Monthly Archives: June 2013

Fully Roasted

the bitter aftertaste of popping out for a cuppa

Sunday afternoons are surprisingly busy in Costa, even as closing time looms. One family appear to have turned it into a proper outing, hunched around a table with a tablet of some form. Two teenage boys, about 14 and 16, call out film names excitedly, jabbering away on the technicalities of whether Qui-Gon Jinn could beat Darth Maul. I think we established that in 1999. There’s something about video games that I don’t understand, I mean, people know they’re not real, right?

The parents take over the tablet; no, not take it away, but take over the game. The older boy can almost not contain himself at his desire to help them. How can they be so useless? How can they not know who the protagonist of Tron is, or where Star Trek: Nemesis was set? The older boy begins to quiver. Their younger son cups his cappuccino in two hands and proceeds to down the entire cup in a gulping, slurping cacophony. I’ll be  honest, it was hard not to stare. Coffee finished (it’s not as if that’s what you come for after all) he lurches across the table, fighting his brother-jedi at the table for supremacy. Their mother stabs uselessly at the tablet. Please don’t get it wrong, I don’t think I’ll be able to hold my laughter in much longer. Their dad frowns at the paper.

Further along, a father sits on the settee with his son and daughter. The father’s friend, think Flanders from the Simpsons, nods earnestly in conversation. Upright, rigidly wooden in movement, he makes every effort to show his interest in his friend’s conversation. We all know what that kind of conscious effort really means.

Hold up though, it’s a big question at the other table. “The Holy Grail! The Holy Grail!” The younger boy is on his feet, fingers flapping, almost hyperventilating. A sigh of disappointment. What a defeat. C’mon, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Even I knew that one.

Flanders is giving life advice to the little girl beside him. She nods seriously. Well, for a moment. The marshmallows in her hot chocolate are far more exciting and who can blame her? Flanders laughs nervously and robotically adjusts, hiding his rejection. No, we know you weren’t really talking to her.

Flanders gets up to leave just as the next table erupts into ecstasy at the winning answer of “Wolverine!” from the jedi apprentice. His master looks on, beaming. Ah well, if you didn’t get all the answers there’s always next Sunday eh? Can’t promise I’ll be there. As Flanders moves out, I realise I have seen him before, several times in fact, at gigs in London. Well, always time to re-evaluate my music taste I suppose.

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Fully Roasted

the bitter aftertaste of popping out for a cuppa

It could only be Caffe Nero in Henley-on-Thames, the microcosmic world of the Henley Regatta, the highlight of the year for the upper-middle Englanders of the Home Counties. Don’t think the coffee shops are any different. As lunchtime creeps closer, the lycra-clad middle-aged women finish sipping their cappuccinos and head out to another yoga class, or for the weekly Waitrose shop more likely. Instead, the queue consists of the students who get more than £5 lunch money for the week (those ones head across the road to Dominoes or the fried Chicken Shop off the high street), a few high-flyer business types with the briefcases, sharp suits and (yes, they still exist) blackberries and finally a few elderly customers spending their retirement in style.

It’s fairly quiet, the music a willowy piano piece that seems to be stuck on a loop while the single table and seat by the window, nestled between two others of course, calls out to you. You seat yourself; the look goes up: “what? You wish to sit between these two tables? With someone sitting either side? Have you no regard for personal space?” Actually, I have every regard but getting a table is hard enough and the metre of space either side is entirely reasonable for my comrades to continue sipping their teas and reading their papers. They sternly look away and grudgingly oblige. Victory.

The task is not over yet, however. You may have secured a table but you have to hold it until your panini arrives. Don’t be thinking that because you’ve bought a diet coke, and even asked for a glass, that you qualify to sit at that table with no coffee and no food. Not to the upper-echelons that are surveying you from the queue. They glance around and shake their heads at the lack of tables. Then they look back at you. You pour the coke into the glass, spread your papers around the table, take up more room than necessary. Still they look. Banging the food marker doesn’t seem to do much good either. You begin to sweat, despite the ice-cold coke: will they actually ask me to move? Will they sit beside me, ask to share my table? (I can assure you, it happens.) Ah at last! The panini arrives! The scaly, cream-clad women look away, moving towards the armchairs. One waves her arm at the waitress to bring the coffees over. Wow, I didn’t know they did table service in Nero.

But just then, when you’ve finally settled down, you hear the shrill pitch, elongated-vowel sounds and a tone coated with condescension that marks the arrival of somebody overly superior to your lowly status. And that of everyone else around you.

“Oh, let’s sit in the armchairs, more roooooom, no?” the mother coos. Good, they won’t sit next to you. Her waif-like daughter drifts over too her before gliding to the sugar stand.

“Would you like some water? I’m getting some.” The mother shakes her head but raises her coffee, as if in toast.

“Cheers!” The talk turns to dresses for some occasion, probably the regatta, of course. “What about your white ooone, with the laaace?”

