Cassie 1. Friday, 27th April. 2.16 pm   Leave a comment

Coffee: 6 (short staffed, Sean distracted)

Conversation: 6

“Ben’s notorious for it,” says Cassie. “It’s not just me. All his friends and family can tell when he’s been drinking coffee.”

“Is it really that bad?” I ask. I’ve never heard before of coffee intolerance. For me, such a thing would be life-changing. The entire fabric of my social life would unravel.

“Totally,” Cassie says, grinning at her husband’s bizarre reaction to caffeine. “He has one cup and he’s a different man. It’s not just the shakes.  I get them if I have one too many espressos. But Ben actually becomes aggressive. I only have to say the wrong thing and he jumps down my throat.” She shakes her head and chuckles. “Last year we went to Gatwick to meet his sister who’d been working out in the States for a while. Her plane was delayed so we went to Starbucks. She gets off the plane and goes through customs and we start chatting in the terminal. After about a minute or so she looks at him and says, ‘Ben,you’ve been on the coffee again, haven’t you?’ She could tell.”

“Does he like coffee?”

“He does. He just has to limit himself to one cup every week, and never when we’ve got company.”

I shake my head in sympathy. “Poor guy. And poor you, too.”

“I’m used to it.”

I look around the coffee shop. I like the white walls, the scrubbed wood tables, the marble bar. It’s my home from home.

“How’s Sam?” asks Cassie.

“He’s great.”

Cassie smiles fondly. “He’s everything a boy his age should be.”

“I know,” I say proudly. Sam is a boisterous eight year old with energy to burn.  “He’s got a sensitive, too.”

Cassie nods. “Miranda can’t get enough of him.”

Miranda is in Sam’s class at school. At the moment, she is Sam’s best friend. I suppose there was a time when the father’s role was to instil discipline in a boy, to blow the froth off their testosterone, but it seems a lot more complicated now that they’re expected to learn to share at a much younger age. No longer is it enough to see the world played out as metaphor on the football pitch, with the spoils going to the victor. Now boys have to talk about their feelings, to share in that way, too. Parenting, I think, is a job best done in relay. In a team.

Cassie looks at me. “You all right?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Fine. Why shouldn’t I be.”

She notices the time. “I’ve got to go.”

Suddenly feeling lonely, I protest, saying, “School pick-ups not for half an hour or so.”

“Zach’s class is finishing though.”

“I forgot.” Cassie’s youngest, Zachery, is doing a junk art class in town. Cassie drinks the last of the cappuccino, replaces the cup in the saucer and waves at Sean for the bill.

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Posted April 28, 2012 by themanwholikedcoffee in Uncategorized

Josie 1. Monday, 16th April. 10.21 am   Leave a comment

Coffee: 7

Conversation: 9

 

“How’s Sue?”

Up until now, Josie has been so perky – energised, really – and we have been laughing like we always do. But as soon as I mention Sue her mood changes.

“She’s fine.”

Something’s up. But I don’t pry. Instead, I remark, “I’ve dug a vegetable patch.”

Absent-mindedly, Josie plays with her coffee spoon. “That’s great.”

“It’s down to you, really.”

These days, lesbians come in a wide variety of flavours. Josie’s girlfriend, Sue, is a kick-ass corporate lawyer but Josie herself is an elfin, green-fingered girl who works at a local telemarketing company that specialises in charity fund-raising. Sue commutes daily to her office in London and Josie’s the homemaker. More importantly, the shifts Josie works mean she is free to have coffee with me some mornings. “I’m seeing someone,” she says.

I feel a jolt. “Who?”

“Someone at work.”

The jolt turns into a twinge of jealousy. “What’s she like?”

Josie giggles like a naughty schoolgirl. “She’s a man.”

“A man?”

“There’s no law against it.”

I re-orient myself. “How long has it been going on?”

“Three months. We started having lunch together.”

I try to lighten up, to enjoy the conspiracy. I lean closer. “Has anything happened?”

Josie’s eyes twinkle. “Sue was away last week. In Dusseldorf on business.”

Somehow, Dusseldorf is an exact rhyme for adultery.

Josie goes on, “Brian’s just moved into a new flat.”

Brian, I think.

“He asked me over for dinner. Wanted to ask my advice about the garden. He’s going organic.”

“I bet he is.”

Josie laughs. “Now you’re being a tiny bit gay.”

“And?” I ask in a low voice.

“It wasn’t my first time with a man,” Josie says coyly. “But it was the best.” She stares into the dregs of her coffee. “And I like Brian.”

“How much?”

Sean appears at the table. “A brandy and an espresso, please,” Josie tells him.

“Certainly,” says Sean. Enlivened by this demand for hard liquor, Sean looks at me, his eyebrow raised just a little.

I say, “I’ll have another latte.” Sean strides back to the bar. “By the way,” I say to Josie, “you don’t have to answer that last question.”

“A lot,” Josie says at last. “I like him a lot.”

