According to a coffee shop in Shoreditch, I am "a slag". So are both of my sisters nearly all the girls (and one of the boys) I was at school with and my mum, but only when our feet get cold and we put on what are commonly known as "Uggs"- the Australian sheepskin boots that make their annual return to the British high street every winter as temperatures plummet and take our better sartorial sense with them. In the shoe world, they are the winter equivalent of crocs- quite possibly the least "slaggy" shoe imaginable- and yet for some reason Bricklane Coffee decided it would be a good idea to place a sign outside their shop that read "No Uggs" with the explanation "(slag wellies)".
It's the sort of decision that you'd like to think was an innocent mistake; a teenage barista making a bad joke during his lunch break or someone who'd didn't hear the news, when it was repeated for the nine-hundredth-and-ninety-ninth and thousandth times, that labelling any woman a slag, however humorously, just isn't ok. Besides, independent coffee shops are known for their kitsch "banterous" signs that occasionally say something witty like "Instagram me" and are normally quite funny, or at very least witty- surely some idiot had just overstepped the mark?
Not so. Bricklane Coffee was criticised earlier this year for a different sign outside its store reading "Sorry No Poor People", dismissed by owner Adrian Jones as "graffiti". This time round, when Twitter voiced its opinion and online commenters like Caitlin Moran accused the shop of sexism, Fuck0ffee valiantly came to its brother's side. The Bermondsey shop responded by insulting critics and by retweeting the endless torrent of abuse sent in the direction of anyone who dared point out that the sign was, as Caitlin Moran perfectly described it "horrible".
I'm one of these critics, mainly because, until recently, I was a regular at Fuck0ffee (although not as frequently as at The Watch House down the road which has better coffee, better cake and nicer staff, for anyone looking for a new "local"). My custom didn't stop the trolls and in the last twenty-four hours, I've been called a "slag" (several times without any references to my footwear choices), told to "lighten up" and have even been sent a weird meme telling me to put the fact that the inventor of uggs was male and created the shoes for after he'd gone surfing "in my pipe and smoke it". Still, things could have been worse. At least, unlike one other commenter, I wasn't called "sugar-tits" as we were collectively reprimanded for daring to be offended and accused of being "oversensitive". Nor was I mocked for being a feminist as we were told to sit down, shut up and concentrate on more important women's issues because we had chosen to voice our opinions on a poorly-judged joke that made us feel uncomfortable. "Offended by words, lol" reads a tweet from one supporter, duly retweeted by the shop.
They're right. We are offended by words, but only because Fuck0ffee and Bricklane have chosen to use remarkably poor ones. They have failed both to listen to their neighbours and consumers, resorting to mocking, patronizing and deriding them, and to tread the dangerous line between humour and insult, with Adrian Jones, the owner of both coffee houses, describing the sign and the ensuing twitter debate as "just a bit of fun".
That may be true, it may have started that way. After all, it's obviously undeniable that social media has provided the world with the perfect platform to blow up the most miniscule of controversies. But there's a difference between cracking a joke and acknowledging that it's all in good humour and viciously insulting, mocking and deriding anyone who disagrees with your brand of comedy.
Sadly, both Fuck0ffee and Bricklane Coffee, appear to have misunderstood the time-old saying that "any publicity is good publicity" and, in doing so, to have missed a very simple truth: If you want to stand out in London's over-saturated independent coffee market, insulting 52% of the population isn't the best way to go about it. It's bad marketing, bad PR and, worst of all?
It's not even funny.