Tescos has very clear ideas of what it should and should not sell to teenagers. When 16 year old Liam Whelan tried to buy a packet of teaspoons from his local branch the self-service till refused to accept his payment. Pluckily the young lad took his case to the store manager, who refused to bend the rules. Liam even produced his moped licence which the manager examined carefully; to no avail.
At his age, with his licence, Liam could lawfully leave school, have sex, join the army, get married and ride his tuk-tuk all the way to Timbuctoo. What he could not do, said the manager, was buy a packet of teaspoons, or even a single teaspoon, from Tescos. For that, he would have to wait until his eighteenth birthday.
The rationale for the no-teaspoons for teens policy, which Tescos have enforced for the last 5 years, may seem a little opaque and one struggles at first to think of exactly what Tescos think Liam might do if he managed to get his hands on a teaspoon, let alone a whole packet.
The obvious use, of course, would be to stir milk or sugar into a hot drink. Clearly there is something of a worry there: both milk and sugar are very dangerous if eaten to excess, leading potentially to obesity, diabetes, blindness, sexual dysfunction, cardiac arrhythmia and a miserable death. One would understand why a responsible store like Tescos would want to protect its younger customers from that sort of thing.
On the other hand Tescos are quite happy to sell both milk and sugar to teenagers, without even the production of a moped licence, so it seems unlikely that this is behind the metal utensil prohibition.
In fact the explanation is that the sort of teaspoons teenagers use today are very, very different from the innocuous rounded metal implements that today’s parents remember from their youth. In fact they are barely recognisable as the same category of cutlery. The metal is much harder: some say it is often adulterated with tungsten to make it more durable, although – for obvious reasons – hard evidence is difficult to come by. The edges are much sharper and police report that many of today’s teaspoons hold up to 15% more sugar than those that were used in the supposedly swinging sixties. Inevitably spillages occur and when this happens the consequences are far more severe than the minor splashes that were usually laughed off as youthful indiscretions by earlier generations.
Generally speaking these more modern teaspoons are used at what are known as “tea parties.” These are gatherings of (usually) young people who meet to drink tea, often arranging assignations at short notice through social media (Bebo and MySpace are particular favourites) or even by “text” message. The very informality of these parties, as well as the almost impenetrable argot of teaspoon users, can make them particularly hard for police to monitor.
Typically they take place in filthy overcrowded flats, although there have been reports that some lawyers, bankers and even judges are regular teaspoon users, relying on the omerta of the upper classes to keep the goings on in their “salons” confidential.
At a typical such party one person will generally supply the tea paraphernalia. He or she will volunteer to boil water in a “kettle”, a lethal piece of electrical equipment capable of heating water to the point at which it starts to boil. In some cases kettle users have been known to construct elaborate DIY wiring to by-pass electricity meters, resulting, of course, in serious fire risks. The kettle operator – who can be male or female – is usually referred to as “Mummy”. “Mummy” will either pour the boiling water into a “pot” in which he or she has previously placed tea-leaves (usually using a teaspoon), or, if a more immediate “hit” is required, directly onto small paper packages – “bags” – containing tea, which are placed in individual “mugs”.
It is at this point that teaspoons are generally distributed to the other “guests” and can be used for adding sugar to the tea. Even more alarmingly milk is often added to the infusion at the same time and teaspoons are used to agitate the hot liquid to produce the distinctive light brown, or occasionally grey, emulsion which is then usually taken orally. It is not uncommon for sugary snacks including “cakes” and “biscuits” to be handed out along with the boiling liquid. It takes very little imagination to see how every step in this process is laden with terrible risks.
Extraordinarily, the whole sordid business remains not only legal but almost entirely unregulated.
One must hope that Tesco’s stand against the evils of teaspoons will somehow do some good. It might prove inconvenient for some but if it prevents even one teenager from coming into contact with a teaspoon it will have been worthwhile.
Instead of teaspoons, Tescos now promotes paracetamol, a drug which it happily sells to children of all ages.