Previously in "What I Miss Most": Live music.
You see I have this dream. I wake up on a balmy Saturday morning and take a shower. The pressure is unusually hard and the water uncommonly hot. I dress in clothes that suit and flatter me, and I pack a bag – laptop, book, laptop charger, headphones – though when I pick it up, it barely weighs anything at all. I go outside, sauntering along, listening to music that both complements and lifts my mood, and after a few minutes, find myself at a glistening door, glowing the way Christian illustrators depict the entrance to the cave in renderings of Christ’s resurrection.
I push it open and am hit by a pleasurable wave of air-conditioning. I approach the well-stocked counter, and order an iced coffee and cinnamon bun. I pay a slightly-too-large chunk of my weekly budget for these items, then I sit down at a table with a plug socket beneath it and open my book, in the full knowledge that I could have done all of this for free at home. I roll my shoulders once and feel sated.
“Missing cafes,” by all accounts, is obviously not really a big deal, considering the circumstances, but I realised fairly quickly into the lockdown that I do miss them quite a lot. I suppose that more than cafes themselves, it’s more what the cafes symbolise to me that I’m hankering after (“cafes are symbolic to me” – me, just then, actually writing words. What a sad little life.)
In the Before, I used to spend a sizeable bit of my free time at the weekends alone, much as I do now, though obviously then that time wasn’t solely occupied by sitting on my bed looking at the Instagrams of former Love Island contestants, or pouring the entire contents of Netflix into my head (admittedly there was still a lot of this type of thing going on, but I did also on occasion leave the flat.)
Often, I used my free time to take myself off to work on a piece of writing or to read at a coffee shop, where I would get like, a pastry, and just sit there for a couple of hours, doing stuff – for example, looking at Twitter while also holding a book, or looking at Twitter with a Google Doc open in another tab – in the relative quiet. It was time that I enjoyed spending by myself – cafes are pretty much some of the only leisure spaces where it’s not considered at all weird to go alone – gently focussing on creative pursuits that I often don’t have time for during the week.
Because this was something I used to do so regularly, I’ve never really given much thought to why I did it, or what I actually got out of it – but now, with only things like “exercise” to entertain me, I’ve been able to mull it over a bit. Like anyone who works full-time to pay rent, I often find that I’m too tired or busy or preoccupied to spend meaningful time during the week on my own “projects,” so I usually concentrate on them at the weekends. At the same time, however, I also want to feel like working on said “projects” is fun – because who wants to have a shit time when they’re doing their hobby? – and to enjoy myself at the weekend. Cafes are great because they give me all of that – I get to eat and drink something nice, be stimulated by a space I like, and concentrate on whatever it is I want to think about.
I should say at this juncture that when I mention “cafes,” I’m mostly talking about cheery workers’ co-ops like Black Cat in east London and friendly, independent spots like Blank in Brixton, which I much prefer to the grim, homogenised, Airspace vibes of many, many London cafes. Over the last couple of months, however, I have even caught myself lamenting particular Prets (love you Great Eastern Street) thinking about what I’d give to be sat at a sterile little table, drinking a 99p filter coffee and self-importantly scribbling whatever shit is in my head into a notebook.
Essentially in “missing cafes,” what I’m actually missing are really just the small, quotidian opportunities for pleasure and enjoyment that were available to us before the lockdown, and the ability to just go and sit down somewhere other than my flat. It’s not important or anything – and I’d happily not set foot in another cafe for years if it meant everyone was kept safe – it was just something I liked to do. So, while I know it won’t be for a long time, I am very much looking forward to a day in the future when I am sat in a window, on a stool, with a croissant in front of me, pretending to write something while I scroll Twitter on my laptop.