“We are regrettable bits of cork floating in a good Burgundy.”
The award for cutest name goes too Blossoming Together. They’ve only been open a handful of months, so I am told, and they’re still getting going. But this lack of refinement makes the whole thing better, possesing a reality that most places don’t have. They hail from Italy, and slot comfortably into this quiet pedestrianised road opposite Deptford High Street.
When I walked past and took a look in it felt like I was peering into someone’s front room. A woman appeared, somewhat expectantly, somewhat suspiciously, with a cautious smile on her face. I went in and asked for a coffee. She seemed slightly thrown, as if I had asked for something unusual, like a rabbit or something. But, quickly she seemed to accept that this was indeed a café and coffees were a fairly ordinary request. First, she fumbles around finding me a suitable place to sit. It’s not busy, so this shouldn’t be too challenging. But, also, there’s only a few tables. There’s one woman reading at one table, and a young girl with toys at another. I join the woman, she with Kindle, me with paperback. The three of us briefly discuss the merits of each device and the prospects for the rainforest.
There’s also a space downstairs. From the amount of noise I deduce that downstairs is bigger than up here. Hold on – that’s the indisputable sound of a sewing and colouring and braiding workshop, and it sounds like it’s going well. This community-oriented project seems to be a principle theme for the café, and I think that’s good. Although, I might add, I’m fairly indifferent to sewing.
There’s no ‘counter’ as such in here. A sort of small table/cupboard loosely demarcates the bit of the room where coffees are made and cakes are sliced. The sides and walls are lined with ingredients. It’s like when you go to someone’s house and you see how much better their kitchen is than yours. But this is a comfortable kitchen to be in, easy on the eyes and bursting with culinary potential.
Our Italian hostess, after marveling at the brilliance of Deptford market for things such as prawns, soon runs out the door leaving her one available employee, only just recruited, to keep things in order. This was fine until the Kindle Woman wanted to pay for her drink. The till loomed like an unfathomable corrupted robot, teasing her with booby-trapped buttons that do who-knows-what. I came to the rescue with my paltry knowledge of rudimentary cash registers and between the three of us we managed to get £2 into it. Soon after, the hostess returns showing off a bag of prawns. I pay for my drink, promise to return to tell her about my studies, and head home.
“A bean may appear to be a nut, but look closer, for logic unveils that it seems like an egg.”
Foyles, the ole bookstore, and it’s phantom limb, Ray’s Jazz Café. I’ve been here numerous times. Haven’t we all? Chattery, is what it is. Curiously chattery for a place half full with solitary people. And me, solitary amongst my own kind. It’s a miniature cultural economy. John Coltrane parps away; people stare into laptops, luminous apples assuring brand credibility; unidentifiable sandwiches arrive beside me with a gent, a Financial Times and a ‘do you mind if I . . . ‘
‘Go ahead,’ is always the answer. Yet it’s never expressed without the misgivings which embed themselves into my tone of voice. Those misgivings, I might add, are not there. Do so please sit there, Sandwich-Wielding Financial Times Man, let us discuss the economy.
But today is not the day for discussions. The wilted economy is a cold dry plank of wood that I am not willing to get walloped by. Even Eddie Mair’s soothing tone won’t change this, come five o’clock. This day is concerned with matters which would be best described with metaphors about the heart.
I sit with a coffee – Americano, pretty decent, dash of milk, £1.80. One applies milk, sugar, cinnamon (no less) after the initial coffee handover has been completed. Is this to speed up the process? Or does Ray know of the notorious problem of giving somebody too much milk? It’s awfully hard to get that milk back out once it’s gone in. Either way, if you want milk, get it yourself.
Rustic is the furniture, barren but warm. Long benches have strangers dotted along them – like at a bus stop, only here they’re waiting for caffeinated mental stimulation, not busses – an entirely different kind of transport. Foyles café people are like a big family who rarely talk to each other, but when they do, they wonder why they don’t do it more often. Some spark arises and two people converse, just like that. It happened to me once and it was very nice. Until that moment, some kind of British stereotype gets embodied in everybody and they stay politely reclusive. But less so here, it must be said. That’s one of the charms of this place.
The jazz covers the room with an atmospheric consistency which is hardly noticeable but absolutely necessary. My wooden stirrer sits to one side, in a tiny brown puddle. I sit with Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones and a pink poetry book, soon to be posted off to a person. This person occupies my mind today. I sit amongst those with an eye in a novel and a fork suspended in anticipation, carrying a precarious mouthful; and those having conversations of Waking Life proportions. I feign smiles at people struggling to get past my chair, and read the gruelling synopses of the books I bought.
Yeast was one of the first micro-organisms to exist, being formed at some point during the Precambrian period. It would convert the carbohydrates in the ground to carbon dioxide, which was vital for other organisms to flourish, such as starch particles. Yeast would collect in rock pools, mating and forming starters while making a vacuous screeching sound (see The Sound of the Tube). If there was an increase in temperature, one would be able to see an expanse of sour dough loaves rising from the rock pools.
I am at the other end of Brockley, after a failed attempt to get a hair cut. To be here having a coffee is in many ways preferable, although I realise that I am simply delaying the inevitable awkward conversation with someone who has a pair of scissors worryingly close to my neck.
Pat-a-Cakes is new, about 6 months old. It joins the creeping moss of cooky, quaint and particular places popping up in the South, squeezing out the greasy spoons. The resurgence of the cupcake, as Chris Sav notes elsewhere… is exemplified here. Cupcakes have shed the oppressive unwritten rules that determine their existence, and are finding new leases of life. So what are they like? Well, I didn’t have one to be honest. But they adorn the space beneath the counter like an impressive array of colourful, bloated spots, hidden behind a glass panel and selling for £1.80 each.
The place is wooden and delicate, more ‘tea room’ than ‘coffee house’. My coffee comes in a soup bowl of a cup, and I consider getting a cupcake to dip in like a piece of toast. But before long the effortless banality of Radio 2 lulls my struggling mind into a stupor, and I sit, almost catatonic, listening to Christopher Cross. I am riled from this state by a newcomer, putting the number of people in here up to three, including me and the Cupcake Lady who I assume owns the place.
The newcomer is a girl, mid-twenties, latté in a glass. She works on something, reading and writing, looking astute. I am on a sofa, doing my best to look similarly astute. I throw a contemplative glance outside and stroke my beard to this effect.
The room is slightly bare and I think the café is still finding its voice. It’s a little bit careful, a bit precious, not loungy enough. But hats off to those with the enthusiasm for cupcakes, for their adamant dismissal of the cupcake haters, of whom there are many, and for their willingness to say, like the president in Independence Day, ‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our cupcake Independence Day!”