That damned, elusive Grand Café

Here’s a surprising fact; having lived in London for more than two years, I only began taking my laptop to write in cafés about a month ago. I’m not sure why, though it might go some way to explaining why I haven’t been writing at all for about two years. It seems that for me to be really prolific, I need the ritual of leaving the house, sitting somewhere free of internet distractions yet not free of eye candy, venting my spleen for an hour all over my laptop, and then fucking off home again. I just can’t find anywhere around here that quite fits what I need.

It’s all mothers and babies and smug couples around here. I find it hard to consult my muse when I glance up and see some young mother reading the Guardian whilst absent-mindedly burping her baby over her shoulder right in front of me. Have you ever tried to enjoy a coffee and carefully craft a bon mot whilst a miniature Winston Churchill blankly coughs milky sick over a ‘Designed exclusively for Habitat’ baby burping cloth right before you? Well, probably some of you have, but I hadn’t, and it’s not an experience I’m likely to seek out again. It kept staring at me, defiantly, daring me to act like it was just a regular thing.

But don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying the mother was wrong to be burping her baby, nor am I saying that the baby was wrong to need burping; I was the one out of place in the scenario. If I approach a pub or restaurant or film screening and find there’s a ‘family friendly’ notice on the door, I’ll avoid it, yet here I am in Haringey: Highgate, Crouch End, Muswell Hill and so on, an entire fucking borough that’s family-friendly, so long as that family is willing to name their child Maximilian.

The best place I’ve found in the area is an indie place called Sable D’or in Muswell Hill that’s pretty good in a rustic way, serves decent coffee and those colourful little macaroons that everybody loves and even has some sturdy, laptop-friendly tables. Unfortunately it also seems perpetually filled with pushchairs and toddlers and always at least one table taken up by a group of talkative teenage girls who think that peppering their sentences with the word ‘random’ makes them wacky, interesting characters and not, in fact, frothy bits of jailbait.

He is so random. She is so random. We too shall have been so random. Oh my God, that was, like, so random

So, I need to find a regular spot somewhere away from where I live, somewhere that will preferably sell me coffee in a pot and not a series of mugs, somewhere attended largely by the sparkling and quick-witted, or some attractive arts students if the former are unavailable, and not people on their way, say, to a garden centre. Somewhere that isn’t family friendly. It’s harder than you might think.

Anywhere in central London is out of the question; I’ve had to forbid myself from going anywhere near Zone 1 on weekends because I worry that the murderous rage I find myself in as I bounce, pinball-like, from gormless tourist group to gormless tourist group will eventually give me an ulcer or a criminal record. Central London is not a place to go to while away an hour with a laptop; it’s a place to go to while away an hour in a sweaty, stupid crowd whilst someone steals your laptop.

West London might be nicer; there are surely some good coffee houses in the affluent Chelsea area and I might be able to collect Gwyneth Paltrow for my celebrity chess set, but to get there I have to go through central London, so now we’re talking about up to an hour on the tube each way, and that’s only likely to find me writing every time about how much I hate the tube. A journey that long almost makes it a day out, albeit a day out where you spend most of the day underground and very unhappy. It’s the equivalent of me sitting in Oxford and saying “I think I’ll just pop to London Paddington for a coffee”, and to get there I have to go via a working tin mine.

Then there’s east London, which is either the trendy, gentrified area of Shoreditch (though it’s possible that the recession has bankrupted most of them) or the stabbing, shooting area of, well, the rest of it. Neither seems appealing though if I had to choose, I’d probably go for the tiny-scooter, large-tie Spitalfield Market crowd than the cast of Eastenders (would be a tough call though). Finally in the south, my travel tolerance sadly only reaches to the BFI Southbank, as previously discussed. It’s a shame the place rubs me up the wrong way as much as it does as it has a genuinely nice café/bar, but I’m not sure I could remain calm enough for it to become my regular haunt.

If I’m to find a replacement for Oxford’s Grand Café then I’m going to have to work at it, though I worry that eventually I’ll be spending so much time and money to reach this mythical place that I might as well have done with it and commute to Oxford every Sunday.

Actually that’s probably not a bad idea; might help my mood.