Anyone know of a good coffee house to curl up and write in in North London?
My former writing Nirvana is Chez Nous in Belsize Park. But don’t tell anyone about it, cos it’s best when it’s quiet.
I must confess to being puzzled by this apparent, legendary, plethora of coffee shops/houses, full of laptopped or pen ‘n’ papered customers, engaged in literary endeavours, with, I assume, the blessing of the proprietors of those establishments. Does one consume abnormal amounts of beverage, in order to justify taking advantage of their proffered hospitality and indulgence?
I must confess too, that the number of, ‘coffee shops’ ( as we now know them, Jim), that I
ve actually graced with my custom, I could count on one hand. Howerver, of late, Ive never failed to give a good eyeballing to the interiors of these establishments, as I pass by them, whilst meandering hither ‘n’ thither on one or other of Life
s little errands. Strange to relate: Ive failed to observed customers doing anything other than engaging in social intercourse, or solitarily, quietly whiling away a few moments in introspective oblivion, whilst consuming tea or coffee.
Once again, I must confess (sounds like the purging of ones inner demons doesn
t it), that: up until joining Scriveners crew, in April 07, I
d never heard of the writer/coffee shop thing. I then became convinced it was a, 'Portlander-esque-ish', phenomenon. What a bizarre place that must be! But thats enough of that!!
Naively desirous at that time, of attaining the status of,
writer, I gave due consideration to the writer/coffee house conundrum.
The parlous state of my personal finances precluded the purchase of a laptop (still does). However, as a workaround, I figured: since iMac had that wireless thingy, and is really extremely portable, I
d only need an extension cable, and Id be in business. I`ve a 30m extension cable, coiled around a small plastic drum. So! That was that sorted.
Hardware sorted, I turned my attention to the problem of a suitable location in the village. Compiling an inventory of the village
s commercial premises, what loomed large, was the fact that there arent any coffee shops as such. The best I could come up with, were two Greasy Spoon Cafes.
respective proprietors and staff, struggle valiantly, but vainly, to raise their game, failing woefully to be anything other than surly or brusque. Civility apparently, being beyond their reach. So, someone opening up a laptop and settling down to a session of Hemingway like activity (thereby hindering the through flow of paying customers), would be told to, “Drink upn` farrk orrf arrrt of it!”
Just a little, Semi-off-topic:
What we refer to as
The Village, is really nothing more than the commercial premisses on either side, of a 400yd stretch of Highstreet, set in the middle of a large residential area.
However, a casual perusal of the inventory by a passing Extraterrestrial, would give ET cause for closer scrutiny, possibly leading it to pondering along the lines of, what kind of creatures inhabit the local environs, with their needs being met by:
No Candlestick Maker (C`mon!! Grow up!!)
1 Pet Shop
1 Junk Shop
2 Independent Financial Advisers
2 Estate Agents
2 Vehicle Signwriters
2 Small Hardware Stores
2 Picture Framers
2 Greetings Card/Ephemera & Tat Emporia
2 Small Co-op Supermarkets
4 Wine&Booze Outlets
4 Sandwich Bars
8 Outlets devoted to the tarting up/beautification of various parts of the female anatomy.
17 ( yes that`s right, seventeen!), Ethnic: Indo/Chinese/Armenian/Greek/Italian/American/English take aways, including 4 Restraunts, 2 Greasy-Spoon Cafes and 1 Deli.
And finally 1 clothes shop, that never seems to attract any customers. No doubt, because the style of clothes it offers for sale, seems to be aimed at a Romany/Hippy/New Age Traveller clientele. Probably being run as a loss-maker for tax purposes, by the shifty looking foreign couple that own it. Could even be money launderers. Who knows?
Back on topic! I expect you`re all thinking, “At last!”
Right in the middle of the village, stands the majestic, ‘Salam Bangla’, an Indian restaurant, of the highest repute. Employer of some of the Sub-Continent
s finest chefs. A fact attested to by numerous framed faded Press clippings, adorning the restaurants walls.
