Cafe culture…

Cafe culture…

I have noticed that there are a huge number of books set in cafes, all of which have beautiful covers, ooze vintage charm and exude a yumminess that provokes the kind of salivation that would knock Pavlov’s dog into a cocked hat. Titles such as Heidi Swain’s The Cherry Tree Cafe, Milly Johnson’s Afternoon Tea at the Sunset Cafe, Ann O’Loughlin’s The Ballroom Cafe, Jenny Oliver’s The Grand Reopening of the Dandelion Cafe, Lucy Diamond’s The Beach Cafe, Jenny Colgan’s Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe, Rebecca Raisin’s Gingerbread Cafe series, and Samantha Tonge’s Game of Scones ( to name but a few) all make me feel that there is a romance and seductiveness attached to cafe’s which is the stuff of warm, romantic and cosy fantasies. That’s brilliant, I used to think that too and when I moved to Devon I had lovely ambition to one day own a little cafe, where I would bake delicious cakes, be charmed by my quaint and quirky customers and generally lead a blissful, satisfying and profitable existence surrounded by bunting, the aroma of fresh espresso and the thrill of being my own boss. I’m so glad those lovely ladies didn’t see fit to approach me for a professional consult before writing their beautiful books. Some of them I am privileged to have become friends with, I’m confident that wouldn’t have happened if we’d ever discussed cafes.

Five years ago a I bought a cafe, painted it blue, put up some bunting and started baking. Two years later I sold it. The reality didn’t live up to the fantasy at all. Most days, after eight hours on my feet and reeking of the smell of bacon I would crawl home and collapse on the sofa wondering if I had the energy to whip up a quick carrot cake for the next day.

Oh, I had ‘quirky’ customers by the dozen, most of them ignoring my deli sandwiches and home made cakes and demanding bacon butties, English breakfasts and “those round things, what you toast, with the currants” ( she was a sweet old bird – her order for a beef burger was “those round brown things”, I was quite fond of her until she did something unmentionable in the toilet that required rubber gloves and cutlery for its adequate disposal. It was traumatic, I have never quite recovered). I think at one point I had over 100 items on my menu, but the ‘quirky’ regulars would always ask for the one thing they knew I didn’t do…usually at lunchtime, with 30 people queuing at the counter – I’m sure they just wanted to see me implode over the griddle. If I made lemon drizzle cake, they fancied carrot cake, if I made carrot cake they were in the mood for Victoria sponge, if I made all three they wanted fruit cake…God bless them… :/

Then there was the potential for romance. Now I am an exceptionally happily married woman, but you know, those books… Well, in my two years of sporting eau de chip fat, sweating like a navvy and wearing a particularly fetching striped apron and matching Crocs I attracted three potential ‘amours’. The first was a skinny, toothless little man who took rather a shine to me when he came in for his daily fried egg sandwich ( he would always ask for the crusts, and preferred margarine to butter) – he would invariably give me a lascivious wink and take the opportunity to stroke my hand when I took his money. My business head usually prevented me from telling him what he could do with his fried egg!. The other was a builder, who came in every day for an English breakfast and a mug of tea so strong I swear it melted my teaspoons! He was a starer, in fact he could stare with the intensity of a Marvel comic mutant. It was incredibly unnerving, and if forced to approach him with his order I was known to do a fine impression of Victoria Wood’s Mrs Overall. My third potential amour was a small, fat Londoner with a preponderance of tattoos, a mouth like a sewer and an addiction to brown sauce. He asked me out three times, and that was after he’d met my husband. Married or not, the prospect of wrangling with someone who looked like the love child of Bob Hoskins and Mrs Potatohead was not massively appealing. That cafe was a pit of unmet desire I tell you!  I was living the dream!

Let’s thank the heavens for those lovely books, they keep the fantasy alive and now that I am no longer encumbered with the need to feed the masses their daily dose of a heart attack on a plate, I too can indulge in the dream of fluffy cakes, vintage plates, bunting ( preferably not encrusted with grease after a week) and thoughts of raunchy romance amidst the rock cakes…

To your immense relief I won’t be writing a book set in a cafe, despite the mandate that we should write what we know there are some things it’s better to leave within the realms of fantasy. If I were to write such a book, the cover would not be a glorious riot of vintage loveliness and frilly aprons. No, to reflect my reality of cafe culture it would depict a half crazed, puce face harridan (looking vaguely like me) wielding a blood stained kitchen knife and holding the severed head of the unsuspecting customer who last asked me for a cup of Lapsang Souchong with freshly squeezed yak’s milk because they didn’t see it on the menu…

2 thoughts on “Cafe culture…

  1. This is so funny! I know someone who had a romantic idea of what running a cafe would be like. She opened a very upmarket gluten-free one in Weston-super-Mare of all places, destined to fail with the scoundrels who live there! She had a very similar experience to you! I remember the first time she was asked for a bacon butty she was appalled, and immediately lost potentially 90% of her business! Somehow her romantic ideation didn’t get blown as she moved her dreams on to running a B&B in France which I can only imagine (having worked with holidaymakers myself) will be an absolute nightmare and not the relaxing time sitting in the garden with a glass of wine she has envisaged!


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