I can remember cafés of the past by what happened there, what I was doing, where I was going to and coming from. Who I was.
I remember the summer. I had escaped from what had gone before, and I was happier. My work was a bit of a pain, it turned out, but everything else was a balm. The days were long and full of potential. There was a World Cup, albeit less exciting than what we’re used to more recently (football had no intention of coming home back then). I got my wellbeing and restored my strength from good people, good food, good drink, and the labyrinthine interest of the inner-city villages around me: Clerkenwell, Farringdon, Barbican, St Paul’s, St Luke’s, Smithfield, Cripplegate.
I remember the journeys. The bumpy ride as the train pitched and rolled, and the awkward silence of the commuter train. We travelled crushed, stood or on seats designed for a mystical lost race who were half the width of actual nowadays people. I remember the noises of the unhealthy trains, out of shape, moaning when they moved, dripping and clanking when they didn’t. I remember hazy morning views over London from Finsbury Park, a precious instant to reflect on the turn of the Earth and the urban sprawl, before it filled to the brim with people in a hurry. And the walk from the station that made me glad to be there. And how, each time I’d pass Golden Lane, I’d start humming the Stevie Wonder tune of a similar name. Then, just before everybody’s favourite bike-oil scented baristas at Look Mum No Hands! was Timberyard. With my hipster-coffee senses switched on, as always, I couldn’t miss it.
I remember my first visit, coming in to face the counter and literal stacks of cake. The shop had been carefully designed, with lots of quirky things to look at (here’s the people who did that describing it, so I don’t have to). I would have ordered a cappuccino and an almond croissant, of that you can be sure. I sat through the back of the shop, secluded on one of the smaller tables there, away from the meeting spaces and socialisers and “creatives”. (Still deserves the quotes.) The staff all wore hipstery aprons-cum-dungarees. I remember enjoying my order arriving on a carry-board with water bottle and glass. (Adequate hydration with espresso drinks is undervalued).
I took my time. And felt free to do so; there were clearly other people hanging out as long as they wanted to, and dedicated workspaces – including a whole downstairs meeting room – for people to do just that. It turns out Timberyard was a “versatile lifestyle space” (I knewit!) so I could be free of the guilt that can encroach when you’ve been sitting with an empty cup for 10 minutes. I felt welcome in this versatile lifestyle space, even though I had a proper job down the road, with an office, which involved just the normal amount of creativity.
I had some nice mornings there, and some nice just-after-lunchtimes as well. The cakes and tarts were, on balance, worth getting, though, as sometimes unreasonably hard. (Like at other Timberyard shops, it turns out. What are they playing at?)
I remember trying to read Spanish short stories out of a parallel text reader as preparation for a trip to Seville that summer, as if Gabriel García Márquez vocabulary would help me ask the way to the train station. I remember scheming to try to escape from the job I had escaped to, back, hilariously, to the job I had escaped from. And it worked; by autumn I was gone.
And then one day, I got there, back to Timberyard, and a sad sign said something about unreasonable rents and no options left and it’s been nice to know you, loyal customers. So there was no reliving that summer, or anything in it; it was a little vivid, short story all of its own.