Saturday, April 15, 2006

Café Culture

I tend to start my working day at Café Revival, my favourite coffee house in Bristol. Initially, it was a place to temporarily stave off the inevitable nine-plus hours in the office, an opportunity for a shot of caffeine and a cigarette or two before substituting coffee grounds for the daily grind. Now, it's become a place to collect my thoughts and steel my nerve for the day ahead, and also a source of considerable inspiration. There's always something going on in the upstairs smoking lounge, played out to the soundtrack of the staff's latest compilation CD, itself vying for air space with the discordant sounds of a station-hopping radio and frenetic food preparation coming from the adjacent kitchen. What should be a Babylon-esque cacophony is surprisingly relaxing, particularly when fascinating snippets of fellow patrons' conversation are thrown into the mix. I've been frequenting Café Revival for some time now and, without fail, a middle-aged woman called Gwen will already be there, with her coffee, cigarettes and reading material. If I'm feeling especially sociable (which isn't often, I'm really not a morning person), I'll give Gwen a nod and a half-smile. Gwen always chooses the cushion-laden long seat in the corner of the upstairs smoking lounge, providing a view of the room, as well as the stairwell leading to it and continuing up to the non-smoking lounge and toilets. A perfect spot for obversation, in other words. I chop and change, probably a subconscious (and rather feeble) attempt at unpredictability. Sometimes, I'll sit in the opposite corner, against the window; the window seat also has cushions, but it's frankly not all that comfortable. Sometimes, I'll sit at a long table lining one wall. Occasionally, when it's extremely busy, I'll be forced to sit at one of the central tables; not my preference, as I feel somewhat set adrift. This week, the upstairs smoking lounge installed a bar counter with high bar stools. I'll probably give this a miss. This wasn't the only change to the status quo of the upstairs smoking lounge, however. After months of visiting Café Revival and encountering Gwen without fail, this week I discovered that Gwen is called Gwen. Not that I asked her directly, of course; it was one of those overheard conversations that I referred to earlier. A young woman (let's say in her twenties) sitting at a neighbouring table was interrogating Gwen at great length. Through aural osmosis, I absorbed the following information: 1) Gwen is called Gwen. 2) Gwen works in the magistrates' court, just around the corner from Café Revival. 3) Gwen's main role is translating documents for clients whose first language isn't English. 4) Gwen is Welsh. 5) Gwen has published several novels in the thriller genre, thus far only in her native Welsh language. The younger woman was fascinated by the fact that she was speaking to a genuine author; she revealed that she too aspired to be a writer. The younger woman's favourite book is "Bridget Jones' Diary" by Helen Fielding. The younger woman seemed undecided about where to focus her writing. The choice seemed to be between a journal/diary-style narrative, similar to "Bridget Jones" but from a Christian perspective, or a self-help book. I didn't catch who the younger woman was intending to help to help themselves, or whether this too would be from a Christian perspective, although I would guess the latter assumption is fairly safe. Gwen gave the younger woman some advice and encouragement, though I wasn't entirely convinced that the younger woman was paying as much attention as I was. Will the younger woman ever write that book? Will Gwen's thriller novels ever be published in English? Who knows, but their conversation certainly enhanced my morning's coffee and cigarettes... Posted by Picasa


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