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1,001 things not to do in London No 137: buy a coffee

Posted at 5:15 pm, April 6, 2013 in Fun London
© John Ritter

Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London: buy a coffee…

‘That’s it!’ the woman screams. The entire coffee shop freezes. All she has done is catch her cup on the edge of the table so a little coffee slopped over the rim and on to her boots, but it is enough to send her into an immense and terrifying fury. The woman’s so furious that she fails to find words that can adequately express her feelings and is obliged to use noises instead. ‘Rggnnghgh!’ she goes. ‘Agggghhhhhhh!’ And

‘Ptrrrrrgh!’

She could be upset about the sheer expense of having something to drink in this café. I’m still stunned by the £2.70 it cost to purchase a frothy latte that became an extremely flat white between the counter and my seat. But I’m reacting with resigned disappointment rather than righteous anger. This is London: of  course a cup of coffee will cost more than dinner for 14 in Middlesbrough. And from the look of the angry woman, change from a fiver is not an issue. She is wearing an expensive coat, boots that have required the hides of various soft-skinned and – happily – coffee-coloured animals to create and carries a luxurious and capacious brown leather tote.

No, from the continuing noises, a ‘ggrrrrr!’ now and a ‘fnnnaaaa!’, and the wild look in her eye, I’d say she’s suffering from a deep and violent inner anger, which the accidental spillage of espresso has served as an excuse to release. As if to prove this, she now raises the brown leather tote above her head, emits a further series of squawks and brings it swooshing down on to the table next to mine where it comes to an immediate and violent halt. Its contents don’t: they hurtle madly out in a shower of lady shrapnel that heads straight for my face. A packet of Minstrels shoots past my ear, a small tube of Vaseline catches me on the chin and an iPhone almost has my eye out before the hail of manicure sets, cosmetics containers of varying sizes and hair clips forces me to the floor.

For a woman to lose it like this in a coffee shop things must be pretty bad, and as we scramble around together to pick up her stuff I ask her if she is okay. She doesn’t reply but sobs gently until I hand her the bag, which now has a long mark on the side where it caught the edge of the table, and a tube of Vaseline minus much of its Vaseline, when she sobs violently.

As I wonder what else to say to this woman, someone else says something instead. ‘That’s right. Let it out. Release the anger.’

I look up to find a moonfaced man peering down at us. He smiles at me. I smile back. ‘It’s okay,’ he says. ‘I’m a counsellor.’ ‘Not’ –my smile disappears – ‘a Lib Dem?’ ‘No, a counsellor, I counsel people. And it’s perfectly okay. You’re allowed to be annoyed.’ ‘But I’m not annoyed.’ ‘It’s what I do. Trust me, I can tell. You are annoyed, aren’t you?’ ‘Really. I’m, not annoyed. She’s annoyed.’ I point at the furious weeping woman who is still sobbing and trying to get her things back into the leather tote.

‘Well, that’s okay as well.’ He smiles some more as the woman continues to cry and scramble after rolling lipsticks and scattered hairpins. ‘And just what has annoyed her?’ ‘Well, everything, I think. I don’t know the specifics.’ ‘You don’t?’ ‘No, I don’t.’ ‘You really have no idea?’ he says, getting down on the floor with us and putting his kneen a puddle of spilt coffee. ‘Not the slightest. Should I?’ ‘Aren’t you with her?’ At which point the furious woman looks up and stops sobbing. Things are bad, but not that bad. ‘No,’ she smiles. ‘He isn’t.’

And another thing… four more capital coffee conundrums

COFFEE CUPS ON TRAINS: Uniquely among world cities, London’s train stations boast skilled coffee operatives with the ability to fill a cup exactly to the point where it will spill on your crotch if you try to
take the lid off. Which you will.

FROTH ART: Why is there a picture of a Christmas tree on the top of my coffee? Or is it a fern? Hang on, is it Harry Styles’s teeth? Oh, I see – it’s Hammersmith Bridge, but upside down and painted brown
and cream. Of course.

LEARNING THE LANGUAGE: Ask for ‘just a filter coffee with milk to take away’ and you’ll be laughed out of town. You want a ‘flat-whitechaimericano- soya-lattuccino-holdthe- chocolate-grande-wetspressoto- go’. Well, something like that.

THE PRET SCRUM: Great coffee, but it’s almost impossible to negotiate the no-one-stands-inline system in order to pay for it – ergo the disheartened mob of Londoners all thinking: ‘Please let me join a queue.’

Find more of Mr Hodges’s valuable life experiences at timeout.com/hodges.

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