March 31st, 2018


Deracinated Coffee

It's strange, being a displaced café person. Now that my friendly branch of Coffee #1 has closed down - but Tincan Coffee has yet to take its place on the Gloucester Rd - I feel temporarily homeless. I've tried out a few of the other Coffee #1 branches, and they're fine I guess, but they feel a bit off, somehow, like the Other House in Coraline - similar to my branch, but in an uncanny, eyes-for-buttons way... Besides, they're too far away to give me that two-mile there-and-back stroll. I either have to walk twice that distance or drive, and then I get no exercise at all. I experimented with driving halfway and walking the rest, but that just felt silly.

Of course there are other cafés and plenty of them, but not ones that sell decent loose-leaf green tea in a pot: mostly they'll just dunk a teabag into a mug of boiling water (oh, those poor singed leaves!) and leave it at that. And when you consider that they charge only a little more for coffee, which they make with a hugely expensive machine that it takes many hours of training to use, with sprinkles, foam art, fifteen different styles, and so on, I think that's a bit of a liberty.

A couple of days ago I sat at a small table in a large branch of Coffee #1 with a pot of tea and the chapter I was working on. A slice of some kind of crumble cake may also have been involved. After five minutes a woman came over and said, "Is this free?" Assuming she meant the chair that her hands were resting on I said, "Yes, of course," but to my horror she immediately sat down opposite me. At this point there were five or six other tables with no one sitting at them at all.

I admit, I was flustered, even to the point of rudeness. "I'm afraid I'm working, so I won't be able to talk," I said.

"I'm not expecting you to talk," she said, with a breezy dignity, and took out a newspaper. But a few seconds later she made a remark about the weather, and my heart sank. I grunted agreement; and after that all was silence for five minutes. I stared very hard at my laptop, but my concentration was shot. Why had she sat next to me? What did she want? Was she about to tell me about Jesus, or ask for money? Her clothes were old and a little eccentric - she had a large bag, too, full of oddments - but she was only a few degrees odder than myself. Her voice, clear and confident, had the trace of a Yorkshire accent. In fact, she reminded me of the wife of a professor I'd had in York thirty years before, who later came to take up a chair in Bristol. Could it be her, in fact? If so, she'd done some part-time teaching at UWE some twenty years ago, so might possibly recognise me. Maybe she was trying to decide whether she did or not. But my own facial recognition is so poor that I couldn't rate that as more than a fairly wild surmise.

Also, of course, I was wondering whether I was being unreasonable in finding her intrusion irksome, going on outrageous. Just how antisocial and uptight was I? Perhaps she was lonely and wanted company. Couldn't I spare her a few minutes?

My turmoil lasted about half an hour, after which she finished her own tea and left.

I emailed Tincan Coffee, and they do sell loose-leaf green tea, in a pot. The new branch will be open at the end of April - but it's going to be a long month.