Tag Archives: coffee

The life of a kitchen table

 Hello and welcome to the world that I occupy.

In fact I never really move out of this small space that is mine.

I don’t mind, everybody comes to me constantly, I am the centre of my family’s life. I sit there in the kitchen quietly waiting for the family to wake.

Dad is always the first up, he comes in and sits down to eat his breakfast slowly waking up with every mouthful of what ever he is eating. Even as he approaches 40 he still likes the cereal of his youth, . Mind you toast is just as popular, along with the first cup of coffee.

Then the children are next along with mum always arms full of the detritus that the kids seem to shed between waking up and walking down to me for food. It seems like a well polished routine for the outsider that I imagine is looking in.

Yet here I am every day hearing all the secrets and anxieties that affect them all. I know that between getting out of bed and walking down to me, tempers have been frayed one child has already upset another, some important piece of clothing or school work is lost. It is always at this time that something last-minute is remembered. Normally the eldest, she is the perfect ditzy blonde, so clever in academic life, a straight A student, it’s just the simple things in life she struggles with.

Then there is the boy, there is only one so no need to get confused, he is laid back with most things in his life that effect him. Sweet to the bone easy-going and slightly freaky. He lives in a world in his own head and every now and then let’s us in. Counselling is probably imminent either that or world domination.

Mum easily holds the family together. Or should I say it is easy to see that mum holds the family together, I know it’s not easy to do. The way she sits down after the school run that doesn’t involve 4 different sets of PE kit three lots of homework one major project, and a bill that has suddenly been thrust through the door that wasn’t expected till this time next week. She has her cup of coffee and you can actually feel the stress exude from her. That’s before the endless rounds of housekeeping that she does with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Next are what everyone refers to as ‘the girls’ one being five the other six. They are easily indistinguishable from each other,…it’s just I can’t. They are inseparable from each other always laughing at some private joke or talking at high-speed and a pitch that would drive dogs crazy. As long as it is pink they are happy, be it clothes, toys and even food.

Dad is probably the quietest of the family, well at breakfast he is. Always deep in thought about something or other, normally something to do with one of the things, that constantly worry him, Family, or work. He is always coming up with some new hair brained idea for making life easier.

Breakfast is over quickly. Dishes are put in the sink ready for long-suffering mum to get to. Plates are replaced by shoes, bags the girls have shoes put on quickly. Dad then always has to empty everything as he looks for his ever lost keys or wallet or his poor mobile phone.

Then silence as the front door closes, and the family is of to their places of work or school. Soon mum comes back in normally loaded down with some shopping to replace the bit of food that is already running out that the children devour with ravenous appetites. Or another new item of clothing that has been destroyed or grown out of. She puts them on me with a sigh as she takes in the carnage that has replaced the kitchen she spent ages cleaning just twelve hours before hand.

It all waits for the cup of coffee. In another new cup to replace the one that got broken in one of the boys experiments. Mum soon returns to the never-ending task of housework. 3 floors 4 bedrooms 2 reception rooms, a study, and the small utility room that is forever full of half repaired bikes, boots that are coated with layers of mud, coats steaming constantly from the never-ending rain showers, and the poor washing machine that is constantly churning away, along side is the tumble dryer with its door held shut with the broom propped up,against a pile of boxes that still sit unpacked from the move seven years ago.

After a quick respite cup of coffee, mum dashes out the door to collect the kids from school. Then I am alone again until the family returns at varying times.

The noise signals who comes first. The girls and boy return home with mum behind, with arms full of empty lunch boxes, coats and another letter asking for some money or a tin for some event at the school.

The oldest girl is next, both tired from big school and full of life from time spent with friends. She slowly empties the fridge of fruit as she shares the latest gossip of her school friends with Mum, who listens for no other reason than to hear a human voice that can string a sentence together.

It’s a little while until dad comes through the door shattered and a little frail after work, he puts some coffee on and slowly sinks into the chair. The girls climb onto his lap both talking at high-speed and holding three different conversations, then a few minutes quiet, and chat with mum about the latest bill or broken item, as the children return to their previous employ.

