Category Archives: Cafe Tales

Kenny and Kevin

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It is probably blogger and social suicide to admit this, but Kenny (I had to look this up) Loggins has me in his grasp. It is early morning in early spring in Berlin and Footloose is belting out in my generally snoozy little café.

But I am not here. I am in Canberra, where the rough edge to said Kenny’s voice once pounded its way into my brain on the bottom of the tired looking footwear that accompanied the opening credits to the 1984 cheesily classic, not to mention classically cheesy, teenage film.

There, in Australia, it is hot and I am hanging around in the foyer of the cinema, waiting for the B-film to finish and the intermission to begin so I have the chance to sneak in without paying. Bad? Probably. In my defence, I was young, we didn’t have a video player, the world didn’t have youtube, and I didn’t have enough money to feed my recurrent need to watch Kevin Bacon get footloose in the eponymous film.

Thing is I don’t actually like the song. I didn’t like it even back then, but I adore the way it has whisked me however many thousands of miles away to a memory so vivid that I can smell it and taste it. I am unceasingly amazed at the time capsule power of music, and the way even the opening three bars of a track so effortlessly unlock the senses, the body and the mind.

Kenny is fading out now, and my surroundings are beginning to regain their form. I likely won’t go back to that Canberra movie theatre until I happen upon the song again, but that’s okay, because I like my here and now. Oh… but wait a minute… aren’t those the opening notes to Love Lift us up Where we Belong? And wasn’t that the sound track to An Officer and a Gentleman?

Of Books and Berliners

I have a small child who likes to rearrange my bookshelves. It’s a habit that involves pulling as many volumes as possible onto the floor before I intervene. As it happens, I like the game as much as her. Albeit for different reasons. While she thrives on the anarchy of the moment, I am excited by the way that anarchy fills the room with the very real possibility that I will find an old letter or a thought scribbled on a scrap of paper and carelessly filed away between the pages of books. Last week I found a newsletter from a bar in Putney I evidently once went to – so long ago, however, that the phone number on the back bears the old London dialling code and a complete absence of any digital identity.

And then a couple of days ago a book I have not seen for ages and didn’t remember I had, landed at my feet. It was a skinny little “guide to the Germans” I received as a Christmas present during my earlier days in Berlin. I didn’t exactly devour it at the time, and I doubt I will now, but I did flip through it, and read the apparently compulsory chapter on sense of humour.

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“The Germans take their humour very seriously,” it begins. “It is not a joking matter.” It goes on for a couple of pages about how German jokes don’t translate into English, about how irony is not part of daily life, and how humour is not only prescriptive but often pre-scripted.  “Disorderly humour is not only nothing to laugh about,” the section concludes, “it is often not even recognised.”

The generalisations are, of course, greater than the reality. I was thinking about that reality yesterday, when  ensconced in my local cafe for some quiet writing time, a rather nervous looking man in his mid-thirties walked through the door. There were plenty of free tables, and he hovered around them for a moment before choosing the one immediately to my left.

He came up close, pulled out a chair,  then tutted to himself, and moved to the table on my right. This time he was there for the duration. He dumped his stuff  – coat, hat, scarf, briefcase etc. – on the bench and asked me if I would keep an eye on it all for a moment. “Like a hawk,” I promised with a smile, as he strutted off towards the toilets. And although nothing was going to happen to his stuff during his absence, I watched it… a small black mound of inanimate objects. They looked so dark and dull, and I was suddenly hit by an overwhelming desire to hide – just temporarily – one item. Sadly he was faster than my thought, and was back before I could act on my impulse.

When he approached our corner of the café, he looked at me questioningly. “It’s all still there,” I told him. He nodded his approval or his recognition of a job well done and took off his suit jacket. “Although I did consider hiding it,” I confessed. He did a kind of double take before releasing a limping bout of wooden laughter  into the gap between his table and mine.

It hung in the air for a moment, before he cut it off dead, turned to me square on and said: “That wouldn’t have been a good idea.” And somehow, judging by the look of earnestness gripping his face, I don’t think he was joking.

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