“Think I could get away with this colour?” The girl ripples her willowy fingers, peach-coloured nails swanning through the air.

“Oh that colour, yest, I think you could get away with most colours. They look gorgeous. You look gorgeous!” Did you get that at the back? This woman’s daughter is goooorgeeous! The mother proceeds to knit: a dark, muddy-green item, while the girl gets out a book. Because who doesn’t read and talk?

“We’ve got nice teas for Daddy haven’t we?”

“He loves cherry maderia cake, and victoria sandwich.” Of course he doesn.

“Gosh, I get my exam results soon. I must get Daddy to do my student finance. He hasn’t done it yet. Then I can choose my modules.”

Enough said.

 

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Fully Roasted

the bitter aftertaste of popping out for a cuppa

There’s nothing worse than overly loud people. Except maybe overly loud, obnoxious people. These ones weren’t obnoxious, but the ignorant kind of loud. The “we don’t care loud” paired with the makes-you-want-to-eat-stones idiosyncracy. The two older women twitter and cackle as they wait for their male companion. No, sorry, person-with-tray trying to squeeze through the gap in the chairs to get to your own table, you are irrelevant. Another round of cackles. Another chair is pulled out as their own drinks arrive to much cooing and unnecessary rearranging of drinks, receipts and bags. The tray-battler behind manages to dash through a temporary gap, sacrificing the foam of her latte and someone’s milk. Ah well, emergency situations call for drastic measures.

A small boy leaps to his feet as an even smaller girl walks in. They nervously make their way to the counter together. Could this be what it looks like? No, surely. It could be, he’s paying for her. Disaster! He’s discovered he doesn’t have enough money and sheepishly has to pick something else for himself. Bless, she’s already taking advantage of a free drink. I wish I’d had that skill at 9.

I go to look out of the window, not forgetting to give a bone-chilling glare as my eyes pass over the crows’ nest next to me. It’s as if they arrange that no two people drink at the same time, ensuring an incessant squabbling of voices in my right ear. Looking out the window, it’s strange to see two women have picked a table right on the other side of the glass. Looking at all the empty chairs and tables around them I realise they must have picked it because it was the only one free. It feels strange, as if there’s no glass there really. I almost want to make fish lips. But I don’t. They seem immune to this intense claustrophobia I am feeling and continue their conversation. I feel privy to it though can’t hear any of it. Fear enters me: how do I look out of the window without looking as though I’m looking at them? Fortunately a man wanders under the far end of the canopy so I can look over there instead. He sits down on a chair and lights a cigarette. Oh, it’s funny, I thought these chairs were sat under the Costa canopy but his must be outside the rope. Oh no, it is inside the rope.

Back inside, the first-date sits at a table far away from everyone, overlooked by a sleepy potted plant. Sorry kids, it’s behind the table so no shelter there. They suck on straws cautiously, talking very quietly. At least it makes a change to next door where the tittering voices crescendo before bursting into laughter. Beautiful. Time to leave, I think.

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a welcome time out

Time Out: 12 High Street, Thame, Oxfordshire

Time Out is a small two-floor cafe on the periphery of Thame High Street run as a family business. Thame is an old market town, renowned for its variety of boutique shops including delis, antique shops and ones specialising in local produce. Not only does the pleasant layout attract cyclists, tourists and walkers, but there’s also a large Waitrose, Boots, Sainsburys, Prezzo and a number of pubs and gift shops, making it a great destination for day outs, shoppers and somewhere to do your errands! The Coffee-House near the centre of Thame has long been a favourite with locals and visitors alike as well as Rumsey’s tea rooms, specialising in chocolates and light lunches. However, for something a little fresher, for something a little further from a polished BLT with a stick through the middle, and for something more adventurous than your average salad, maybe it’s time to head a little further down the high street. And yes, I mean past Costa.

There aren’t many seats but they are snapped up quickly for morning coffees, quick bites and lunches and even for afternoon treats and milkshakes. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed: there are sofas upstairs, books and magazines to read and it’s very much a family run business. It doesn’t look modern or clinically clean which may put some people off but it’s already very popular, despite being a fairly hidden gem.

On offer is a selection of toasties and sandwiches in the fridge, though I have to say that these don’t look particularly appetising. No, what’s best here, are the fresh specials that change daily. There’s salads, a chicken-of-the-day, homemade cakes and bakes and light main meals too. Blackboards and baskets give a homely, rustic feel.

We tried the Mexican chicken pitta and the quiche-of-the-day. The pitta was lightly toasted and crammed full of chicken in a light, spicy marinade using the likes of chilli, ginger and tarragon. On the side came a fresh salad and a pot of sour cream to drizzle inside the pitta. Perfect! The feta quiche was a neat triangle of homemade pastry brimming with feta cheese and spinach. Golden brown and just crispy, there were no soggy bottoms here!

The service could have been a little quicker if we had to pick but the meals are freshly made so they’re worth waiting for. Next time you want a time out, come here instead!

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