Maeve Higgins’s ideal . . . cafe

Sat, Jul 20, 2013, 01:00

I was sitting in my room the other day, avoiding eye contact with a large bumblebee. Predictably, the more nonchalant I acted, the keener he became. At first it was flattering, but it soon grew tiresome. Eventually, I caved, and looked right into his flat, black eyes. Not caring for the sad universe reflected back at me, I quickly stopped looking and decided instead to imagine the ideal cafe.

I identify myself as many things – a muscular thinker, a patient lover, an absolute delight of a person. Above all those, when people beg me to define who I am, I tell them I’m an Irish person who spends a lot of time in cafes, no different to generations of Irish people that have gone before. Long ago, mean old Ollie Crommy (as his public school friends called him) banned cafes in Ireland.

Ever inventive, Éamon de Valera set up a chain of hedge cafes. In ditches all over the country, baristas in full camouflage took whispered orders “One macchiato, weak and an almond croissant” or, in particularly militant areas, the same order in Irish. They made the coffees with water from streams in coffee machines disguised by briars. In some ditches there were three or four identical hedge cafes and eventually, people found themselves inside them without really knowing why.

Couples and families have no business going into a cafe. They have everything else – restaurants, funfairs, the ocean. The ideal cafe exists for individuals to inhabit coolly – single shepherds, lone wolves, solo travellers cultivating an air of sexy mystery. Not that I need to do the latter – I’m pretty sure my shaky lipstick and intense attitude already tell people I’ve got quite the backstory.

Like I always scream, alone is different to lonely. And is there a greater gift than a vague familiarity with your local cafe workers? If there is, I certainly haven’t found it. I like to share a kind word with the staff, to show them I don’t have ideas above my station. So I have a little chat with them, or better still, I make a joke. Do you want milk? They ask. “Yes please, I love milk,” I reply, and we share a dairy smile. When they bring the milk to me, I stare at them say, coldly and slowly “How dare you. I’m lactose intolerant.” I say a curse word too, and leave a long pause. Then I do a little laugh and drink the jug of milk so they know I’m playing.

Giggles Higgins strikes again! It means so much to them.

My dream cafe is close and calm, the menu short and without punishment. The coffee amps up my brain but stops somehow short of making me a jittery robot. It never closes, so nobody inside ever realises that another day has gone by where they’ve not lived the life they intended. It’s perfect to sit in, quietly, secretly, making up plans that probably won’t, but maybe will, totally happen.

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