Posted April 16, 2012 by themanwholikedcoffee in Uncategorized

  Leave a comment

When he’s not hanging round in coffee shops, themanwholikedcoffee writes crime books under the name Mark Peterson. Glamour magazine said of Mark’s debut novel, Flesh and Blood –  “Gritty, compelling and utterly engrossing, this will keep you up all night.”

Reader reviews at http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13250116-flesh-and-blood

& find it at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Flesh-Blood-Mark-Peterson/dp/1409132536

 

Posted April 10, 2012 by themanwholikedcoffee in Uncategorized

Deborah 1. Monday 9th April, 9.47 am   Leave a comment

Coffee: 8

Conversation: 8

Deborah looks tanned and her short, tidy hair has been lightened by the Southern sun. “Well,” I say, “aren’t you going to tell me about Tuscanny?”

She has a faraway look in her eye. “It was wonderful. Their house was an old chestnut mill just outside the village, surrounded by olive groves. There was a terraced swimming pool and we ate lunch under the cypress trees. I had lessons in the morning and in the afternoon I used to catch the bus into Florence or go for long walks in the hills.”

Sean comes by, his white apron tied around his waist, his beard coming on apace. He places our coffees down with exaggerated care and we exchange our customary knowing smile before he sidles off again. I turn to Deborah. “What was it like living with the family?”

She must have been feeling the relative cold of England because over her blouse with the embroidered collar she is wearing a wool cardigan. “Fine. They’ve employed nannies and the like before so they were very relaxed about having me about. If I wanted to, I could take all my meals with them, but they also said I should come and go as I pleased, once Ivan’s lessons were over.”

“What was he like?”

“I’ve taught Ivan for a year. He’s always polite and hard-working. But when I saw him with his parents…” She almost shivers. “Rude. Stubborn. Ungrateful. It made me very glad I don’t have children.”

“The teenage years,” I comment, inwardly crossing myself. “What was so important about his studies that they had to take you along?”

“He’s taking his Common Entrance exam this Summer.”

I feel a stab of jealousy at the thought of the private education Ivan’s family can afford. In our little circle, the choosing of secondary schools continues to be a topic of great concern and one of the reasons I enjoy Deborah’s company so much is the fact that I don’t have to compete with her about the scholastic prowess of our respective offspring. She sees the whole subject from the other side, and with a lot more objectivity. “He’s not very bright,” she says. “But he’ll do well in English and Maths, which should be enough to carry him through.”

Deborah’s look has changed. No longer is she nostalgic for the Tuscan hills, nor is she really interested, it seems to me, in the fate of troublesome Ivan. Deborah used to teach English Literature to the great unwashed at our local comprehensive and perhaps that’s why the thought of Jane Eyre comes into my mind, and in particular the chapters where Jane is employed as a Governess. When I look at Deborah I see Jane’s dowdy clothes, her downturned eyes, the way she is expected to say nothing at all at the party.

“Are you OK?”

When she looks at me over her coffee cup there are tears in her eyes. “It’s happening again.”

Two years ago, Deborah had a breakdown. At school, her classes seemed to take delight in baiting her and her head of department was losing patience. (It was the stories she told me that made up my mind to attend church every week with my children.) At the time, I nursed Deborah through her resignation and the eventual lifting of her clinical depression.

She shakes her head in disbelief. “Of all the places in the world,” she says, putting her cup down and retrieving a tissue from the sleeve of her cardigan. “I sat in the Piazza della Signoria, in the middle of the most beautiful square in Europe, and cried my eyes out. All the waiters fussed around my table. All the tourists stared.” She shakes her head, blows her nose. “It was dreadful.”

“Florence must be a hard city to be on your own in.” Deborah is alienated from her parents. They divorced when she was nine and to this day remain living in separate cities somewhere far away in the north of England.

Deborah nods. “When the family went to the Uffizi one afternoon I had the run of the house. I swam in the pool. I padded round all the rooms, looked in all the cupboards. I made believe I owned it all. But it didn’t make me feel any better. Worse, in fact.”

I imagine her moving from room to room, listening to the cicadas creaking in the midday heat. I feel her sadness and want to help her. “It doesn’t have to be as bad as last time.”

Posted April 9, 2012 by themanwholikedcoffee in Uncategorized

Jennifer 1. Wednesday March 28th, 11.15 am   Leave a comment

Coffee: 8

Conversation: 1

“I haven’t got much time,” says Jennifer, sitting down opposite me. She is around my age but whereas people are always commenting – wrongly – about how relaxed I appear to be, Jennifer is like a buzz saw. “I’ve got to pick up Sophia at twelve.”

I can’t help myself. “What’s she doing?”

“Mandarin class. Although I’m not sure about the teacher. I checked him out first – CRB, two referees – but I don’t think he engages with the group enough. And his teaching materials are age-inappropriate.”

“It must be hard teaching Chinese to four year olds,” I agree.

