I struggle up onto the tall padded bench, indulging my instinct to have my back to the wall, as if I’m a fugitive, needing to keep a sharp eye on the exits. My clumsy attempts – one, two – to take a seat must make me seem either too infirm to be drinking in a trendy high street coffee shop or like an independently minded toddler, determined to scale the promontory of their highchair alone. I’m not sure which is worse.
I regret buying the hot chocolate the moment I taste it – too sweet, too glutinous – though I know I’ll still drink it down to the muddy swill at the bottom. I’ve paid for it, after all.
Classical music plays over the sound system. It’s Baroque, pastoral, calming, and makes me think of hillsides and floating on a wide, softly rolling river, the metallic flash of a kingfisher. Classy lift music.
Stylistically, the café’s a mix of country manor kitchen (scrubbed down tables, black and white tiled floor, plain metal light fittings) and granny’s sitting room (chintz armchairs, floral lampshades with tassels – over stuffed cushions). It’s a historical pic n mix, a time travellers’ grab bag of interior decor. Nothing goes together so everything does seems to be the theory.
I watch a group of workmen on their break. They sit in a circle, each slumped in one of the chintzy armchairs, muddy boots on a Persian style rug. Granny won’t like that, I think, then remember there is no granny. Each of the men is scanning his phone, watching YouTube, reading Facebook. They’re incongruous amid the standard lamps, shelves littered with old fashioned weighing scales and musty books glued to the shelves to stop them from being stolen.
There’s a family sitting by the window – grandmother, daughter, grandson – each one staring out into the street, trapped by their own thoughts. They sit together, but each one is stranded, unable to connect. I’m intrigued, but look away, an intruder.
I swallow the last, sugary grains of hot chocolate and wish I hadn’t. I head for the door and though the day’s cold and grey, it feels warmer and more welcoming than inside.