Then, the mayhem begins, home work of 4 different types are being discussed and another papier-mâché lighthouse is slowly taking over everything, dinner is being cooked by Dad while he also slowly repairs the dishwasher, Mum folds the laundry on me in a small space amongst a socket set, reams of paper and half full glasses of juice and cups of coffee. As homework is finished the family comes and goes and each individual brings their own piece of life to the melee. Then the call goes out that food is almost ready. Everything is cleared from me, and down go place mats, cutlery, glasses. Drinks and food are set down, and ten seconds of absolute stillness is experienced by all, no words are spoken for the first five minutes as food is savoured, and consumed sometimes a little escapes of the plates and makes its dash for freedom as it gets pushed around until it’s scooped back up or drops to the floor.

As the eating slows down the volume rises again as the days exploits are played out for everyone to share, several conversations happen at once, laughter is shared by all, some times tears. Then everything is cleared away the last of the spills cleaned. The Girls go up to bed, the boy and the eldest disappear to their own rooms, cups of coffee are made a newspaper is spread out on me ready to be read but mostly forgotten or doodled on, as lunch-boxes are made and set out ready for tomorrow. Another load of laundry folded another lost toy found. And finally just before the lights are switched of dad puts his keys and wallet on me so not to lose them the next morning. Then darkness and the beeping of the distant washing machine telling nobody that it has finished its final load for the day.

Machiatto Anthropology (part three)

I have a confession to make, I am not loyal.

 

Before my wife comes over with hands on hips and lips so thin (where do they learn that look). Let me clarify my statement. We have a new coffee shop in our small town. While at the moment I still prefer Café Nero, Coffee #1 is calling me. It has a cosy interior, I like the eclectic collection of furniture sourced from chapels, while the fire place is false the ambience is not. The only down side is a lack of WiFi. Before anyone accuses me on my fickle nature, Café Nero supplanted Costa Coffee. I will openly plead guilty to the charge set before me. But I will still argue my case, I seek comfort. I prefer a big soft settee that moulds around me to the fashionable leather couch that adorns executive apartments. A meal of stew and dumplings will always be chosen over exquisite cuisine. Lastly you will more often find me in warm jumpers and loose jeans than tailored suits, and highly polished shoes. (Another blog on polishing shoes to follow soon).

 

It is this that brings me to today’s observation, While sitting waiting for my dear suffering wife to bring me my coffee, two ladies in their late twenties early thirties vacated their table. Both were dressed much like a winter Next or Boden advert. As one of these ladies walked of to powder her nose, her companion cast a critical eye over her as she walked away. The raised eyebrow and slightly thinning lips told me that she did not either approve of her friends choice of clothing (a hip length chunky knitted jumper, jeans and a whisper thin scarf). Or more likely in that glance she took in her friends physic, judged any weight loss, or gain. With that glance was probably able to tell her exact measurements. She then stood a little straighter in the back. Smoothed down her own jeans and buttoned her coat. I caught her looking at her reflection in the glass of the window, and then the adjusted her hair, and smiled as her friend returned. The smile spread across the face she became animated as they kissed on the cheek to say goodbye to each other and they both left the coffee house.

 

I had good look around the rest of the customers, to see if any of the others displayed similar habits. One group of suited business types were gathered around a table showing signs of tension, an elderly couple in the easy chairs wrapped up against the cold even in the building. A couple of mothers relaxing in the leather settee as their offspring slept in pushchairs laden with bags. I suppose they all spent time choosing their clothes that morning, all for different purposes and choosing what they wore for different reasons. The two ladies earlier mentioned conscious of their appearance and the unspoken opinion of their coffee date. The elderly couple for warmth, the business type were probably the easiest choosing the unofficial uniform of suit and tie. Then I thought about my own attire, why am I wearing what I am? Did I consciously choose my shirt, and jumper combo? Or as is the case most of the time I pull clothes out of my wardrobe I know I will be comfortable, clean, and will fit. Why am I wearing this coat, I have four or five coats to choose from why this one?

 

It was then my wife arrived at the table, with my coffee brining me out of my thoughts an into the real world, realising that it really did not matter what I wore because unless you in a lime green suit and a four foot purple hat you are probably invisible to everyone around you as they are more concerned about their own lives, than what a complete stranger is wearing.

 

 

See you all again

 

Jamie

Mobile Apocalypse

Gottfried Leibniz….if you know this name and what he did then give yourself 10 gold stars and a chocolate bar.

