Cafe Society. Marigold opts for warm and dry as G ventures forth.
Windy today. Blowing half a gale, actually. Rain in the air. The sea is wild, waves crashing ashore with great flukes of spray. A great day for windsurfing, not that I give the prospect much thought. I wrap myself up, dressed for warmth and comfort rather than style. Not that unusual in an English winter, but it’s mid-August.
Outside now. Cold, not many people about. Sensible. I walk briskly, bustling along, eyes screwed up against the elements. A sudden wind whips between the surrounding buildings and a loose section of plastic sheeting flaps and undulates like a startled animal waking from a long hibernation as I walk the last few yards to the café
Finally, the reason for this journey, more of an expedition than ajourney on a day like this, comes into sight. I push on the door, then push harder remembering it invariably sticks when there’s rain about, and stumble inside.
There’s warmth here; instant gratification. I order my usual: large latte, semi-skimmed, and start to remove layers of clothing.
I’m an early bird, so I get one of the leather armchairs. Good. I riffle through the papers in the rack: Telegraph, Times, the truncated version of the recently vanished Independent; good enough. The tabloids are all taken, but that’s no loss. A smartly attired woman in the corner, pot of tea and toasted teacake, takes my eye. The outfit is impeccable, but her lipstick choice rather less so. 'Who did her makeup?’ I wonder. ‘Stevie Wonder?’ She is reading the -missing from the rack - The Guardian - and I frown a little, selfish greedy creature that I am. Mustn’t grumble I tell myself as I take a selection back to my lair and start to read.
Front pages, skimmed, then the main course, the sports sections. It’s Saturday so the papers are bigger, packed with extra inserts, most of which I disregard.
Appointments, that’s jobs then, er, no thanks. I put that to one side straight away.
My coffee arrives. Perfect. With a biscuit peeping shyly from behind the mug. The waitress winks at me. I’m a regular, get regular’s perks. I wink back and, on the spur of the moment, order toast. White, brown or granary? God, the pressures of life these days! I plump for granary, the healthy option.
I’ve read most of the important stuff by now, the toast has long gone, but I’m in no rush to venture outside.
I glance around at my fellow customers.. The man in the corner, cappuccino, with chocolate topping, slice of cake, is staring into space, ear-buds in place. A teardrop tattoo at the corner of his right eye and a spider’s web below, creeping up from below his shirt collar to cover his neck gave out a message that contradicted the smart suit and immaculately polished shoes. Right profile, hardcore biker; left profile, city slicker. Interesting contrast.
The Guardian reader leaves and I’m straight across to grab it, even before the door closes behind her. A woman I vaguely know – she’s a neighbour although we’ve never spoken – half opens the door and peers inside. She has a lived-in face. One that had known hard times and taken some tough decisions along the way. Many of them being wrong decisions, or so it appears. I don’t know her, of course I don’t, but it doesn’t stop me making assumptions. She looks at me, gives a faint nod of recognition which I return in kind and closes the door again. No one here she wants to see? I control my feelings of inadequacy, she had other plans, and it wasn’t just my presence that deterred her.
A stranger wandered into ‘my’ seating area, gazed around for a moment and then plonked himself down in an adjacent armchair. The confrontational expression on his face wasn’t attractive and it was a face that needed all the help it could get. The big yellow teeth would have been fine in the mouth of a racehorse, but he didn’t look like a potential Derby winner. Even worse, he wanted to talk. There’s always one, isn’t there?
‘Bloody weather,’ he announced, apropos of absolutely nothing, looking directly at me.
I nodded, a Pavlovian polite response kicking in despite my inner groan.
‘Got the trots again. Always the same when the weather changes.’
Hmm. This was slightly more problematic. I half-nodded, half turned away, certain by now this was not a conversation I wished to continue.
‘I’ve been up the A and E three times last week. Bleedin’ doctors, useless.’
I sipped the dregs of my latte, tried to ignore him, but to no avail. He was on a roll.
Never been the same since I got back from the desert.’
Despite my best intentions I looked at him. Deserts are a passion of mine. ‘Oh?’
‘Libya. Ten years I did, running pipelines for that Gadaffi bloke. Good money, but no ale to be had and too hot. I packed it in over a year ago, never been right since.’
Ah, back on the medical issues then. I looked deeply into my coffee mug and pretended to be lost in thought.
‘I got cursed, see, that’s what did it. Egyptian foreman, a right swine he was. I turned up late once or twice, he only went and cursed me, didn’t he?’
I nodded. Again. 'Ah,’ I said.
‘Not just a bollockin’, I can take that, one of them ancient Egyptian curses it was.’
I couldn’t help it. Despite everything, I had to know.
‘What was it?’
‘Can remember it, word for word. May your arsehole fester and you shit a long black thread.’
I choked on a mouthful of coffee grounds.
‘He knew what he was doing. This week’s been shocking. I’m trying out a few jars of ale. Kill or cure, I reckon.’
‘Is it helping?’
He laughed, without a trace of humour. ‘Is it buggery. The contents of my stomach went hours ago. In fact, everything I’ve ever eaten in my life has gone down the pan in the last three days. I’m crapping spinal fluid now.’
He stands, stretches, then waves a grimy hand in farewell and leaves.
The waitress comes over for a chat. Not hinting I should buy another coffee or bugger off. Not that sort of place. Her name badge says 'Senga,' which sounds exotic, but she told me once how she hated her name, Agnes, so she reversed it. Hence 'Senga.'
' I see you met Rory,' she says, indicating the door through which my recent unwanted companion had left. ' Never buys nothing, not even a coffee, just comes in to use the lav and then clears off again. The boss don't mind.'
I make a mental note to avoid using the 'lav' on days Rory has visited and nod my head.
Senga tells me about her plans for the rest of the weekend. They sound exhausting.
Finally, I can’t put it off any longer. The rain has stopped, the wind is no longer battering the steamed-up windows. I add my layers of clothing, pay for my coffee and toast, leave a tip in the jar on the counter. ‘See you tomorrow’ the girl in the back kitchen sings out. I nod, wave, walk to the door.
Outside, it’s foul. Worse than it was only a minute ago. A lot worse. I turn up my collar and set off back, stepping over puddles that weren’t here before. I could be in Spain now. Portugal perhaps. Or Morocco. Somewhere warm anyway. So, why aren’t I? I ponder that question all the way to my front door.
I’ve been out. Fresh air. Stretched my legs. Read the papers and enjoyed toast and coffee while sitting in a leather armchair. Good enough reasons to stick around in England over this so-called summer? Er, that’s a big NO from me.