February 21: fluctuating allegiancies

In our own micro-ways we all participate in the high Hollywood of everyday life. Recently I have been dealing with the troubling presence of a new cafe on the high street. Now, I have always remained faithful to another cafe where I have a certain privileged reception (oh, nothing too grand you understand, a place by the window, the preparation of my preferred coffee type without me needing to order it, table service where less favoured customers are required to queue at the counter to make their order). Yes. I am a kind of petit bourgeois notable of the establishment as they would say in a Flaubert novel. But now a new cafe sails into my formerly smug, untroubled life. A new cafe next door where the coffee is better and where in winter the heating is actually switched on. Now pressing questions of allegiance arise. Firstly, moral: do I transfer my allegiance? Secondly, material: how do I sit next-door without being seen by the staff of the first cafe, the staff that cradled me for so long with that remarkable set of privileges? Fortunately, there is a block I can go round to enter cafe number two without passing by the shop front of cafe number one. There is also a downstairs area to the new cafe where I would be invisible to the street should the waitress of cafe one pop out to adjust the sign adverising coffee and croissant for the special price of £2.5o. But the moral dilemmas do not stop there. What if I should meet in the new cafe customers of the old cafe, potential informers like myself, spies playing for both sides, collaborators with the enemy? I can only hope that their desire for their identity to remain unknown accords with mine and that we both tacitly agree that the terrible knowledge of our infidelity must remain undivulged. These are the same issues as you find in the more rarefied echelons of the world of espionnage. We are all playing roles in a domestic version of Tinker…Tailor…Soldier…Waiter, where for a better blend of black americano I and many like me are willing to trade our past, our conscience, our peace of mind, yea our very soul.

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