Another new cafe on Kennington Road. This one is called ‘Coffee and Plants’. They do coffee and plants. I went there today. It has replaced the Portuguese cafe which has now bitten the dust. This new one is a new type of cafe. They just do coffee and there are some plants there you can buy. It used to be the Newsagents before the newsagent retired and went back to India. We got on well, the newsagent and me, and had little chats when I went to get my Guardian on Saturday mornings. I don’t get the Guardian any more, not since they changed it to tabloid. I’d been looking for a reason to save that £2.80 or whatever it was. The tabloid was the trigger. Anyway, now it’s a cafe. In the cafe there were two other customers. They were examining their phones. I didn’t have a phone to examine or, rather, there was nothing to examine on my phone, apart from old text messages from last week which said things like ‘all right’ or ‘see you there’. I had the ‘London Review of Books’ to read. The ‘London Review of Books’ replaced the Guardian about a year ago, about the time my newsagent went back to India. In the cafe nobody was speaking. It was silent apart from one man swallowing his coffee. I could hear his Adam’s Apple going up and down as the flat white travelled down his gullet. There was music, kind of new age ambiant music, unbearable music really, music for an aquarium or fish tank. They have a cafe in Brighton, they said, and did research about where the best place was to set up in London and they found Kennington Road. It was a bit antiseptic, the new cafe. Maybe it will advance when it gets some smells and dirt in it. There are now five independent cafes on Kennington road, all within fifty yeards of each other, each with their own unique selling points, all part of a complex Venn diagram of customer appeal. Where you end up is a good gauge of your identity.
I was reading a novel by Marcel Ayme, Uranus, which takes place in the compromised and mixed-up world of France after the Second World War, where many citizens knew their neighbours had been collaborators and denunciations were rife. One collaborator is being hunted in a bombed-out town and one man decides to give him shelter. As we read through the novel we see it is more out of a sense of the unevenness of life that he decides to help this Nazi-sympathiser. It is more because half the people who are so smugly chasing him had been collaborators too. As he says at one stage ‘les raisons ne sont que les facades de nos sentiments’. Our reasoning is merely the facade for our feelings. In other words, his irritation guides his judgement.
I was reading this in the cafe this morning. When I came out I was putting a five pound note back into my pouch when a youngish woman came up to me and began the round-about preamble to asking me for some money. I said no. Then she asked me for a cigarette. I said I didn’t smoke. Then, because she saw I was folding a £5 note she said, are you sure you can’t spare some money? I was so irritated by her attempt to manipulate me that I gave her short shrift. I escaped her manipulation of my sympathies but fell into the trap of my own manipulation of my own empathies. And then, as I walked home to make my fried eggs, I began the internal justification of my refusal to hand over any cash, my attempts at reasoning being the after-the-event unravelling of the magma of irritations and sentiments that had assailed me in the confrontation. Even the slightest encounter is too complicated to make sense of.
It is astonishing the way in which tiny moments in the day can combine to provide the big feeling that you retain when you put your head on the pillow at midnight. This thought struck me as I sipped my morning coffee the other day and realized that the moment when I arrive at work, having left home with no breakfast, the moment I pour a coffee and sit down to scan the papers, the moment I put the coffee to my lips, is (it’s official) my favourite moment of the day. It is a moment with myself; a moment without anything very human about it, purely animal. It’s the best moment of the day. Once I get to the second sip it is gradually getting less good. By the time I finish the coffee the rest of the day is starting to wash up over me, its imminence contaminating me.
The microvexations of the day are mainly cerebral, irritations at modernity. The moment I switch my computer on and Windows trumpets its pompous proclamation of life-giving power and hegemony in its fanfare to the corporate man. Even my mobile phone has one of these banal jingles of false hope, a particularly disagreable one, sounding like the intro to a 90s TV Breakfast show, all cornflakes and light. These are vexations you can’t avoid, unpleasant punctuation marks on the long daily paragraph. The key to happiness would be to create some better punctuation. Look after the micro and the macro will follow.