Bottled red ink and cider champagne does not suit the taste of those who have a taste worth owning. They prefer to pay a fair price to have a good article, and they consequently go to old firms who are experts in their business.
The most serious form of competition that knocks the legitimate liquor trader on the head is the grocer wine and spirit selling. It may be very convenient to the public to be able to buy a bottle of wine or whisky when they are buying their groceries, but this convenience has been purchased, I fear, at a cost that is not pleasant to consider. I fear it would not be difficult to prove that female home-drinking has been fostered by the grocers’ wine and spirit licences. This is a serious matter to contemplate, and if I were a zealous temperance advocate I should strive to get those grocers’ licences wiped out.
Besides offering facilities that are calculated to encourage secret home-drinking the grocers’ licences operate in another way that is not exactly conducive to morality or integrity. I will explain what I mean. At Cambridge I knew an undergraduate who had a somewhat parsimonious pater. The latter limited his son’s allowance, and scrutinized his bills pretty closely. But my Verdant Green circumvented the supervision of his male parent by the opportunities offered by the grocers’ shops. Although my undergraduate friend was, I knew, kept pretty “short” in the matter of cash supplies, I noticed that he never seemed short of strong drink. He let the cat out of the bag—or let me say the cork out of the bottle—when one day he innocently remarked to me, “I get all my liquor from the grocer’s; the governor never looks much at the grocer’s account.”
Leaving the question of wines and spirits, I can illustrate my preference for dealing with men who “know you know” what they are selling, and are, indeed, experts in their trades. Although I am not a good or bad Templar, nor yet a small brass Band of Hope, I confess to a large weakness for tea—good, nice, well-flavoured tea. I have, however, found it somewhat difficult to obtain. Occasionally I taste it at the houses of friends who buy their tea in chests at a time; but as for getting such tea at the usual grocers’ shops I have found it difficult, if not impossible. Yet I have been willing to pay up to get some real prime Souchong, Assam, Orange Pekoe, or what not. I do not expect to get a one and twopenny tea with a fine two and ninepenny flavour. Bather recently I have paid 3s. 6d. a pound to get my little luxury; moreover, I tried many and various shops, but all more or less in vain. At last, however, I found salvation by going to a house—a retail shop indeed—that dealt in scarcely anything else but tea. And I now get tea full of delicious fragrance and flavour. It breathes such a splendid aroma before it is tasted that it almost seems a sin to drink it. When, however, I do taste a well-made cup of this infusion I am so happy and benign that (to paraphrase some words of the late Bishop of Oxford) my own wife might play with me.