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.