 

If not well he…..no go and look it up, But without him our world today would be very different. Sitting this morning in my favourite coffee shop, I was waiting for my wife to finish writing a few cards. I was getting a little frustrated because my phone would not connect to the free wifi. (is it ironic that my spell check does not recognise ‘wifi’). Anyway after a minute I decided to give up and enjoy people watching. Looking around the coffee shop (look I am fed up typing coffee shop all the time so its Café Nero OK). In Nero’s there were around thirty customers, I decided to count who was using technology while drinking. Well it was easier to see who wasn’t, three of us my wife, me and a gentleman to my right who was reading a paper. I was at first not surprised at this, the first thing I do when I get into Nero’s is check my phone, the same goes for my wife.

 

Then I decided to count those who walked past the windows and who was using a phone, in the ten minutes I kept this up for, I counted 367 people walk past, of these 278 were on the phone, 2 were using tablets, one person stopped balanced a laptop on a post. I live in a small town of around 40,000 including all the outlaying areas. In that ten minutes almost 1% of the population walked past and 80% of those were using technology. (By technology I mean modern communication).

 

Now I am old enough to remember telephones that you actually had to ‘dial’. They were cumbersome and six or seven numbers were all you needed. I am also older than the internet. But today it is all around us, mobile phone signals and wifi signals along with all the other radio signals. They are buzzing around us all the time. Looking out of the window at the sky, which was grey. I tried to imagine what the sky would look like if we could see all those signals in the air, different colours for different signals.

Imagine if we took my example of numbers and decided that 80% of the population were using mobile phones at any one time. If we round our population to 70million that means that 56 million people are on the phone at anyone time. Imagine 56 million little red lines shooting across the sky like pieces of wool.

 

Then there are those using wifi, and if you house is anything like ours the radio is constantly on (drowns out the children constant nagging).Then the signals for the Television, and then the radios that the emergency services use, or lorry drivers. It always amazes me how these invisible signals don’t get confused or run into each other. I understand the science behind it all, but still it is pretty amazing.

 

Back to Nero’s and me looking around at all the modern technology we use, the tills, the card payment machine’s (now also wifi). Even the coffee machine is computerised. I look at all this stuff and then remember how new it all is. It is since I was born that computers became small enough to leave buildings and then fitted into a room, and then left the room and fitted into a big box., and now they fit into your mobile phone which is small enough to fit into your jeans pocket. Computers have helped in every part of me getting that coffee. Growing, delivering it half way around the world. I am now trying to think of a business in this country that does not use modern technology in some part of their product chain. I can’t.

 

What if we turned the internet off, along with mobile phones and digital signals? Some would say we would be back in the 1950’s but I believe it would be further than that. My children’s generation does not know life without automation, television, computers and mobile phones are as natural to them as eating fresh fruit is to my generation. I had an idyllic upbringing in the country and enjoyed being outside. My parents subsidised shop brought produce with what we could grow on our small holding, I spent much of my spare time in my teens in the wilds, eating what I could forage, or catch. I was proud of being able to make fire without matches or a lighter. But even in my own generation these skills are not common. Because everything is now computer controlled, we would not have our fuel pumped or delivered to us, the food in the supermarkets would not get re-stocked. I am going slightly apocalyptical here aren’t I.

 

The pace of technological advancement in the last 50 years has been extreme. If someone from 1710 was transported to 1810 there would not be much difference, but if someone from 1910 was to be transported to now, can you imagine their mind overload.

 

‘Flying oh yes we do that everyday now’.

‘Telegram, no we don’t do those here use this phone made out of  plastic with no buttons and send a video of your self to America’

 

Oh sorry plastic?…video?….well here let us sit down in this American owned Italian coffee shop selling Moroccan coffee as it has free’ wifi’ and I can show you on my tablet, how you can use the internet to get all the information you need, hey we can blog about it, or even set up your own webpage. We had better be quick because I have just had a text to say I can have laser eye surgery tomorrow, and they need to prep me first. Here use this door as it opens by itself, no you go sit down over there by the double glazed window, I will pay, I have my touch and go on my phone. I can transfer my money from the other account while we chat. Do you want a macchiato or latte? Skimmed milk or semi skimmed milk.  Oh look I have had a tweet from Antarctica…Scott? Umm no sorry look I will show you what happened. Oh look I have had an email from the guys on the space station….

