The New Statesman’s special correspondent reviews every branch of Greggs he’s ever been to

A Greggs employee holding a pasty. Image: Getty.

Westminster Underground now has a Greggs, so to the mark the occasion I have ranked every Greggs I have been to.

Greggs, Globe Town

I don’t know if this branch in Bethnal Green is the first I ever went to, but it is certainly the first I remember: a rare forage for the chain into a part of the world that was at the time still almost entirely dominated by Percy Ingle, a small chain of bakeries that covered the entirety of the known world when I was growing up (that is, the stretch of north-east London running from Bow to Hackney).

I have a particular affection for this Greggs because in the last two years of secondary school, we were given two freedoms. The first was that we no longer had to wear blazers, an opportunity I declined; the second was that we were able to leave school during our lunch hours, an opportunity I joyfully accepted.
Greggs was one of the nearest and the nicest of the eating opportunities – it must have been a minute’s walk at most from secondary school. I grew up in the kind of household where my intake of E numbers and sugars were closely regulated – even now the word “Carob” makes me feel uneasy and disgusted – so the taste of stripy Greggs donuts will always be the taste of freedom to me.

Rating: 9.5/10

Greggs, Newcastle (various)

When I was in my early teens, my mum went to Durham University to study theology. I regarded Durham a small and essentially dull town masquerading as a city, and Newcastle, a real city which was only a short train ride away, was a vital pressure valve.

At the time, I saw a trip to the Greggs opposite Newcastle train station as a taste of London. It took me another 15 years to understand why this sentiment was so funny to everyone else.

Now, whenever I visit Newcastle – food on British trains being surprisingly and uniformly awful - that Greggs is the first opportunity to eat anything good since leaving Kings Cross. To me, the taste of a Greggs sausage roll will always be one of relief.

Rating: 9.8/10

Greggs, Templar Square

One of the exciting things about going to university was that I could go to McDonalds whenever I liked and no-one could say shit about it. But the sad thing about going to university is that the centre of Oxford had no Greggs.

The Templar Square shopping mall in Blackbird Leys did, though, and as it happened my mother moved there for work shortly after I got into university. This meant that, whenever I felt overwhelmed or tired, I would hop on the bus to the Leys to hide from the world. To me, the taste of a Greggs Yum-Yum will always be one of comfort.

Rating: 9.7/10 

Greggs, Ludgate Hill

I don’t often work from the New Statesman office but when I do, I use this Greggs. When I am at the New Statesman office, it is either for a meeting, for a podcast, or because the MPs are away for the summer holidays, which encourages me to experiment with my Greggs order. So the taste of the Greggs chicken goujons will always be one of listlessness.

Rating: 9/10 

Greggs Strutton Ground

The area immediately around Westminster already has two Greggs: this one is better from a culinary perspective. As someone who used to work in a coffee shop where I rarely, if ever, cleaned out the machine, I know how much of a difference that makes – and the coffee here has the taste of somewhere that keeps their equipment in great shape.

I am not sure if it is an upside or a downside that you will rarely, if ever, meet someone work-related from this Greggs. But it means that the taste of a Greggs bread pudding will always be one of isolation.

Rating: 9.3/10

Greggs Victoria Street

This Greggs is comically close to the Strutton Ground one – perhaps a minute away – on the other side of Victoria Street, but it was a lot closer to the old Labour HQ, so you could get good intel about Labour under Miliband here. The taste of a Greggs steak bake will always be one of indiscretion. 

Rating: 9.5/10

Greggs, Brazennose Street, Manchester

It took me a long time to discover that Greggs originates from outside London, but it shouldn’t have. It’s a matter of fact that, on average, Greggs are better in the North (and, bizarrely, in Wales) than they are outside of it.

Why? The answer is “butter”: the merest hint of butter on a bacon roll, which elevates an already great breakfast to the heights.

Conference season is always an odd time for political journalists, and I at least am always struck down by immense sadness at one of them, usually the Conservative one. That’s not because of the people who attend or the policies they announce there, although that doesn’t help, but because, by that point, I have been away from home for the best part of a month: my face feels fixed in a polite smile, and I miss London and everyone I care about.  

Anyway, last year, I would comfort myself with a bacon roll at the Greggs by the conference centre each morning. And one day, one of the women who worked there asked if I was alright, which made me feel a lot better. So the taste of a Greggs bacon roll with butter will always be one of comfort. 

Rating: 9.9/10 

Greggs, Birmingham Grand Central

“Is the Midlands in the North or not”, the greatest debate in the history of forums, locked by a moderator after 12,239 pages of heated debate, finally settled by this Greggs. There was no butter on my bacon roll at Conservative Party conference in 2016, ergo, Birmingham is not in the North. The taste of a Greggs unbuttered bacon roll will always be one of certainty.

Rating: 9.6/10 

Greggs Swansea

During the general election, I visited the Welsh marginal seat of Gower, the most vulnerable Conservative seat, and I went over my notes over a chicken tikka baguette in the Greggs nearest the train station. It was then that I started to realize that Jeremy Corbyn’s poll surge wasn’t just a polling error but a real phenomenon – and that the dementia tax had done Theresa May real damage. So the taste of a chicken tikka baguette will always be one of epiphany.

Rating: 9.2/10 

Greggs Finsbury Park

There is a light that never goes out, and it is this Greggs. (Actually, they close at five o’clock but still.)

I write my free morning briefing from home, and the prospect of Greggs’ excellent breakfast deal – just £3 for a bacon baguette and a coffee – keeps me going without food as I read the morning’s papers from around the world. This Greggs has given me a lot: the reusable coffee cup I bought from here, and also an increased risk of heart disease. It is one of my favourite places in the whole world.

The one problem is that the people who work here are too friendly, to the point that, when I took a day off. they noticed I hadn’t come in for my daily baguette, and asked where I’d been the next day. So the taste of a Greggs bacon baguette will forever be one of shame. Delicious shame.  

Rating: 10/10

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at our parent title, the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 

In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.