The idle hour café. Central London. Hard to find, harder to leave. The place is stuck in the 70s or maybe the 60s or 50s or 80s, it’s hard to tell - what isn’t hard to tell is how it hasn’t changed, materially, for decades. But this is no time capsule, this is no Interior Designer’s wet dream of the past, faux, dressed in objects from eBay. This is the real thing. This has been butchered and patched and broken and badly fixed time and time again. None of the chairs match. None of the cutlery, none of the crockery. Occasionally you might get a plate with a script print, almost invisible, with the initials IHC, a survivor of washers, dishwashers and client abuse. It is an aptly named place if ever there was one. You do not go there for sparkling conversation with the owners (you don’t know who they are) or the waitresses or waiters - they are constantly changing. You certainly don’t go for the food or drink which on a good day would be described as bland, inoffensive, unnoticeable. You do not want to hang around, rather you are forced to by the universally atrocious service. However many staff members come and go, none seem able to manage a cup of tea in under 20 minutes, toast in half an hour, and you’re pushing 40 for anything cooked. The seats are strangely aligned. Every seat facing the back of the café where the wall is covered in a scene of a tropical island, azure sea, white sand, green palms. This is your view. And the backs of other people’s heads. But whoever came up with this crazy idea, which must have seemed mad at the time, was shrewd. When you looked into the café you always knew where to sit, no-one looked at you (certainly not the staff - getting their attention was legendarily hard) and so you didn’t feel uncomfortable, just choose your pew and take your seat. The place was eerily quiet. A café is usually full of noise, crashes of plates, metal against wood, chit-chat. But this place was almost church-like. No radio blared, no TV pumped trash. Just the gentle murmur of people’s thoughts. If a couple did go in, they would talk in hushed voices, reverent of the place which would, ironically, never conjure up the word ‘religious’ There was little to do but think. To waste your time in contemplation. You had to wonder. You had to wonder what great thoughts, what books or plays, what wedding or funeral speeches, what requests for raises, interview notes, essays or dear John letters were formed in this place in these seats. Or perhaps, the reality was that nothing good came from this place apart from sixty minutes off its precious customers' existence. It was the kind of place that time had forgotten, that progress had forgotten and that one day would be forced to shut when it was, itself, forgotten and with it the last bastion in the city of forgetting oneself, of forgetting the hustle and bustle of this modern life and of being idle.
Another 15-minute write as I struggle with time for poems - it’s a long weekend here so hopefully I can find some mental space.
The above was taken on Piccadilly in London in 2007 on a Nikon FM2. It was shot with a Carl Zeiss Jena 180/f2.8 medium format lens which is usually attached to a Pentacon Six. I miss those days. I don’t miss the weight (I think it is the best part of a kilogram) and I’m not sure my eyes could focus it anymore - it was hard enough back then!
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I wish that my local favorite spot was like that. It can be loud, a dozen discussions at the same time, people checking their phones, BUT the waitstaff are generally talkative even with the organized mishigoss, etc. it's still pretty much a 2nd home to me, my Batcave. & it's a " dive - bar " that's family - friendly, so I keep profanity to a minimum, whereas some people turn the air purple with their prose.