Monday, 9 May 2016

Remember when cafés were just caffs?

Every Saturday morning we’d collectively come to, moans, groans, coughs and oh-nos, lads scattered rag tag style all over the Guru’s flat. Some of us might have scored a bed to sleep in and possibly - but most probably not - more than a mattress.

As we gulped mugs of strong hot sweet tea we stretched our aching and abused young bodies. Every single one of us could really have done with a shower, but instead we ran our hands through our messy bedheads of hair, in an effort to make ourselves vaguely presentable to the outside world.

Then it was jackets on (only biker and donkey need apply) and out into the West London Streets, practicing our orders.

There was both humour and anticipation in the uttering of these lists. We were heading down to the Chippenham Cafe, a proper caff with its name each side of Coca-Cola logos. I’m not a fan of the term ‘Greasy Spoon’, because it whiffs a little of the English Class System, so to me the Chippenham was a caff, pure and simple, and for that period of time in the early 80s, it was our caff.

Just as certain special pubs have become my Local at various points, so too particular caffs pepper my past, like pin-stickers on my map of life.

One by one we’d line up, ready to tell the dyed blonde our particular order. Nobody just ordered a Full English. That was for amateurs. 

She bent over, resting her elbows on the counter, clutching her pad and pen, and with the speed of a dealer at Vegas somehow managed to write down all our different ingredients, one by one, barely pausing for breath.

“2 eggs, 2 bacon, 1 sausage, mushrooms, beans, tea and two slice.”
“Right love.”

“1 egg, 2 bacon, mushrooms, beans, black pudding, tomato, tea and two slice.”
“Comin’ up, love.”

“2 eggs, 2 bacon, chips, beans, tea and two slice.”
“Lovely. “

“2 eggs, beans, mushroom, hash brown, tea and two slice.”
“No bacon love?”
“No thanks, I’m a veggie.”
“Oh yeh, I remember now.”

The entire breakfast was a ritual, from the walking to the caff to the ordering and consuming. There is something about Saturday morning and blokes and cooked breakfasts. 

The caffs are long gone now, replaced by pasta places and sushi joints. If you want your cooked breakfast now you go to a pub, or make it yourself.

Looking around the pub each Saturday morning I’m both warmed and somewhat mystified how many other men seem to do exactly what I do still, to this day.

A red top tabloid read from the back and a few minutes of alone time. An island in a busy week, space to breathe, blank out, gorge yourself with organic processed carcinogenic pork that does wonders to your soul if not your health.

There was more to caffs than Saturday morning though. Before Galway I lived in Bradford, West Yorkshire, where we used a legendary caff called The Italia as a second home.

Open all day and evening, we’d go there as often for evening meal as we would cooked breakfasts.

Even though by serving full menu dinners it pushed the boundaries of what you’d think a caff should be, somehow it never felt like anything other than a caff.

Steak and Kidney Pie, chips and beans at 6 o’clock, an hour before starting the second shift of a split-shift at the bar and you were sorted ’til, well, ’til the next morning’s caff!

Galway had them too. Down the bottom of Dominick Street, Spud Murphy’s - now a pizza place - was pure caff, and did a tremendous breakfast. Strawberry Fields were on the genteel end of caff definition, but their place in Salthill was famous for its view over the bay, and notorious for bringing out the ingredients of your breakfast bit by bit.

“Here’s your bacon, loveen, the eggs’ll be out in a while.”

I discovered eventually the way to defeat their idiosyncratic attitude to catering was to order a BLT and a fried egg on the side. That way I got my breakfast without them realising they’d accidentally done it right ,

It boils my blood to think of the way they demolished the Grand Hostel, which housed Strawberry Fields. It was the only beautiful building along that stretch of the Prom, and now we are left with the elephantine miscarriage that is Bailey Point.

Moan over, we head back down the other end of Dominick Street, where the Left Bank Café used to offer breakfast, but I always felt just slightly intimidated by their acute accent. It was clear they didn’t want to be seen as a caff. 

They wanted to attract artists and creative types. While there are moments when I might consider myself somewhat that way inclined, I have no aspiration to breakfast with acute accents, unless I happen to be in France.

In a world of mochachinos and flat whites, focaccia bread and drizzling, there is no place for caffs.

Like all those ingredients that fuel nostalgia, doubtless the memory of the caff feels sweeter than the reality ever was, but there will always be a part of me that belongs in the extinct Majestic Cafe in Hammersmith Broadway, whose ‘e’ raised absolutely no question of being acuted.

They served their tea in 1950s Duralex glass bowls, while their bacon glowed so purple on your plate you knew it could not be in any way natural, as you crashed a forkful of it into your egg, raising it hurriedly towards your mouth, so that the runny yolk didn’t drip down onto your T-shirt.

Oops, oh damn.

No frills. Very ug. Most glorious.

Charlie Adley


Skybluestratocaster said...

What bubble ??

Skybluestratocaster said...

What bubble ??

Charlie Adley said...

Not in my neck of the woods Stratsy, but never averse to a bit of bubble, nice and crispy though please.

Away from the cabbage and potato, working in the Great Portland Street rag trade, we used to use rhyming slang - 'bubbles' and 'screws.' The 'bubble and squeaks' were the Greeks, the 'wedges and screws' us Jews.