I live in a town with nine cafes, which is handy as I do most of my writing in coffee shops. Three of them are not particularly work-friendly – they have a bustle about them and an atmosphere which doesn’t invite the flipping open of laptops with your skinny cappuccino. Two of the others don’t do great coffee, another is a bit off my beaten track, but that still leaves three choice writing venues just a five minute stroll from where we live. Two favourites and a spare.
When I’m working on a novel I spend the morning in Coffee Shop No. 1 and do the afternoon stint in Coffee Shop No. 2. I order my coffee, find a table, set out my notebook/computer/pencils, and get going. It really works for me. I’m tied to the table; I can’t wander off and do chores like I do at home. I can’t phone someone or waste time checking FB/email. Well, I can, but I don’t. The background music and folk chit-chatting around me become just so much friendly white noise. A bunch of teenage girls would have to get really shrieky or a fractious baby would have to push the decibels seriously skyward before I’ll get distracted. I’m there to work, so I work.
On a recent sunny day everyone had opted to sit outside and I found myself upstairs in my favourite corner of Coffee Shop No. 1 with only one other coffee drinker, a white-haired man staring at his iPad, sitting a few tables away.
For a while all was quiet except for Bill Withers mellow tones on the music system. Then my co-coffee drinker decided to do the one thing that does break into my work bubble; he began to watch a video with the sound turned up. A wood-work video, if the sawing, hammering sounds were anything to go by. I glanced over at him and gritted my teeth.
‘When I wake up in the morning, love
And the sunlight hurts my eyes,’ sang Bill Withers.
‘Scrat, scrat, scraaaaat, bang, bang, BANG!’ shouted White-Haired Man’s iPad.
Now, where general babble doesn’t bother me, folk sharing their device-generated noise with the entire cafe drives me slightly crazy.
I know, I know – I’m the one who’s chosen to take my work out into the world with me, so I really shouldn’t be complaining, but parents who give their toddlers a thingy playing plinky-plonky music to keep them ‘quiet’, business people who carry on a series of long loud work calls, that fella who skyped his mate in Italy for 15 minutes, and the mums who conference-called their kids’ teacher last week to vehemently object to some new school policy, are – in my opinion – all raising the noise levels just a wee bit beyond ‘ambient’. I was a little pissed off with White-Haired Man and his public sharing of the ‘How to Make Your Own Coffee Table’ tutorial, even if I was the only member of the public he was disturbing.
‘Scra-haa, scra-haa, scra-haaa, scra-haa-haa,’ went the iPad. ‘Scraaaaach, bang, scraach, bang.’
I glared, he ignored.
‘Then I look at you and the world’s alright with me,
Just one look at you,’ sang Bill Withers.
White-Haired Man’s phone rang. He knocked off the pad and switched devices.
‘Hi, I can’t talk,’ said W.H.M. ‘I’m at a funeral.’
‘And I know it’s gonna be, a lovely day,’ sang Bill.
‘No, no, I can’t,’ whispered W.H.M. ‘There’s a huge crowd. I’m going to be stuck here all morning.’
‘Lovely day, lovely day, lovely day, love-lee day,
Lovely day, lovely day, lovely day, love-lee day.’
‘What? Look, I’ll deal with it when I get home,’ hissed White-Haired Man. ‘I told you, I’m at a funeral.’
‘Lovely day, lovely day, lovely day, love-lee day.’
‘I’ve got to go,’ said White-Haired Man and snapped his phone shut.
I didn’t look up. I didn’t throw him a single judgmental withering look. He may have tuned out Bill inside his own head but he was sitting right under one of the speakers. I had a mental picture of his wife, standing somewhere with her phone still in her hand.
Trying to name that hymn.
Forehead clearing as she pulls it up from her memory and the words articulate themselves in her brain.
Forehead furrowing again as the penny drops.
White-Haired Man didn’t switch either his phone or his tutorial back on and silence reigned once more. Except for Bill. He was still singing.
‘A love-lee daaaaaay!’