Tales from the Hamlet, Week 2
Wake up and smell the coffee….
For me, it’s a maxim to live by. This is especially true when it’s cold and dark outside (which it is now, for at least part of both school runs). The world always looks a better place through the haze of a caramel latte, better still with a chocolate and orange fancy in hand.
From last week’s post, you may have gathered there are no trendy coffee bars here. Not much happens in the Hamlet. Three men from Balfour Beatty, taking a break from filing the potholes, hunched over their lunch boxes and a flask of tea, counts as a social event.
However, things are looking up. There is coffee, at the Black Hart. It may only happen once a week. It may carry the sobriquet coffee morning, which sounds uncomfortably redolent of musty church halls and elderly ladies in fox furs nibbling Pennywise biscuits. But it’s a start.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the narrow time box, or the paucity of my social diary, that gives today’s coffee morning the significance of a major expedition. The Hamlet lays a good 2 miles from the Black Hart. This translates as five minutes by car. However, for some reason (more to do with justifying my new, and totally unnecessary, Rohan Striders than carbon neutrality) I decide to walk.
Now, before moving from the Town, OH and I did a lot of soul-searching and research. We wanted a healthier, less stressful, lifestyle. We wanted somewhere rural, a village; somewhere we could enjoy fresh air in the day, and the smell of wood smoke in the evenings. We wanted walks along hedgerows and down cobbled lanes. You get the picture.
Idyllic, maybe, but we were serious. We knew our stuff. We dismissed houses that were ideal apart from their proximity to the main road, and a constant stream of gravel trucks. Before we finally bought the Cottage, we poured over OS detail. We noted, with something approaching excitement, the proliferation of footpaths and bridleways nearby.
We never once thought about pavements.
The Hamlet doesn’t just lack street life, the cafes and chichi shops, the wrought iron bistro tables and chairs that used to spill out onto the sidewalk and punctuate my old route to work. It lacks pavements, full stop.
The provision of a pavement has become the Village’s most burning political issue, more controversial than the proposals to put solar panels in an empty field or to ban artificial flowers from the graveyard. Mostly, for me, it’s a non- issue, especially on days like today, when the sun hangs low and bright on the winter horizon, and I know where I’m going. It’s only five hundred yards to the rickety stile and the footpath, where I can wend my way over the fields, dodging cowpats instead of Fourtrack driving zombies.
Even so, there are moments when I’d welcome a few spare inches of tarmac. Perhaps the pavement campaigners have a point. Right now, I’d feel safer with a buffer between the crease of my Striders and White Van Man’s bumper.
Today, the footpath doesn’t offer much relief either. The landscape has changed, lost its autumnal softness. Newly ploughed, the field is rutted and mud pocked. With its algae-covered pillbox, it looks like something out of the Somme.
By the time I reach the Black Hart, I’m cold, damp, five minutes late and in serious need of a caffeine fix.
I’m also, ever so slightly, nervous. It’s like Fresher’s Week again, only without the alcohol.
As I walk through the pub’s vestibule, I can see that the coffee morning is already in full swing. Well, sort of.
Actually, what I see is a circle of backs in the snug, a perfect chain of silver pates and blue rinses. There is a single unoccupied barstool, wedged between the table and a walking frame.
OK, it’s not exactly what I was expecting.
However, disappointment soon gives way to guilt, and self-censorship. Don’t be so judgmental, I tell myself, or ageist. After all, I can smell the coffee, and it’s not instant. Indeed, there’s more than a hint of Java about it. I’m not exactly salivating, but I manage to steer myself back to quiet optimism. I may just have run into the cast from a Damart advert, but at least they all seem to share my love for fine beverages.
A little shy, I hover before ordering a coffee at the bar. I smile and wait. Some silvery heads bob up and down, animated, but nobody gets up or turns around.
I wait some more. I check my body language. Arms uncrossed, I resist the urge to fiddle with the conkers I’ve unexpectedly found in my pocket. I ease back on the smiling, conscious that my grin has become as frozen as my feet.
Coffee in hand, I hover, looking for an opening. Where’s the break in the flow of their chatter, the eye contact?
Thank you, I say to the bartender, again, this time in my new person here voice.
Still, nobody from the table looks up. I clear my throat. Should I wrestle my way past the Hi-Riser and just sit down? I wonder. This is worse than Fresher’s Week. At least, then, I wasn’t the last man standing.
Resolved, I’m making my move when the door swings open. Another latecomer waltzes in, a greyer version of Honor Blackman, in a quilted jacket and Padders. She jostles past, without looking at me, and promptly bags the last barstool.
Maybe it’s a lame excuse for being, in the words of a purloined psych report, painfully introverted, but I feel like I don’t quite fit in here. I’m even starting to resent the steaming cup of coffee, which I’m clasping like a chalice. It’s only a drink, I tell myself, and it suddenly seems like a lot of effort. If it wasn’t for the anticipation of that first caffeine hit, I could backtrack and leg it out the door.
Finally, somebody looks up. I recognise him, or rather his half-rimmed spectacles and Frank Bough sweater. He’s the man from the Great Pavement Debate.
I smile, but he doesn’t see me. I go on smiling, until I can feel the corners of my lips fold into a grimace.
Sensing defeat, I try a different approach. I eyeball him, but it’s like staring at a hologram of John Major.
The Pavement Champion keeps on looking straight through me, to the martingale and horse brasses above the empty grate beyond. Then, slowly, he turns back to the table. He bows his silvery head, and picks up the conversational thread, something about missing milk bottles and a traffic cone heist.
Wake up and smell the coffee, I want to hiss.
For twenty minutes, I fight the urge to leave.
The yummy mummies never arrive, but I sit there, playing with my phone, breathing in the aroma of cocoa beans and thinking about the walk home.
More tales from the Hamlet soon. The search for rural bliss, a decent cup of coffee and like minds continues.
And (as it’s been a bit grim this week) I promise cute animal pictures and some feelgood factor next week.
This week, I’m joining with Verily Victoria Vocalises Prose for Thought.