarkets.
All that said, I expect certain standards from John Lewis, including a degree of honesty. So I can’t explain how horrified I was by what I saw in there the other day. It should have been funny, and would have been if it hadn’t been so outrageously cynical. Anyway, they seem to have introduced a new range of luxury toilet paper. Now, let’s leave aside the environmental impact of luxury toilet paper, because I can see that if people want to buy it, they might quite reasonably want to sell it. Still, I’m struggling with this concept.
Extract of what? In the interest of fairness, I should point out that there are two other varieties – extract of jojoba, and extract of aloe vera, both of which are plants, and I can see how one might derive ‘extract’ of these. But what in heaven’s name, might ‘extract of cashmere’ actually be? Has someone waved a goat over the vat of paper pulp? Have they distilled goat pee and added a little of that to the mix? Is someone playing with test tubes of goat DNA? My mind is officially boggled. Insofar as ‘cashmere’ is a protein fiber, I don’t see how you can ‘extract’ from it in any meaningful way. (I might be wrong. I’m not a chemist.) If there is actual cashmere fiber in there, why doesn’t it just say “with cashmere”? Why is the packaging completely silent on the details? Why is there no actual amount of any goaty goodness referred to among the ‘ingredients’? Maybe because, whatever this mystery extract is, it’s present in some homeopathic-type amount? Naturally, if you are reading this because you are a knitter, spinner, or otherwise crafty fiber-lover (and I’d say the chances are high), you are aware of how wonderful cashmere can be. And how a small amount, like, oh, I don’t know, one or two percent, wouldn’t really make that much difference to the handle of a yarn. So, assuming that it’s not ludicrous (big assumption, but let’s be kind here) to want to wipe your bottom with cashmere paper, how much cashmere would be needed for you to feel it anyway? All I know is, whatever number you came up with, if there were that amount, it would most certainly be mentioned on the label. In the meantime, I think that they are just using the word ‘cashmere’ to trigger connotations of luxury and softness. Which is fine, but please, ‘extract of cashmere’? I suggest it should be renamed, in the interests of honesty. Maybe ‘extract of claptrap’, ‘extract of bunkum’ or the more thematically appropriate ‘extract of pisstaking’, ‘extract of bullshit’ or ‘extract of marketing crap’.