An Hour in the Café, 8-9am

Although a relatively simple premise, the promise of coffee or cake, or perhaps a sandwich and a seasonally flavoured latté, is enough to attract the great spectrum of human life. The first, and most easily recognisable of these groups, is The Commuters. You can tell a Commuter from a hundred paces simply by the fact that he, or she, will be running (the latter cursing the relatively restrictive effect of the skirt-suit). Even when queuing, the commuter shifts resentfully from foot to foot, and then puts extra emphasis on the “to go” as they order a takeaway coffee, as if to say; “that’s right, I don’t have time to sit down, like you people. I need a cup with a special lid that won’t spill when I run.” And then off they trot, power walking to the station with their paper cups, even though it is only three minutes walk to the station, it is only half past eight, and I know for a fact that the train doesn’t leave for another fourteen minutes. In the interests of full disclosure, a small sub-category should be added here of a select, dangerous breed of commuter: The Late Commuter. The Late Commuter does not run. He panics, laterally. He seems to sort of speed towards you powered by anxiety and the momentum gained from repeatedly raising his arm to look desperately at his watch. But he still needs coffee. A double shot, thank you very much. (I feel that it would hurt his masculinity to point out that we already put two shots in, so I raise my eyebrows as if to say “wow, that’s some serious coffee, you’re going to have a hard day of taking names and kicking ass”, and get on with my job.) The Late Commuter loves to queue. What may appear to be a reddening of the face caused by anger or stress is in fact nothing but burgeoning excitement as the adrenaline kicks in and the Late Commuter rolls his die in the ultimate game of chance. English people, in general, in fact, love to queue. They’re good at it. But when the consequence of queuing may be a missed train and the opportunity to have a really good moan at someone, it becomes a national sport. Queuing, complaining and commuting; the triathlon of the British man. Seizing his chance, the commuter gathers his strength. For a man that received his cub scout badge for ‘waiting-in-line’, this is his Everest. “I am a man” he says to himself, encouragingly, “I am British”. He reaches to take his coffee, and turns, ready to complete the last triumphant leg of his journey, “I will catch this tr-my coffee… it’s… cold?!” Panic. Everyone senses it. Will it be a wait too far for this commuter? It is eight thirty-nine. The others in the queue look nervously at each other, a wave of apprehension ripples through the café staff. An Angry, Late Commuter. Indignation swells in his chest; it is outrageous. It is unjust. He can bear many thins with a stiff upper lip, but not this, Not this blessed cup, this milk, this coffee. This is the final straw. Resentment burns to his very soul, he is furious, his face contorts with merciless rage, his hands curl into fists, his wrath knows no bounds. “Is everything alright with your coffee Sir?” “Yes absolutely it’s great, thank you, just, if you don’t mind could you add a splash of hot water, it’s a little colder than I like, I hope it’s no trouble, please and thank you very much” I nod. “I don’t mind waiting!” he adds, seemingly unable to stop himself. I take his coffee and he stretches his arms, exhausted by his outburst. One minute later, he is gliding anxiously away, already formulating the phrases he will use to tell his wife about his ‘nightmare morning’. I watch the clock somewhat anxiously for the next five minutes. I think he would have made the train just in time. Unless he had to queue for a ticket.

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