Southgate station

I am sitting in a café in Southgate. I’ve come here to get on with some work – I have a couple of interviews to write up for a forthcoming book, and figure that the distractions here will be fewer than those assailing my consciousness at home. I ordered chocolate-and-lime loaf cake, and a large latté. The cake is all right – I’d give it a 7 if they asked. Maybe a 6. I intended buying a sandwich, rather than my habitual pound-of-sugar, but the only appealing sarnie is more than £4. At fewer calories and a lower mass than the slice of cake, the price differential seems unreasonably inverted, so I opt for the cake. I then ponder, for the briefest of moments, that this is apparently why poorer people are in general likely to be more obese than their wealthier counterparts. I suspect, as I sit with my latte and laptop to write for a book on the sociology of music education, that I may be in a socio-economic bracket affording me a relatively low risk of becoming unhealthily overweight. So I wolf the cake, reluctantly using the unnecessary fork (lest – presumably – the waitress thinks ill of me?), and gulp at the too-big mug of coffee, taking the opportunity to stare, less covertly than I imagine, at my fellow patrons.

I’m sitting against a side wall of the curiously triangular premises. At 2 o’clock from me there are two girls talking conspiratorially and decisively – I assume that one of their boyfriends has taken a unilateral holiday or decided to spend the weekend in the pub shouting at a television, so they’re planning his fate. Ninety degrees to my left is a man called Alan, to whom I was introduced once during a brief familial religious experiment at the local Anglican church a few weeks before we had our baby daughter christened. He sits with a white Americano and a copy of the Bible, occasionally opening the latter at random and then glancing around with a look that achieves piety and confusion at the same time. I’ve seen him in here before, and he never removes his anorak. There’s a couple to my right by the window, drinking and chatting efficiently so as to be done before the baby sleeping in the push chair between them wakes up. The two older women outside must be smokers or mad. It’s noisy, chilly and windy – the allure of al fresco conversation in London eludes me. I understand it in Barcelona, Nice and Zurich, but shouting at a friend over traffic at a busy roundabout is surely the eccentric preserve of a peculiarly British aspiration to be slightly (yet, inevitably unsuccessfully) Mediterranean. It’s tokenistic and ridiculous, like the way we’ve begun in recent years in the UK to use more olive oil. We still eat too many pies, and it still mostly rains. My waitress is eating her lunch at the table the other side of Alan, and her mum has popped in for a chat. The happiest people here are the retired couple by the door. They’re from the generation that still dresses up to leave the house (I note that, for some reason, I wore a blazer today). David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” comes over the PA, chased by Frank Sinatra.



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