They say there’s no such thing a free lunch. Who said this is quite frankly unclear, but most people seem to agree that it’s a broadly unerring analysis. You get nothing for nothing in this world, said your mother – if your mother was a hard-nosed, provincial matriarch from a TV soap opera. However, it was the opinion of the editorial leadership of this newspaper that I should go into the city of York and attempt to prove this well-worn adage wrong. My objective; to get all the free crap I could physically lay my hands on and prove that we student shysters actually can scrounge something for bugger all. Well, OK, that’s faintly erroneous – what I was actually told to do was get a string of increasingly preposterous items on a list devised ad hoc at the Features meeting. Unfortunately, I appeared to have misplaced this list when the day came to venture into town. Which is definitely what actually happened, as opposed to me deliberately leaving it at home because I severely doubted my chances of being able to swindle a “piece of One Direction merchandise”.
My guide for the day was Maddi Howell, our very own Lifestyle Editor, who had been press-ganged into leading me around the streets like a lost puppy. This was due to her seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the independent small businesses of York, which in this town is quite some achievement.
It was with an empty stomach that I arrived on Parliament Street to meet Maddi and begin my ‘research’. You might think this was deliberate, and showed a startling journalistic commitment to this piece, to see if I could satisfy my hunger on a budget of zero pounds and zero pence. I could claim this and you’d probably believe me, but I’m going to level with you and say that I was just in a rush and
I had, admittedly, a stroke of luck in choosing to do all this at the same time as the Jorvik Festival, as the majority of Parliament Street had been taken over by a string of food stalls, most of which were offering free samples; primarily cheese, it seemed. I strongly suspect that in one sweep of the festival I was able to sample more or less every single envisionable type of cheese, including one flavoured with beeswax, which was surprisingly pleasant. I finished off the succession of free cheese with half a glass of hot cider. As a West Country man, people are consistently aghast at my lack of enthusiasm for the drinking of cider, which they assume we south westerly rubes are 96% made of. This stuff was excellent though, and perfect for a cold winter’s morning, although I appreciate that you once again didn’t ask.
After more or less exhausting the pickings of the festival, I concluded that I should probably diversify my search, lest I be forced to conclude that the principal way to get free stuff in York is to go to food festivals when they happen to be on. We moved on to Boots to try every single one of their free aftershave testers.
Now, is it just me, or are aftershave bottles getting more and more outlandish? I get my yearly supplies of aftershave from semi obscure relations who can’t think of anything else to get me for Christmas and birthday, but as far as I can remember, it usually comes in a fairly normal shaped bottle. I however sampled aftershaves in bottles shaped like, in order: a skull, a fist and a bull moose. The skull one smelt pretty much as you’d imagine, like a product which is being marketed in a bottle shaped like a skull. The fist one was an improvement, not that I could ever justify shelling out for it.
So with that I left Boots smelling like an explosion at a cosmetics factory and immediately ran into a trolley with a sink and a selection of free hand wash outside Ritual Cosmetics. At this point my initial fears about this trip being fruitless were quickly disappearing. It seemed as if you really could get a tonne of free crap in York just by wandering aimlessly around, and we were far from done.
After failing to sucker a string of confectionery outlets into handing over some complimentary goodies on the grounds that we were writing an article about the York chocolate trail, we finally found a willing participant in the York Cocoa House. They gifted us with a free blue cheese truffle, which was disappointingly un-cheesy but surprisingly un-vile, and one of their famous classic hot chocolates, which are apparently made from the essence of childhood innocence and are perhaps the most wondrous creations of mortal man. Plus I was able to stuff a number of the orange truffles they kept in a taster bowl by the door into my pockets as we were leaving…
By this point my hunger had been broadly relieved, and after managing to pick up a free chicken and potato on a stick thing in some sort of white wine sauce from a guy standing out the front of a restaurant by the Minster – I forgot to get the name of (sorry guys) – I had basically eaten a fairly balanced meal, so decided to do what I always do when I feel as if I’ve achieved something tangible with my day – get drunk.
The first port of call on our new alcohol centric mission was Vom Fass, where Miss Howell’s ingeniously devised scheme of claiming that we were looking into buying a birthday present won us a string of free tasters.
Having drunk a shot of a spirit of every colour of the rainbow it was time for the some free ale samples at The Last Drop Inn, followed by a full pint, which admittedly wasn’t free but as far as I’m concerned I was off the clock by then.
So, what have we learnt from all this? That you can eat and get slightly tipsy in York without spending a penny, but it helps if you can claim you’re a member of a York student newspaper. So feel free to lie about that, but don’t get caught, because I think that might be fraud. Or at least if you do, you didn’t hear it from me.