We were at the cafe in the park yesterday, when it suddenly occurred to me that it reminded me of somewhere – somewhere I’ve been before, but not for a long, long time. I go there quite frequently now, Lyn often with me. It’s just around the corner, and since we’ve stopped drinking caffeinated coffee at home, I go to get a fix. There’s a nice, friendly vibe there, with the same people frequently showing up, so it becomes like a community. There’s a woman with a large black Labrador coincidentally enough called Brandy, a lady who pushes her dogs round in a pram, and all kinds of other local characters who help make Charlton the place it is.
Yet yesterday it made me think of somewhere I hadn’t been for almost ten years. Back at university, the place where everyone got their food on campus was the Wesley Centre, or the wes. It was a large, square building with an arboretum in the middle and four quite discreet areas around each side, three of which were set out with tables and chairs for people to eat at. I remember, as a first year, the looks of puzzlement and intrigue I saw in peoples eyes when they spotted my Neater-Eater, set up at a table close to the kitchen, ready for my breakfasts and dinners.
One side of the wes was what I called the ‘cool area’. This was before the smoking ban, so people used to meet there for a fag and a chat. There was a small extra kitchen there where you could buy nicer stuff, like paninis, there. They also did slightly better coffee there, which may have been why, yesterday, I found myself thinking back to that place. I went there to meet my friends and have a chat. It was in there that I got to know people like Charlie and emma – people not on my course, but with whom I became steadfast friends. We used to talk about all sorts of bollocks in there; the conversation was often quite obscene. I used to go there to find the guys when I needed a break from work. It was there that my Lightwriter first became known as Colin.
Yesterday I realised I was in a similar place: here, at the cafe, was the same vibe I felt in the wes; the same feeling of community; the same type of free, often obscene, often hilarious conversation. The way that the same people nearly always showed up made the two places alike for me. As in the Wes, in the cafe in the park you never quite know where the conversation will lead or what is going to happen. They now know me there, as they once knew me at the wes. I find the parallel pleasing, and, in a way, comforting. The two places are alike, and, just as I found some of my best friendships in the Wes, I suspect I’ll be meeting some firm friends for a coffee in the park for years to come.