 

 

 

Till next time

Machiatto Anthropology (part two)

So yet again I am sitting in my favourite coffee shop. This time I was alone and had my pen poised ready to write something amazingly intellectual about spatial economics. But life was unfolding before me across three tables, the other side of the room.

 

Each table had four women around it. The first was surrounded by ladies all in their 30’s-40’s. From their clothing it looked like a business meeting and there was definitely a more dominate leader of this group who done most of the talking. Second table held four younger girls who seemed to be students, they were more vibrantly dressed and their talk was punctuated with laughter. The final table held four ladies in their late sixties early seventies. A tableau of life was there for all to see. Three stages of a woman’s life, sipping coffee.

 

The table with the younger girls, conversation was quick and followed no particular order, each participant vying for attention. While in one hand they had their coffee of choice, the other was clasped around their mobile phones. Half way through conversations the phones were brought into play. Photos were shared with the others, texts, tweets or messages in general were answered while still in mid flow. Hand bags were delved in for items unknown, and the only time others in the coffee shop were noticed was if they walked past them and knocked into their shopping bags.

 

The table holding the business meeting, was surrounded by concentration. Real or fained  I do not know. The imparter of information seemed to be animated while referring to a diagram and those whose interest she commanded sat upright and nodded sagely as if indicating complete understanding. There was a small break as the women who had lead the discussion left the table for five minuets. Shoulders dropped from the three remaining and heads bowed together checking watches, and their mobiles in the brief respite.

 

The final table was interesting to observe, as all its occupants had to talk a little louder to make themselves heard over the general hubbub of the coffee shop. I spied at least one tea pot on this table and the remains of more than one pastry. Of all the three tables the clothing worn around this table seemed the most colourful. There was a definite grey black theme in the suits of the business table, while the student table definitely, had a lot more fake tan than the branch of boots two hundred yards away.

But a little closer inspection of this older table and again you could see the uniform of their generation. Floral dresses, sensible flat shoes, warm winter coats (still being worn even inside). The handbags were much larger, and the contents that I saw emerge from these was bewildering at least. Small umbrellas, and plastic hair nets. Cotton hankies, bottles of pills and medicines. Mobile phones were also present on this table, although not the snazzy modern ones of the other two. A conversation was had on one of these, very clear basic commands were pronounced eloquently while the user seemed confused in which direction to face.

 

My second cup of coffee heralded the breaking of this scene before me as the business meeting came to its conclusion and the alpha female parted company. The student group had finally decided that their time had come to an end, and continued chatting and text while leaving the detritus of their visit behind. The older ladies ensured their table was neat and all cups and plates were stacked neatly on the tray. Bags and walking sticks were gathered and they shuffled out of view. A quick wipe down by the ever busy barista, and a new customer sat down by himself with his paper spread out before him.

 

For twenty minutes, a brief moment in time eternal, I was enthralled by the occupants of three small tables in a coffee shop. How many meetings had taken place around coffee shop tables, throughout the country in that time? What news passed between sippers of coffee. Was it business ideas that would revolutionise, or revitalise a company? Maybe friends, that have not seen each other for a long time, passing on news of old colleges. Was there news, that changed their outlook on life for ever. Maybe there was a wife telling her husband that she was finally pregnant after years of trying. Or was there meetings that imparted the sad news of the death of a loved one. Were there meetings that had been scheduled to say goodbye, parents saying goodbye to their children as they went of to college. Or maybe, a weekly meeting between two friends?

 

As I sit and watch life go on around me, I like to stop sometimes and just enjoy being able to breath slowly, eyes closed and for a few minutes just have the knowledge that at that time, for one peaceful moment. I can relax, control my immediate future if only for a few brief minutes, shut out the sights and sounds that vie for our attention amongst a haphazard world. I feel the warmth from the mug in my hands and the comforting smell of freshly poured coffee and for that infinitely short amount of time just slowdown, stop and relax.

wanna, wanna, wanna,………..want one!

40 Billion miles. That is the estimated distance travelled by those shipping containers all over the world. What do they carry? Well absolutely everything, bits of plastic to make bigger bits, clothes, cars, hospital equipment. Have a look around you now and almost everything you can see has been moved in one of those containers. Within arms reach everything has been transported in the back end of a lorry.  There is nearly a quarter of a million lorries in the UK. If parked end to end, they will stretch almost two and a half thousand miles, or From ‘Lands end to John O’Groats and back again twice.