I envisioned myself ensconced within the restaurant
s embrace, sitting at a table by the window, watching the hurly-burly of village life, enacted before my writers eyes; its participating characters unaware of my gaze, or indeed, indifferent to it. The Salam`s seductively amiable and welcoming ambience, making my choice inevitable, I would brook no other.
And so!! With iMac (keyboard sellotaped to its back), in my left hand, and my 30m extension cable in my right, I stood before Salam`s facade, peering through the faintly tinted glass, of one its arched windows. It was early afternoon, so the only customers I could see, were two Asian gentlemen, sitting right at the back of the restaurant. An Indian youth, with broom in hand, stood just the other side of the door.
Sensing I was on the cusp of, Authordom, I lowered the cable to the floor, and reached hesitantly with trembling hand, for the door handle, but, as if they were, like magnetic poles, repelling each other, I just couldn
t grasp Salams door handle. My hand hovered a few centimetres above it.
I was suddenly plagued by doubt. Was this what I really wanted; would I be able to handle fame; would I still be the same me; what would I do with all the money; how much should I give to charity; would I have to go on long book signing jaunts, mobbed by ecstatic fans; would I be inundated with correspondence containing ladies scented under apparel etc. etc.? The decision to enter, however, was taken out of my hand…literally! In a gentlemanly gesture, the the broom wielding Asian youth, opened the door for me, and bid me enter.
2 b con…
to interrupt vic-k’s new rambling (which I actually want to hear) with an answer to his potentially rhetorical question…
Most “coffee shops” hope to lure folks through the door by seeming to be slightly … bohemian. What better way to seem “hip” than to allow a few semi starved authors and/or musicians to clutter the place up with their presence?
Given the price of a “plain” coffee in these establishments there is little to no chance that you will ingest copious amounts of fluid. But should a popular place get busy, they will point you to the door.
At least that has been my experience.
Vic-k! Don’t stop there! I want to know what happened next!
I’d be far too embarrassed to wheek out my laptop in a coffee shop and start writing. People might look at me. They might think I was being a show-off. They might hate me. And I would feel under an obligation to keep buying double espressos from the coffee shop people, which would cost a bomb over the course of even a moderately short writing session and would quite possibly make my hands shake. And the tables in these places are always slightly sticky, so I wouldn’t be happy about putting my laptop and papers down (neurotic, moi?). Plus there is the problem of what to do with all my stuff when I go up to the counter to order replenishment, since someone is bound to nick it if I leave it unattended. So I’d have to (a) find a waitress-served coffee shop which somehow bucks the UK trend of wanting to get rid of you as soon as possible if you are awkward enough to insist on going in in the first place; or (b) take everything up to the counter with me, which seems like a bit of a pain in the neck and makes it hard to carry the coffee; or © back up everything to a flash stick thing before every coffee refill and check out the small print in my household contents insurance T&Cs. All horribly complicated and rather distracting… if I did pluck up the courage to write in a café, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate.
But in an Indian restaurant, armed with a flashy desktop computer and a ginormous extension lead? Wow! That takes guts!
or a unique neurosis.
We should at a vote to determine if it is the former or later. You can probably guess my vote
If you were in the doorway of a restaurant and you see a person carrying an iMac and extension cord in, what do you do? I think I would go back for desert just to see what he was up to.
I fear the denouement is nothing, if not anti-climactic and very sad as you will see.
Adieu for now, Sweetness, Adieu
Yes. It’s also polite to find the door on one’s own when the place gets busy, and to avoid known busy periods in the first place.
For me, coffee shops are a great place to check email or do light revisions, but there’s too much ambient noise for serious writing. Maybe I need to find a less popular shop? But will my hip, bohemian presence then cause it to become popular, and therefore unsuitable for writing? Sigh…
d be there if I thought youd be there
As the door swung open, it made contact with a set of strategically hung glass wind chimes. This resulted in the loudest and most profoundly irritating, gawd awful, clanging
n jangling you
ve ever heard! Whoevers idea it was to have them installed, was desperately deserving of prolonged and heartless castigation! This odious state of affairs is exacerbated, when the performance is encored, by the doors inevitable closure. I won
t regale you with a verbatim account of my thoughts at that particular juncture. Suffice to say they were along the lines of, “If Im to become Salam
s writer-in-residence, them f**kin things
ll ave t
go! I cant be doing with that racket!” or words to that effect
As the door closed behind me, blocking off all the sound from the outside world, and the cacophonous racket above my head, dwindled to naught; a mausoleum like silence filled the dimly lit, and all but empty restaurant.