Sean sidles by. “Skinny decaf cappuccino and a large glass of water,” Jennifer instructs him. Before children, she worked for a shiny London firm, where she did time and motion studies for their clients. There was a lot of foreign travel and a lot of late night meetings and her mind was always ticking over. “I worry,” she says now, “that Hugh and I have made the wrong decision in accepting that place for Sophia at the local primary school.”

Jennifer makes a lot of parents in our circle breathless with shame. We pray for an incident at the playgroup, a tantrum, or just a spillage of juice in the back of the people mover. But despite all of their learning goals and star charts, Sophia and Ted are infuriatingly well-adjusted.

Jennifer notices my smile. “I know, I know,” she says. “I’m sublimating my will to power. I’m living my life through Sophia and Ted.”

Humour. That’s why the women appreciate seeing me. I make them laugh. And pay them attention, of course.

“It’s just, you know.” Jennifer shrugs.

“What?”

She looks around the café. “All this.”

I chuckle. “What do you mean?”

She holds her hand up to encompass everything. “This.”

“It’s a phase in our lives. We’re lending ten years or so to our children.”

“Ten years?” She looks appalled. “Do we ever get it back?”

“Eventually. When we’re old and grey and smell of wee.”

This time, the irony doesn’t work. “Who’d want us then? What good will we be to anyone?”

Jennifer’s existential iceberg rears up before me as well.

“Isn’t it worse for you?” she asks. “I mean, I can fly under the radar. I’m a woman.  I can put on something shapeless and crap in the mornings and no one suspects me of being a traitor to the cause. Of harbouring treacherous thoughts.”

I don’t answer. Suddenly, there’s a pain in my side as if my hull had been ripped open. It’s either the iceberg or the second coffee I’ve drunk because Jennifer was late.

Posted March 28, 2012 by themanwholikedcoffee in Uncategorized

Sarah 1. Monday March 26th, 2.33 pm   Leave a comment

Coffee: 4 (trainee barista)

Conversation: 8 (for news value)

Sarah has a habit of talking over you. I was telling her about the new garden. She was telling me about the email she’d received.

“The travel agent said the trouble is localised in Athens, that’s where the riots are. Can you believe they’ve been reduced to bartering for food?”

There is a rhythm to table talk. For the moment, though, the ball seemed dinked into the net. It rolled on the grass for a moment, neither of us making the effort to go and retrieve it. Sarah sipped her coffee then she licked some foam from the fleshy part of her lip. It was a sexy gesture. “What about you?” she said.

“We’re off to France again.”

“Oh, France is lovely.” She wasn’t listening.  She said, “Roger’s leaving me.”

“Leaving you?”

Sarah’s eyes sought refuge on the walls of the café, taking in the seascapes a local photographer had put up. “Sounds strange to be hearing the actual words. ‘Leaving me.’ They’ve been in my head for days now.”

I hadn’t seen it coming. No one had, I think. “I’m so sorry.”

Sarah glanced at a seascape. “I could try calling it a trial separation, of course. But that wouldn’t be true. The feeling’s not mutual. Not at all.”

“What’s going to happen now?”

There was the first trace of bitterness in her voice. “He’s found a little flat in Brighton. A pied a terre. Somewhere in the Laines. He’s always wanted to live there.”

Sarah imagined a gamine young thing in a bob seen through the gap in a half-closed bedroom door. I imagined Roger watching football on his own on a tiny black and white portable television.

“He wants to sell the house from under me,” Sarah said. “But there’s no way that’s going to happen. Jesus Christ, the kids are still at home! Where does he expect us to go?”

“Everything all right here?” said Sean, gliding by the table. Too late, he noticed Sarah’s expression.

“Fine, thanks,” I said, not looking up at him. I knew Sean wouldn’t be embarrassed. He was used to this kind of thing, especially on a quiet weekday. He glided back towards the bar where the espresso machine was making a strange gurgling noise.

Sarah regained her composure. “Can I ask you something?” she said a little acidly.

I looked concerned. “Of course.”

“Why do you do this?”

“Do what?”

“Come here for coffee with so many different women?”

Sometimes, I thought of this place as my office. “You’re my friend, Sarah. That’s what friends do.”

“Are you secretly gay?”

“No,” I laughed.

“Have you fucked any of them? Any of us?”

“I know you’re upset, Sarah, but there’s no need to take it out on me.”

She picked up her purse and snatched a five pound note out of one of the compartments. “That’s for my coffee,” she said, slapping it down on the table.

I watched her leave. I had let her down. Sarah had come here to beat a tattoo out on her drum, to marshal her forces against the enemy in the forthcoming moral and legal struggle. But she had seen that my first thought was for Roger, not because I liked him more than I liked Sarah – I didn’t – but  just because he was a man. As the door closed behind her, I wondered if she and the children would be going to the Greek islands on their own.

Posted March 28, 2012 by themanwholikedcoffee in Uncategorized