The real thing

An empty glass Coca-Cola bottle stood on the kitchen worktop. It had been encouraging to see them on sale in the supermarket, the giant drinks company going back to the future, away from the immeasurable damage caused by plastics.

There was something more about the bottle, though, something that spoke of exuberant hope, something that suggested optimism and smiles. Perhaps it was growing up against the background of the drinks’ company’s iconic advertising campaigns. The voices of I’d like to teach the world to sing still echo down the corridors of memory.

What did a Coca-Cola bottle speak of? It spoke of fresh-faced young people with clear complexions and fashionable haircuts. It spoke of the sort of people we would have liked to have been (well, the sort of person I would have liked to have been, anyway). It spoke of affluent lifestyles and summer vacation trips and friendships and romance. A single Coca-Cola bottle represented a world I could only imagine, a world thoroughly other than that inhabited by a boy in a small, dull village in a county far removed from the world where young people lived exciting lives.

Of course, the advertisers had achieved their intention. They had created a subconscious link between a soft drink and aspirations to beauty and stylishness and sophistication and success.

In those years, Coca-Cola had not become something for everyday consumption, our budget would not have extended to such unnecessary purchases. Coca-Cola was for special occasions, it was for outings, or evenings on camping holidays when we all went for a walk and stopped at a pub. If there were a single word with which I would associate , it would be happiness.

Fifty years on from a boy drinking Coca-Cola through a paper straw from a glass bottle, I have no doubt that it still has the capacity to conjure in the minds of those who drink it imaginings of worlds very different from their own.

In countless small villages in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa, in places very far from the world of exciting lives, there will be found shops, sometimes no more than wooden shacks, where Coca-Cola is sold. The glass bottles will be taken from crates, and, when the drink is finished, the empty bottles will be returned to crates. The bottles will to be returned to the plant to be washed, refilled, recapped, for poor people have never needed to learn the lessons of reduce, reuse and recycle.

Somewhere at this moment, a ten year old boy is looking at a Coca-Cola and thinking happy thoughts.


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