Three pairs of eyes scrutinised me intently, head to toe. The three faces framing those eyes, revealing varying facets of their owner
s personalities. One of the men sat at the table, regarded me with a facial expression revealing nothing more than a benign indifference, whilst his companions expression, bore all the hallmarks of a sneer. The face of the youth, on the other hand, hinted at a gentle nature, and radiated warmth and friendliness, via a big wide smile.
It was to this smiling friendly face, that I addressed the question, “Is this a hot spot?” The smiling face lost a little of its sparkle, the eyes seemed to lose focus. The lad appeared to be searching for some elusive meaning in my words. Before he could respond, the question was answered, in a broad Mancunian accent, by the sneering Asian.
ere pal! Were all Muslims. There
s a lap dancing club, above, Harrys discount second hand tyres shop, over in the next village. That should keep you happy.” By the time I deigned to look in his direction, he had turned away and was facing his friend. His shoulders were shaking with silent laughter, and he was shaking his head, contemptuous of the man he
d just put down. His friend however, didnt seem all that impressed.
Of course, Indi-Manc understood full well, my question to the youth. If intent on smart arsed quipping, the obvious good natured repost would have been, “Sure is!! The hottest Vindaloo in the West!” or some such quip. Crud-features chose to be offensive.
Resisting the urge to walk over and push his little round face into the little round bowl of peanuts, he was sharing with his friend, I turned again to the youth, and with barely more than a whisper, I asked again, “Is this a hot spot…wi-fi?” The look of confusion, and what seemed almost like guilt, on the poor lad`s face, made me realise, that, unlike Indi-Manc, who was obviously second or third generation, and as English as I am, the youth was not long over here, and had very poor English.
I was about to tell him not to worry about it, and leave, when his face suddenly lit up again, and he said, “Hot…spot…wi…fi” I smiled and nodded at him. “I go… ask chef!” He
d caught me off guard, and so, before I cold stop him, he was disappearing through the kitchens swing doors. While he was gone I looked over at Indi-Manc. He was still shaking his head, and his shoulders shuddered intermittently.
It was the squeal of the kitchen door hinges that dragged me back to reality. Back from imagining myself stuffing peanuts up Crud-face`s nostrils.
The gentle youth stood in front of the still squealing, swinging kitchen doors. A disconsolate expression, having darkened and distorted his usually sunny countenance. He held out his hands, as if in supplication. “Chef say… only what on menu. I sorry.” And indeed the lad was, truly sorry. Whoever you perceive your God(s) to be, the capacity for empathy, is surely one of their gifts. This kid was so blessed!
As the youth walked towards me, I glanced over at Turd Breath. His head was now in his hands and I could hear muffled laughter. His friend, however seemed irritated by this display of rudeness.
I for my part, suddenly felt very old, silly and totally out of place. I wished I was anywhere, other than there. Twas as though I`d floated to that location, cocooned within a bubble made from illusory membranes of delusion.
“Yes?” I said with a start!
My smile must have been enough to convey the meaning of my words, because when I replied, “That
s all right, its not your fault!” his face lit up once again. I half turned and nodded towards the door. Within seconds he was stood with the door open, his eyes rolling upwards in response to the frightful racket from the chimes.
As I stepped out on to the pavement, he followed. I put the extension cable down on the ground, and retrieving a £1coin from my coat pocket, I offered it to youth.
“Nononono!” he rattled off, refusing to accept my offering.
I tapped my chest with my fingers, and said, “Vic!” I nodded at him, “You?”
