I’ve been working on something today that hits several of my tick boxes and which I thoroughly enjoyed doing. It left me with a big smile on my face. But I’m not allowed to talk about that so instead here are a few random thoughts as I sit my my local coffee shop, part of a large chain of such places.
Coffee shops sprang up after the bean was introduced to Britain. The first coffee house was opened in Oxford in 1652, and one was opened in London in the same year. Many of these venues became very popular places for people to meet, talk and later debate. They must have been lively and loud and their significance is illustrated by the fact that Charles II tried to have them shut down.
Gradually, the clientele polarised until particular establishments attracted particular customers; the usual lines were around politics and trade. The insurers Lloyds of London famously started in a coffee house run by a John Lloyd. In the late 17th Century, the London Stock Exchange grew out of a coffee house run by one ‘Jonathan’. Coffee houses attracted a range of classes and one of their draws was that lack of that class distinction. But eventually and perhaps inevitably, the upper classes were loured away to private establishments that quickly became the clubs seen today in London.
In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, coffee houses became the gathering place for artists and writers. These days you will find a range of social types and occupations frequenting the chain coffee shops that have appeared everywhere. I’m writing this in my favourite local establishment and so far, in the 30 minutes I’ve been here, there have been students, parents, office workers, shoppers, lovers, singletons, bloggers and kids. The coffee ship tradition of a meeting place for all continues to this day.
It’s grown dark while I’ve been here, and the drizzly rain continues to fall. In a few minutes I have to venture out and shop in this. The caffeine is fortifying me against the moment I have to leave the comfy environment. While I put off the inevitable, I’ve been people watching.
A pair of young mothers with babies in push chairs have just popped in for a swift latte. It was consumed at an expresso rate before their little ones started to grizzle. A group of four people stared longingly at the comfy chair I’m occupying, as if I’d take pity and move to a wooden chair as comfortable as the ones we used in school.
Two old guys have just wandered in, matching walking sticks in matching right hands. I didn’t catch whether they had flat caps, but they probably did. A kid, possibly 9 or 10, has just run in and out several times He’s dressed in a red football strip and acts as if he’s been on caffeine all day. Another child, just walking, is pushing the boundaries of it’s new found mobility. It made a break for freedom out through the door and off towards the three flights of stairs. It’s mother, trained to react in milliseconds, caught it before harm could be done.
In the far corner, diagonally opposite me, another loner sits typing away at her laptop. We may well both be blogging and a little part of me wonders if she’s describing me now, as I am her. I like that thought. An older woman, coat done up against the cold that she sees through the window, is sat connecting with the world on her smart phone. That’s how things have changed, I guess. We all connect in some way.
If I wanted to, I could probably make contact with the other internet users in this coffee shop just by typing instructions into my laptop. One day that will be okay but for now, even though we are firmly in the 21st Century with technology, we are stuck in the late 19th when it comes to interpersonal communication.