Gail Walter

Shall I say what I mean?
JANUARY 14, 2013 11:59AM

Cowcross Coffee With A Smear Of Blood

Rate: 4 Flag

I am gazing into my soupy cappuccino at an assertive swirl of cinnamon. ‘I need a hero’ Bonnie Tyler agonizes, brassily invoking the eighties that so embarrass my children.

Opposite me, men in blood smeared white coats over sweaters over ties and shirts. Handsome granite profiles, short steely grey hair. Manly men. A gold wedding ring on one hand, a black onyx signet ring on the one holding the smart phone. There is more blood on their sleeves, I note. They're all four of them bent over something on the faux marble table that I can't see. It's infuriating me, the way the block of a man planting himself in front of the list of pastries, earlier raised my ire.

Someone moves and I can see it. It's pen and paper. It restores my faith. Could it be a crossword? The accents are broad. I don't know is ‘I dunno’. The couple at the next table don't talk. It's breakfast. They pore glumly over heavy white crockery filled with eggs, chips and bacon. Folded newspaper unread next to the stainless steel sugar container.

We are in Clerkenwell, London, when we tumble out of the over three hundred year old Rookery and join the steady flow of upwardly mobiles heading to work this Friday morning. They are not the same people as the ones heading to work in the neighboring financial district. They are not suited and tied. They wear hip, black slim-legged pants, narrow jackets, clipped haircuts, styled not barbered like the gents across from me.

“Now you're in New York!

These streets will make you feel brand new

Big lights will inspire you

Let's hear it for New York, New York, New Yaawk!” Alicia soars over the hiss of the espresso machine. This is London, working London. I promised myself that this time I would get out of the way of the looming, monumental London, away from the palace and the changing of the guard, the blind sight seers, and here I am, at the intersection of Cow Cross street and St Peter’s lane, a network of ancient alleyways around the huge Smithfield Market.

I am fresh from an antique bed for petite dwarfs, not fat ones. I am five feet tall and reasonably narrow but the bed has demanded a perpetual shrug and a wholesale denial of knees. I have slept, or rather not slept, in a tiny sea of ‘quaint’ and I am almost, I say almost, about to curse my predilection for character and history. All this is remedied by the world outside The Rookery hotel, this web of pathways, now streets, where, in the epicenter of London, you hear no cars, just the clip clop of high heels on the cobbles.

The two women behind the counter are speaking a broken English like they are from somewhere foreign, somewhere up in northern or Eastern Europe. The place is full of life, the way it's always been. We're heading into the neighboring financial district for a meeting. I know nothing about business, I go as a representative for my sporadic women's intuition. Apparently it has an unofficial place in business. I sit there like a sponge and try to listen to the sounds of character and nuance so that I can report back on this other level later and we can put his and hers together and shake it and see what we come up with.

I think of this place, this piece of ground in Chaucer’s time, in the Middle Ages, the cacophony of horses, farm animals, the Wife of Bath, the Pardoner, the Friar, the Summoner, and soldiers during world war 1 and 2, the bobby socked, red-eyed women-girls sharing a cuppa before saying farewell.

The men in white overalls wave at me and say something in cockney and laugh. I laugh with them even though they might be laughing at me. I am unable to swim to the bottom of my bowl of cappuccino so I pile it on top of the leavings of an English muffin.

Now we're in the Starbucks across the streaming traffic from the stockbrokers we are early to see. This is the financial district. I look around me and it is a sea of groomed black and grey. The woman behind the desk across the road misses a joke we make and shows no sign of longing. Yes, she'll hold our badges. I miss Cow Cross street.

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Nice writing, as usual. I feel it.
Thanks, Lea. So lovely to hob nob with the old gang, reeks of nostalgia.