Walking over pitted concrete, between red brick houses in the bare winter air. Along the trellised walls, winter jasmine in flower. I stumble over a time warp. What was that? Just a scent, or a birdsong sound, or the chill? Remembering – even transported – into some childhood world. It’s like a brief Narnia moment.
These are books, childhood books, aren’t they? I can’t imagine such a uniquely felt world arising from TV or film. It’s a Secret Garden I once inhabited, unlocked through some barely perceived, unpindownable stimulus.
Somehow then the phone in my pocket – looking-glass into globalised culture-on-demand – seems irrelevant, even toxic.
On Amersham main street, I dodge Costa bitterness, heading for Nero smooth. However, I’m intercepted by the locals. Harris+Hoole? Never heard of them. On a hen-speckled brown saucer, I’m served toffee-tinged latte.
Stacking cups clink like cowbells. Blondie sings Heart of Glass. Saucers stack. Handsome English women sit chatting by the window on mini wing chairs with spindly wooden legs. Milk steamer hisses. Businessmen with confident accents exchange technical vows centre-stage. When one leaves, a laptop-wielding blonde emerges from the shadows to take his place. Girlfriend? Next client? Unsure.
“You busy this week, then?” he begins, as she settles into the easy chair opposite. Client, then, I think. Some kind of coffee house micro-dealing.
The initially solitary couple by the window seem to be acquiring more children by the minute. I guess school’s out, then. As son number one begins to expound on some Important Fact, Dad’s eyes are introvertedly unfocused, and Mum’s the sole audience. Dad engages briefly then begins thumbing his phone, head down-turned. The dog stands bored under the table as Mum pulls out her phone too, bidding the boys farewell and arranging a rendezvous in the park. Thumbs tapping, they half-attentively converse over the empty cups and crumpled napkins. By the till, the barista briefly shoulder-massages his colleague.
At the window, the chatty women stand, tapping a next meet into electronic diaries. Except cable-knit cardigan woman. She seems to have a brain.