 

That number is being added to daily. Why? Well we are all to blame. We are now and have been for some time a consumer society. We want ‘stuff’ our economy is no longer based on what we produce here in the UK. The whole of our economy is based on what we spend in shops.

 

Selling is big business. I don’t mean the actual transaction, the figures of money spent in tills in the UK is mind boggling. What I mean buy ‘selling’ we also know as ‘advertising’. According to the ‘advertising association’ £100 billion is spent on advertising in the UK every year. For every £1 spent £6 is gained. It is now the middle of October and all the high street shops have started their Christmas lines. By the middle of November every shop will be packed full of Christmas goodies.

 

How much of these things do we really need or want. My wife and I enjoy a good coffee in one of the local branches of a nation wide coffee shop chain. After we finish we sometimes take a walk through the town back to our home and we will wander in and out of shops. Now we love charity, and second-hand shops. We have not decided to but into the up-cycle, reuse life style to amend for our capitalist ways. It’s just that we don’t have the money to spend on stuff full price. How ever we do also wander through the more upmarket nationwide branches. (Here in West Wales that’s Debenhams and the like). Everything about these shops silently scream buy me. But they don’t. They don’t just say buy me; selling an item is one sale, what many shops try to do is to get you to buy into a life style.

 

This is why celebrity endorsement is such a big business. If David Beckham, for example were to advertise a pair of trainers, the manufacturer could guarantee that they will sell thousands of pairs within a few weeks, because every seven year old boy interested in football would now be nagging their parents incessantly for a pair. Why because having those trainers would make you a little bit more like David Beckham and then you would be nearer playing for what ever team he plays for.

 

But brands want loyalty, next time you are in a shop predominantly selling clothing have a look at the walls, there are posters of happy people enjoying their lives in this clothing. These models are always perfect in stature, the clothing fits its always clean and more importantly they have friends exactly the same. If you buy that ‘hand chosen ethnically knitted top’ and of course you can justify the £89.99 price tag because you just know, that by wearing it you will have the same life as those people in the poster.  Besides the shop you are buying it from only has eight jumpers on display in three sizes so there are not going to be that many people or more importantly your friends wearing the same top. So you have not only brought into the lie of life style change but also the lie of exclusivity.

 

And for a while you have that warm feeling mixed with excitement, it is a thrill to buy. But that thrill wears thin and next time it doesn’t last as long, so you buy more often. Of course we tell ourselves that we deserve this stuff , we work hard besides we didn’t have much as kids, well not as much as our friend did, they always had new stuff all the time.

 

And we are now back to the children, and Christmas is fast approaching (well according to the shops it is). I always enjoy listening to the conversations about how much people spend at Christmas. You have the one that says £500 per person is just going to have to be enough this year. Then there is always the one that says their year has been tough so they are going to push out the boat a little and pay it of next year. Of course there is the smug one that says they have finished their shopping already it’s all wrapped they only need to buy a few items for close friends. Then you have me. They all look at me expectantly awaiting my response, I normally shrug my shoulders say my children will get one or two things we never get too much anyway. But they start pushing for figures. They want actual numbers and why? Its so they can feel smug knowing that their kids are going to have a better Christmas than ours because they have spent ten tines the amount we have. Because Christmas is abut spending money, and the more you spend the better you have done it.

 

I once asked a cashier at my local Tesco store how much money they have taken, This was late morning two days before Christmas. I had a bottle of milk and chocolate bar. They said they tried to keep a mental note on the amount going through their till But gave up after £30,000. This is one till of twenty in one store out of hundreds. And that is just one shop chain.

 

So is this a post about Christmas, or Consumerism, or money, its not even about capitalism. But it is just a thought about the way advertising now dominates our lives. If every shop front was the same, and every item came in plain brown wrapping would we really prefer one shop over the other? Would we have the headache we always seem to acquire after a few hours of walking around the shops? But then I suppose we would not have an excuse to nip in and have a nice coffee before heading home, and well not having coffee shops would mean I wouldn’t have the chance to sit down and ponder over a nice cup of coffee!

 

Till next time.