Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sheffield Midland Station

What is it with these chain coffee outlets? Not that you frequent them out of choice, but if you are traveling by train, at certain stations, the choice is limited.

Why can't the people who work in these places take a bit more interest in what they are serving? What can't they understand that there is something in between a double espresso and a small americano (a.k.a. watery piss)? With a double espresso they don't even fill up the cup - it's too short, even for you.

You have tried so many ways of asking for something in between. A half full americano, please. A double espresso, please, but can I have it in a bigger cup topped up with a bit of extra water. Please. A small americano with only half the water you'd normally make it with. A third of the water you'd normally make it with. No, I only want it half full please. Yes, a quarter of the water you'd normally make it with.

And all of these requests have resulted in a small americano just 1cm less full than normal. Or exactly the same as normal. I just let it run through to fill it up. Is that okay. Sorry I forgot. Any cakes or pastries at all?

And once: Are you sure you wouldn't like to upgrade that to a medium?

You know from experience that you are unlikely to get a good coffee. Yet you keep trying. On this particular occasion because you have a free coffee from a 'loyalty' (ha!) card to use up. Eventually the scalding bucket of watery piss will cool down enough to sip. You have realised recently that with the right train network, it's better to get your coffee on the train itself. But when you find yourself 20 or 30 minutes early for that train, what can you? You can't sit on the platform without a coffee, can you?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Cherry Tree, Sheffield

On the way to work. There are seats outside, but it's a bit too chilly. You sit in, but facing the window, naturally. Here you usually order a black coffee, which you know gets you a good, strong americano. The guy who runs this place used to make the coffee at Cafe #9, so you're in safe hands.

A man walks past outside. Late 20s? He has two bags, both over the same shoulder - a large rucksack and a smaller bag that you can't see so well. His 'free' hand holds a cigarette. You've never really understood people smoking whilst walking down the street, but they probably have to do it more these days.

He has the air of a man leaving. He's looking around as he walks and you imagine that he is leaving the city, taking in the familiar surroundings as he goes, knowing that he is not going to see them again for some time. If ever. You imagine that he has decided to walk from his house or flat - near here you guess - to the bus or train station, just so he can look at these places he knows and bid them farewell.

You see this guy for 10 seconds at the most. What is it about his demeanour that suggests all of this to you?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Olivia Cafe, Barcelona

Somewhere off the Ramblas, on the way to work. It's lunchtime but you're looking for breakfast because you were working 'til gone 5 this morning. You want coffee and cake. You want to save your Patatas Bravas joker 'til later in the day.

The coolness of the cafe as you step in from the heat of the street is remarkable. There's a single row of wooden tables along one wall, and a single counter along the other. An espresso machine. Cake. Just two other customers at the moment. One of those functional, 'does what it says on the tin' cafes that they do so well "on the continent." You immediately feel that you could stay here all day; that you will be back tomorrow.*

You don't speak much Catalan, but you can say "un cafe doble." The woman behind the counter asks "Doble..." indicating a small cup with her fingers "..?" or "Doble..." indicating a large cup with her fingers "..?"

You say "Doble..." and indicate a small cup.

She says "Doble..." bends her arms at the elbows, clenches her fists and vibrates slightly "...grrrr?"

You smile: "Si."

You sit at a table facing the door. The coffee arrives. It is marvellous.

A father comes in with his daughter. She is three? Four? You're still not great at estimating children's ages, though you are getting better. The woman behind the counter plays with the girl, peering at her through the jars of cereal in the counter. The little girl is delighted with her chocolate milk. Everyone is smiling. You miss your little girl.

The father glances through the paper. They finish their drinks and are gone.

You finish your coffee. You look in your (unfortunately) Spanish (rather than Catalan) phrase book and find the word "outro."

*You won't.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lyon Airport

The two women on the table next to you are having an earnest conversation. Events and opinions are being related that are amazing. Shocking. The tables are only small and you are very close to them. Have they just not noticed you? Or, given that you look very English, have they assumed that you don't understand anything they are saying in whatever language they are saying it in? If the latter, they are right, of course. Which is a shame, because you would really like to know what they are talking about.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bottelino's, Bath

Overheard from the next table:


"Penne Arrabiata?"

"Yeah? What's that in English?"



"Penne Piccante?"

"Yeah. That's mine. I like my meat! Way-hey!"



"Got any ketchup?"



"Black pepper anyone?"

('Comedy' French accent) "Black pepperrr? Black pepperrr? Luverrly jubberrly!"


You don't stay for an espresso.

[originally posted back in 2005]

Adventure Cafe, Bath

You are here looking for breakfast. The Adventure Cafe pavement blackboard proudly boasts that it only uses Illy coffee, and that it was voted 12th Best (!) cafe in the country by The Independent. Your expectations are, therefore, high.

One of the waitresses greets you in a way that makes you think you've met her before. Wishful thinking perhaps. You think you recognise her tights... but then realise that's just because they're that diamond pattern that's so popular at the moment.

In fact, the three dark haired waitresses all look like they just got up, pulled on the nearest clothes (aren't skirts short these days?), bundled themselves off to work, and still managed to look fantastic. It's a bit distracting, to be honest.

Double espresso and a bagel, to start with. Double espresso nearly perfect. (Not quite enough cream cheese with the bagel - but it is served in a seperate little pot, so you can ladel it on yourself, which is As It Should Be). Good enough to risk ordering a simple black coffee next, as you settle back with the paper. Sure enough, it comes long and strong, not the Watery Piss that often passes for a lungo or americano in English cafes.

Time to leave. The tips jar has got a sign on it that reads 'Good Tippers Make Better Lovers'. You smile to yourself. It's only 11.30am and the jar is half full of quids already.

[originally posted back in 2005]

Cafe #9, Sheffield

You feel safe here. You know from experience that this is home to The Best Coffee In Town. There's no one behind the counter. The only other customer tells you that "he (the coffee maker, presumably) has just popped out". Strangers. Talking to each other. You survey the variety of tables and chairs available. Virgin newspapers laid out on the biggest table. They photocopy the crosswords here, so everyone can have a go. There's a dictionary in here, too, somewhere, nestling in amongst the chess and scrabble. You like it best when it's quiet here - but you want them to earn money, too, so they don't close. 

An hour later Cafe #9 is gratifyingly busy. The big tables mean sharing with other people. You pay when you leave. Continental. You can feel the caffeine barging round your system, like you're shivering inside, very, very fast.

[originally posted back in 2005]