March 2007
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A chocolate jackpot

Motorway service stations are the perpetrators of one of my biggest pet peeves.  Their business is to sell stuff to motorists, a group that is largely comprised – particularly during the day – of solo travellers.  Yet virtually everything in their shops is priced in such a way that you cannot just buy one of them.  They’re clearly doing you a huge favour with their multibuys – on bottles of Coke, for instance, £2 for two is not nearly so overpriced as £1.30 each.  It’s gotten to be rare that you can find anything to drink that isn’t priced this way.

The reason this winds me up so much – and the reason I so often go without purely out of spite – is not the excessive pricing, it’s that you’re put in a situation where whatever decision you make is bad.  Either you can pay the solo traveler tax (that’s 30% on every bottle of Coke you buy on its own) or you can pay the difference and take that second bottle that you don’t really want for a price you wouldn’t ordinarily pay.  70p seems cheap compared to £1.30 for the first bottle, but it’s not really, and it’ll be warm by the time you want it so you’ll probably just take it home and put it in the fridge where it can sit next to the case of drinks you bought from the cash and carry and smirk at you every time you open the door.

So here’s a top tip I discovered tonight at Donnington Park services on the M1.  Their Travelodge has a vending machine in reception which sells bottles of soft drinks, one at a time, for a quid a pop.  As most service stations have some kind of hotel, I’ll definitely be trying this trick in future.  It’s most satisfying to have beaten the system.

However it’s even more satisfying to hit a once-in-a-lifetime chocolate jackpot.  I decided to splurge on a pack of Jaffa Cakes so I fed the other vending machine accordingly.  As the packet started to move forward, it got caught on the shelf above and would not drop.  I prepared myself for giving the machine a bit of a kick and a shake – whatever it takes to get my confectionery – but there was no need.  These clever modern machines can detect that nothing dropped out, so it kept on pushing.  The second pack also got jammed on the shelf above and it kept pushing still further.  I reached for my camera phone, of course, because that’s a natural reaction for anyone to have to this kind of situation, but unfortunately I was just too late to get a picture .  Three packs of Jaffa cakes plopped into the tray for the price of one.