I offered him my hand, which he shook with both of his, “You
re very kind Abdul. Thank you.” I picked up the cable and headed of down the High Street. By the time I reached the private narrow side street, adjacent to the Salam-Bangla, the resultant jingling from Abduls closing of the door, had died away.
The private street led to a small courtyard at the rear of the Salam. A few small businesses had lock-up premisses fronting onto the yard. In a corner I could see a Porche Camerra, had been carefully reversed into it. Two heavy hydraulically operated metal post rose up, some three feet, out of the the concrete floor of the yard, one at the front of the Porche and the other at its side. Unless you had access to the means of lowering and raising the post, it was impossible to move the vehicle. The owner of the means, was at that very moment sat at a table in the restaurant. I now realised who Indi-Manc was. He was the reputed Black Sheep of the family that owned the Salam-Bangla. I stood for a while, staring at the car, or into the middle distance, I`m not really sure, my mind was wandering. “Excuse me sir.” said a very pleasant, cultured voice, that was free of any noticeable accent or inflection.
I turned around and found myself looking at the face of Indi-Manc`s companion. “Can I have a word with you, please?”
2 b con…
I live at a 0,99-euro flight away from London, but I never go there because I can’t find a place where to sleep at a decent price. Does anyone have a suggestion? Or, should I follow Vic-k in his night pilgrimage for clubs, and get rid of the mere idea of sleeping?
How does ten pounds sound? There’s a few hostels at that price - just google “London hostels”. Can’t remember the name but there’s one in Queensway that isn’t bad - six people to a room, but mostly chilled out travellers.
Paolo mio buono amico,
Just how extensively have you looked at accommodation in London, or there abouts?
What kind of a vacation are you looking for. Seriously
At this very moment, Matt from Austrailia, is wallowing in B&B, somewhere in Cambridge. We could ask him if he has any relevant info to offer you.
Somehow I don
t get the impression that youre a S&M enthusiast. KB, antony or bobueland perhaps, but not you.
How much cash have you got to play with?
…jeeezzz!! at six to a room, they`d need to be chilled out!! Sounds like a scene from Blade Runner
And all of them with iMacs whirring away, frantically searching for hotspots.
Damn!! There was me thinking I was unique.
I`m fed up now
That’s a fair price (actually, one half of what I would consider fair). But I’m unsure I have still the age to return to a hostel room. Maybe for a couple nights it would be fine.
Patiently (okay, impatiently) waiting, Vic, for the next part of your story. I love it.
Your wish, my Love, is my command
I nodded. “Sir,” he continued, ‘I wish to apologise for the discourteous and inhospitable treatment you endured, at the hands of my younger brother, Azim. And…for my failure to take him to task over it, at the time.” For four or five seconds, he became introspectively quiet, but before my intended interjection, he continued, albeit, seemingly, as much for his own benefit as mine, “I was in the throes of attempting to reconcile a very distressing family matter. You entered my father`s restaurant at what was a very delicate point in the endeavour. An awful lot hinges upon my succeeding…an awful lot.” With that, shedding his introspective air, his face became more animated. His half smile, struggled to become full, but it was enough to push at his cheeks, which in turn, caused mischievous looking crinkling around his eyes. Those same eyes, momentarily disengaging from mine, scanned my facial features as if searching for something. Whether he found, what ere he sought, I know not.
m not making excuses, Sir, it should never have happened.” It was obvious that this was no damage limitation exercise the young man was engaged in. He seemed genuinely dismayed at the recent turn of events. In truth, I felt sorry for him, and not a little guilty. Guilty that my silly old mans ill conceived and badly executed foray, into realms, best left to those more adequately equipped (in all areas), had caused him unnecessary stress and had distracted him, from his task at hand.
“Forget it.” I smiled as I remembered Abdul
s happy face. “Your brothers rudeness was more than compensated for by Abduls display of hospitality and kindness.” To falsely deny offence had been caused, since both of us knew it had, would have been an insult to this young man, and his genuine attempt at redress. “As for your apology regarding your own failings…I gladly accept it, but only because you
ve made it, and not because, I in any way, consider it necessary. So please forget about it all.” “Thank you sir, youre being more than generous.”
