I have my own favourite cafés. I’ve talked to friends around the world about this and have discovered that it is a universal phenom these days. Not at all uncommon. Those with fewer responsibilities, or, perhaps, some more time on their hands (like me) like to seek out places away from the home to read and write and watch, and to be alone in company.
I rotate: have my different places according to how I feel. The weather plays a part too. There is a place I really like, but they leave the door open, so I don’t go there when it’s cold. I like it when they get to know your order. It’s a certain form of flattery, I suppose. “Bacon extra crispy,” I notice Mr. Grumpy now writes on the chit. I don’t think he’s all that grumpy, it’s a bit of an act, but everyone needs a name. “You’re a one shot, yes?” Mr. Top-Knot confirms, when I go into him. Mr. Top-Knot has pastel tattoos. On both arms. I’m not big on tattoos but his are beautiful, and I’ve told him so. “Yes,” he looked pleased, and continued in his lovely Polish assured tone, “even my mother likes them”. I feel that I have permission to examine them further, admire. They look like skies at sunset, and mountains in early morning, and deep reflective oceans. The soft colours, like Degas ballet dancers, are incongruous on his muscled arm.
There’s one place I don’t go to so often – it’s too small and very popular – but I popped in a few days ago when it was quiet. As is generally the case, there was no table service. As I queued I watched the young man serving. He was strikingly beautiful. He looked happy at his work as he gracefully moved behind the counter: stretching to the espresso machine, spinning to reach for a croissant, presenting the order with a flourish. Blonde curls, a willowy physique, around his neck he had a long string of turquoise beads, doubled with a silver chain upon which hung a ring and some charms. He was a cross between a Bondi Beach surfer and a slightly grungy version of Sebastian from Brideshead Revisited. His sleeves were rolled up and on the inside of his forearm he had a tattoo in filigree font. I read it: ‘go lick yourself’. Really? It didn’t make sense to me. It was hard to make out, as he kept moving. As he gave the man in front of me his change, I tilted my head to get a better look. I decided it said, ‘go luck yourself’. That didn’t make much sense either though. In a flash, the penny dropped. In the same flash, he asked me for my order. “Oh, good gracious!” Suddenly the voice inside my head was that of an affronted Miss Jean Brodie. “Now why would a lovely young man put that on his ar-um!” I was staring at the tattoo, fixated. I imagine this is how some men are with women in low-cut tops – there is only one place for the eye to go. “How can he ever go home again?” By this stage, Miss Jean Brodie was shouting inside my head. “Gracious!” She said it again, rolling her ‘r’s, in best Morningside accent. Silently, and firmly, I told Miss Jean Brodie to stop saying ‘Gracious!’ and to get out of my head. I ordered a latte. “Large or small?” asked Mr. Sweary. “Em, small please,” I said, training my eyes onto his angelic face. I wondered about his poor mother, and if it might be possible, somehow, to pastel over the words. If he was up for it, I might even have a contact.