Monday, November 29, 2004

A snow day... 

...but without the snow. There's little in the city to mark the turn of the seasons except for the temperature, but although it's turning chilly as autumn slides imperceptibly into winter, there's certainly no sign of snow.

No snow, but this has turned out to be a morning of unexpected holiday of a sort, in the style of a snow day. I find myself sitting in Starbucks, idly scribbling as I try to make my Grande Americano last as long as possible. I was convinced the meeting I was travelling to started at 9.30, but it seems I was two and a half hours early. A senior moment...

It's a wonderfully luxurious feeling though - two and a half hours unexpectedly mine, with no obligations, no commitments, no laptop with me so I can't even pretend to work. Two and a half hours to do anything that Reading city centre offers on a cold November morning and not feel guilty about it.

Starbucks isn't my favourite coffee, but they do have one significant advantage over most other coffee shops - plenty of space and a relaxed attitude towards long-term occupants of it. The question is, just how long is it reasonable to make one cup of coffee last? I do a rough mental calculation based on my hazy knowledge of rents per square foot of restaurant space and decide that even allowing them a healthy profit margin, the price I paid should entitle me to about half a day's rent of the few square feet that I occupy. Not sure that they'll see it that way though...

With nothing particular to occupy it, my attention wanders idly across whatever sensory input it happens upon. Normally Starbucks background musak is best ignored, but the instantly recognisable introductory chords of 'What a Wonderful World' grab my attention and for a few moments I'm lost in the magic; Louis Armstrong's gravelly rendition never fails to bring a smile to my face and a moment of peace to my heart. Thankfully it's followed, not by some ghastly Christmas jangle, but a jazz trio playing Greensleeves - wonderfully dense block chords, full of deep colour and layers of feeling. If I could play jazz, that's how I'd like to play.

The next tune though is back to mundane Christmas ghastliness. Ears turn off and auditory diversions give way to visual distractions: how many ways can muffins be eaten? And what can you tell about a person from this casual act? This one adopts a hierarchical approach: break it in half, then each half in half again, and then again into bite-size pieces. Planning, order and structure clearly play a role in her life, or so I idly muse. I sneak a glance across at the woman at the table next to me, ready to glance away again should she feel my eyes upon her muffin. Ha! A complete contrast: she picks pieces off the top until the mushroom-like outline reduces to a shapeless hump, reminiscent of a melting snowman. Obviously a take-it-as-it-comes type.

More customers come in; the place is getting busy. I finished my coffee a while ago and the morning feels a little less relaxed now - a self-induced pressure to move on and leave space for new customers starts to eat into my earlier calm.

Uh-oh. I've been here so long, now I'm the resident of longest standing. Or is that longest sitting? There's been a woman in the opposite corner sitting busily writing in a large black leather-bound folder with only her cup of coffee for company - a mirror image of me, I guess, except that she looks businesslike and I'm merely loafing. She was there when I came in, and as long as she stayed, I reckoned it was okay for me to stay. But she's leaving now. Time for me to go too, I reckon.

Still, the break was good while it lasted. And even snow melts eventually.

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