Have you seen them?
Tell me, have you seen them?
They are popping up throughout the State’s cities and towns.
They come by stealth, often under cover of an existing façade.
They appear with the minimum of fuss from behind a thin cloud of ‘constructiodust’.
And then poor innocent people enter, unaware that they are placing their very essence in peril.
Starbucks is coming for you.
The shops are multiplying as if they were a colony of rabbits.
You think you’re just popping into the nearest most convenient brewer of coffee, but you are actually entering a premises designed to erode native culture and transmogrify you from citizen to stateless consumer.
If Starbucks was a movie it would be called Invasion of the Soul Snatchers.
Starbucks is a brand leader in global consumerism.
It first arrived on these shores in 2005, setting up a coffee shop for the good burghers or south Dublin in the national Cathedral of consumerism, the Dundrum Town Centre.
Having established a foothold, the interloper spread out across the land.
Like many of these global brands it came under the guise of a friendly character. In this case, Starbuck was the first mate on the ship chasing the whale Moby Dick, from the great 19th-century American novel by Herman Melville.
Like the great white of the book, Starbucks has travelled across oceans wreaking havoc.
After a period of rapid expansion in this country, the cafe chain now has upwards of 70 shops.
Starbucks conforms to the transglobal model of bigging up its corporate responsibility, keeping an eye on the environment and promoting a mission statement in which “people” rather than money is a guiding principle.
Oh yes, and like many of their fellow big brands, they are adverse to paying tax.
Last year, the Irish Examiner revealed that Starbucks paid only €4,196 in corporate tax on profits of €2.3m.
All of which is perfectly legal in this great little country of ours.
But apart from the brass tacks of untaxed profits, Starbucks is taking something more from this country.
Once upon a time, places of congress, most prominently public houses, had a unique character, a certain individuality.
As the pub has retreated from its formerly central position in Irish life, so up stepped the coffee shop and created what Moby Dick’s pal spotted as a fertile market.
Starbucks arrived with its template, the same physical and corporate model that it deploys from Timbuctoo, California to Termonfeckin, Co Louth.
The same saccharine patter, the same antiseptic atmosphere, the same packaged food, the same chairs, lights, the same push to flatten out the quirks of a national character that inhabit any place of congress.
The same consumer model.
And into their arms a nation is running, placing convenience over discernment, fad above culture, instant gratification beyond the reach of their very soul.
Not even the neanderthal Ronald McDonald could have dreamed of such conquest with so little resistance.
Being a daredevil thrill seeker, I have gambled with my own soul.
One day, I did wander into a Starbucks.
The kid behind the counter was courteous and professional, until he blew it with the question: “How are you today?”
I had never met him before in my life.
Did he want me to reveal my deepest fears and insecurities preoccupying me of a wet Thursday afternoon?
Then he adopted the pose of a quiz master, asking which of 10 types of coffee, three brands of beans and two forms of milk would sweeten my palate.
My head was in a spin.
“I’m an instant man myself,” I told him.
He asked me my name, and scribbled it on a cup.
When the coffee was ready, I noticed that my name was spelt wrong.
The nice guy behind the counter who was getting all personal couldn’t even spell my four letter name.
A few weeks back, on his radio show, Ryan Tubridy revealed that there is a conspiracy theorist on YouTube who claims the mis-spelling of names on Starbucks cups is a tactic to prompt bemused customers to take a photo and bang it off onto social media, thus providing free advertising.
A company that is capable of usurping a nation is capable of anything.
Having acquired my mis-spelt cup, I noticed that all around me the clientele sat with heads bowed like a beaten people.
Every last one of them was dipping into screens big and small.
The tactic of ensuring that enemy prisoners are kept isolated from comrades was working.
The compulsion to converse about sweet nothings over a cuppa had been flushed from their very beings.
Four young women sat at one table all engrossed in their own screens.
Four women sitting together and not a word out of them?
They were beyond saving.
The coffee tasted of bitter change.
A few weeks before Christmas I met a friend in a coffee shop on the banks of the Lee in Cork city centre.
Just stepping inside took years off me.
There were mismatching chairs, and posters for small arts events and a few freesheets scattered next to a copy of the Echo.
There were cushions on the chairs.
The man behind the counter wore a woolly hat with earflaps, as if he was gearing up to go out and shoot some moose.
Chet Baker’s trumpet sounded out from somewhere, bathing the place in a lazy glow.
A woman took our order, her face tightening into a quizzical look when I mentioned a toasted sandwich.
Her head swung towards an open door at the back of the shop, as if an answer hoovered there in the doorframe, before nodding and saying, ‘yeah that should be alright’.
My friend had the previous week brought his teenage daughter in there.
She was like somebody transported to a strange land, consumed with a sense of wonder.
The place was slightly disorganised, like any self-respecting coffee shop should be.
It reeked of humanity, When the sandwich hadn’t arrived after a few minutes, the man came over and chatted.
He didn’t ask me how I was today.
I mentioned that it was great to see a place like this “as long as you can keep your head above water”.
He looked out at the Lee and said something about the tide rarely swelling up over the walls, and that they should be alright.
We were at cross purposes, but what the hell.
We were humans shooting the breeze.
Then his colleague stuck her head around the door leading to the kitchen, apologising for the delay.
“The cheese is melting now,” she said.
I went down on my knees.
Saved, saved from oblivion.
For as long as there is a kettle in shops like that, as long as there are proprietors who can assemble a toastie, as long as citizens can spell their names proudly, we will not be broken.
No surrender, Starbucks.