I have been coming to my local M&S café for years. It’s where I wrote all my essays for Uni, and it’s where I’ve written a lot of blog posts and creative stories. If you take the time to look close enough, it’s not just a sea of grey-haired anonymous people … everyone has a story and when they’ve not been tutting at me using my laptop, some of the old people here have been awfully sweet.
I stopped coming because the queues became so long that I could never get that much needed second cup of coffee without having to queue up for at least fifteen minutes (I don’t do queues) and so I found a café nearer to home, that enabled my moderate caffeine addiction. I complained to M&S on Twitter a lot but it didn’t really help. Oh well.
I’ve seen verbal fights over table allocation. I’ve been stared at A LOT for deigning to work in ‘their’ café. I’ve had a man ball me out for holding onto a chair he wanted because my heavily pregnant friend was about to arrive.
The best thing about the cafe is being able to people watch. There are groups of friends who always nab the same table every morning, at the same time (9.15am) and who nurse the same one cup of tea for hours. The same people who have the audacity to look aghast if a newcomer doesn’t know the café rules and sits in their space. One old lady has a voice so high pitched I thought it was a little girl when I first heard it and one of the men in the group had a beard with no moustache, which still fascinates me. His wife had a stroke last year and now relies on a walking stick, and her no-moustached husband to help her get around. He’d do anything for her and their love is very palpable.
Then there are the people that are actually happy to talk to me. The ladies that come on their own and are so lonely they’ll make conversation with the weird woman on the laptop. I remember making friends once with an old man who used to bring his middle-aged deaf daughter with him every day. We’d normally strike up a conversation in the queue and I learnt about his time in the war, how his wife died years ago and he was now doing his best to look after his grown-up daughter. And then one day I realised I hadn’t seen him for a while, nor his daughter … and then it dawned on me. And sure enough, months later, his daughter arrived one morning on her own and told me her Dad had died. She now lived on her own and told me that she missed him every day.
That’s the thing about people watching, sometimes you end up doing more than watching and become involved in these strangers’ lives and they don’t even realise they’ve touched your life in some way.
Take this morning. A lady in her late 60’s just came over to me to say how lovely it was to see me. She asked after Dexter and said it was a shame I didn’t come here anymore. (To be honest, it’s probably the only place I go where I actually feel young!) And as we were catching up she suddenly leant in and whispered, “The cancer’s come back.”
The cancer’s come back.
I didn’t know she had had cancer before but she was very matter of fact about it. I told her I was very sorry to hear that and asked her how she was feeling. Hot, she replied. The HRT was driving her crazy, having to wake up to soaking wet pillows every morning as she found herself constantly sweating was the worst bit. The cancer is in her spine and it’s too dangerous to operate, but she isn’t in pain. Yet. She’s off to her Dr later, she told me, to see if there’s anything else they can do for her. And I looked at her and had no idea what to say other than, “I’ll be sending you positive thoughts for your appointment,” and “Look after yourself.”
Urgh. I’m rubbish in those situations, but I always think it’s better to say something rather than pretend you didn’t just hear what was said.
I don’t know if she has anyone else in her life that can listen to her, support her, love her, but at that moment she saw a friendly face and just felt the need to share what was going on in her life, and I’m glad I was there for her for, for what it was worth.
I love this cafe. It’s a microcosm of my little Kent town that I’ve live in all of my life and it reminds me that you should always take the time to look up from your laptop once in a while and see who might be looking for you.