Again I put the reel of cable on the ground, and offered him my hand. At the same time, without thinking, I uttered the trite and erroneous, “Anyway, you
re not your brothers keeper.”
“If only that were so,” he said softly, without hint of admonishment, just the semi-pained half smile,“No man is an island, Sir.” He clasped my hand firmly, but didn
t shake it, instead, he repeated the scanning process, of my face, as just the faintest hint of sadness, like a clouds shadow, seemed to pass across his. This personable young man was reminding me of truths I
d unearthed for myself many years ago. “My names Vic.”
“Mine too,” he said, as his face lit up. In less than a second, his expression changed from sad, to mischievous. His gaze darting twixt iMac and my face. I sensed he was torn between tact
ndiplomacy, and curiosity.
“What did you think , when you saw me enter the restaurant, carrying an iMac and an extension cable?” I asked, keeping a straight face.
“What the hell
s going on here?” “And when I asked about a hot spot?” “I nearly burst out laughing,” he said with total candour. “But you didnt. Why?”
“It would have been rude and insulting.”
s the difference between you and your brother. Youre a gentleman. Your brother Azim, on the other hand, is a chronic ignoramus.” I wasn
t expecting him to jump to his brothers defence, and he didn`t disappoint.
“You know of him then, obviously,” his words were tinged with resignation. His expression clouded over again, momentarily.
“ For months now, Chisti, when behind the wheel of his Porche, Azim has been making a thorough nuisance of himself screaming around the neighbourhood all hours of the day and night. A million watts per channel booming out from his onboard mega-soundsystem.”
“I wish that was all it was,” he said, “but unfortunately it isn
t.” “Stories are always surfacing about the behaviour of your brother and his clique.” “Im not surprised.” He became quiet, then suddenly his face lit up again. “ Tell me, Vic. If it had been me, that had entered, your, father
s restaurant, with iMac and cable looking for a hot spot, what would have been your reaction?” “Exactly the same as yours!” I laughed, “I dont doubt that for a minute. Exactly the same.” He`d elicited from me, and overtly so, the admission that revealed how ludicrous I considered my actions were, and consequently, how silly and possibly vulnerable I felt, however hitherto well concealed. His eyes glazed a little as he smiled, what I took to be, a smile of acknowledgement, as if of a secret shared, and then abruptly, as if to assuage my possible feelings of inadequacy, he assumed some of the burden.
t want to offend you Vic, but Im afraid your intentions aren
t quite as radical as you may think they are. Weve already had someone set up an iMac in Salam…with extension cable. Not quite as majestic as yours, I have to say. His was only two metres.”
re joking!” “No. A freelance journalist, working on an article for the Media Supplement of the Monday Guardian. It happened about three months ago. He set himself up in the corner, next to the bar...struggled for over two hours. Too much distraction, you see. Had awful trouble concentrating. Fortunately, it was mostly editing, he had to do, but by the time hed finished…he
d had enough.” “I take it he didnt repeat the exercise?”
“No. Hopelessly impractical,” he said, laughing.
“So Chisti, you
re a journalist.” “For my sins...yes.” Reaching down with his right hand, he picked up the extension cable and asked, “How far have you got to go? I can give you a lift. Its no trouble”
I thanked Chisti for his offer, but informed him I had just realised there was something I had to do, and a few bits and pieces I needed to shop for. I also told him of my intention to leave iMac and cable with friends who ran one of the Florists, at the far end of the village, and pick them up later in the car.
My wife had dropped me off at Salam Bangla, en route to engaging in some serious business or other, at the John Lewis Temple of Mammon. I won`t trouble you with an account of the sentiments she expressed (pertaining to my mental state), as she drove away.
I snatched a last look at the Porche, as Chisti, holding cable in right hand, and my right elbow in his his left, propelled us along the Highstreet, at a sedate pace of no more than one step every two or three seconds, stopping on occasions, whilst stressing some point or other, in the very personal account of his life over the last four months or so.
2 b Concluded…
Are you open to suggestions on new wishes to submit to vic-k? I have ideas. Lots of ideas.