Invasion of the Costa Coffees
Having given up the University refectory I set out to find a local café I could call my own, which was within walking distance because I could no longer fork out the extortionate amounts the buses were charging, and this luckily coincided with the local invasion of the many Costa Coffees.14 Settling on the original, right by the market, I therefore set out my stall to reside in there for as much as I could, surrounded by the inspirational panoramic view through their goldfish bowl windows, and I dreamed of becoming the J.K. Rowling of Bury.
What set my new office apart, with its cosy environment, was the wonderful town clientele and their conversations which would often drift over, such as someone having to explain to an American OAP what “tatty” meant; some parents contemplating buying a dog-lead for their toddler; and a snatch from a good-looking young woman which suddenly became audible around the mark: “…it’s not an abortion, it’s an unfertilised egg!”
I got to see a toothless crone walk in wearing a tinfoil hat; sat and listened to a heart-warming family chat with a Brummie girl, and her aged and wizened “Nana”, talking about her sister’s sex-life; and once walked in to the middle of a blazing low-volume middle-class row when I took the next seat along on the large sofa up against the wall. The threatening bloke banged on, in his angry wife-beater voice, about bank accounts, about her having become accustomed to living a certain lifestyle, and how she was turning the children against him. It was a fantastic spectator sport, out of the corner of my eye, although I think they became worried by my spatial-intrusion, on the next table along, because she started speaking quieter whilst he kept making his accusations vaguer, referring to the likes of “that”, and “the other thing”, as if I was there listening in to every word.
As if I didn’t have better things to do.
The greatest thing I found about working in Costa Coffee was undoubtedly the wonderful northern pensioner and I once had a couple ask me if I could pick up Coronation Street on the faithful laptop I hefted about, whilst a man in his seventies must have thought I looked curious because he informed me that his wife’s legs didn’t work too well since the operation wasn’t entirely successful.
That was his opening gambit.
Do you think I ask them these things?
She’d had metal rods inserted, which hadn’t yet fused with the bone, and so she rattled much to their grandchildren’s amusement. Another effect of this was that she was now stopped every time she went through an airport, as if she were an aged weapons-smuggler, and she had to lift up her dress to show them the scars.
Another day three generations of the same family were all sat around a big nearby table when the little whippersnapper suddenly burst into loud belly laughter and practically started rolling about on the floor in amusement. The elderly matriarch felt obliged to come over an explain the outburst which was in aid of the fact that she was about to depart for a holiday in New York and it had just been suggested that the family should tie a note to her coat, with a piece of string, asking the “locals” to take care of her in case she got lost.
I did like to think that the residents of the Bronx would pick her up, dust her down, and send her on her way too, but I was more concerned for the boy because he’d obviously been deprived of a childhood without any exposure to Paddington Bear.
There was a downside to the great northern pensioner though as I did also once suffer at the hands of one particular old-duffer who went to the toilet, came back, and said: “where’s my bag?” He then looked around, at me, under my table, at my bag, and pointed at it and said: “It looks just like that one!”
I then had ten minutes of having to defend myself from accusing public stares, of accusations of bag-snatching from the befuddled, which left an atmosphere reminiscent of a story from the humorist David Sedaris when his sister got off at her stop on the Chicago subway and left him with farewell: “So long David. Good luck beating that rape charge.”15
After a while I got asked by the good-looking assistant manager, as she made me my coffee one day, what it was that I actually did. It was nice to know that they took an interest in their customers and, it seemed, some of them were even taking bets. One feared that I was writing about them and, even though my capsule review of their Chocolate Tiffin was a big thumbs up, I assured her that this wasn’t the case – writers, it seems, have the power to instil paranoia in people where’re they go – and even though I was in there trying to write scripts for theatre or radio, TV or short film, I couldn’t help but write down these incidents and interactions with the locals to document the noteworthy goings on.
14 – Going from no chain coffee shops the success of the first franchised Costa branch near Bury Market soon saw, like with the Thunderbirds, that there was five of them: Costa Two having been deployed to do missionary work opposite Marks & Spencer on the new £350M town centre The Rock; Costa Three seemingly being an autonomous robot housed in the new £6.5M hotel and architectural wonder nicknamed The Cheese Grater; Costa Four hidden away somewhere on the college campus; and Costa Five picking up the slack in Tesco where their in-house café left off.
15 – The story Picka Pocketoni in the best-selling book Me Talk Pretty One Day.