TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE – TO THE LATEST THING

I80pxtreet’s taken 12 years to negotiate a deal with Iran. ( They say negotiating these sorts of multilayered deals is like playing chess and bridge simultaneously. How did they do that? The longest recorded tournament chess game is a smidge over 20 hours)

It’s been 12 years since this café in which I’m sitting opened. I’ve been back infrequently but consistently.
And looking around, I feel a bit of a metaphor coming on…image00The walls are now a gorgeously cool range of greys: a soothing hint of healed bruise. On the accent wall is an abstract mural, and the tables glow in their whiteness. A slightly aggressive whiteness. You know that ‘look at me’ smile people flash when they’ve just had their teeth whitened.

My coffee is just a little bit cold. (Espresso snob – sorry, full disclosure – penance will done)

The chair is just a little bit unforgiving. Love the colour and shape. But it is hard to sit still.

The chaps behind the coffee machine can’t be seen. A strange head-bobbing dance was involved in asking for the coffee.

A table with coffee bean blends for sale – with cheery signs like ‘to bean or not to bean’ – stands where the corner ‘cosy’ tables were once placed.

So what happened?

During those 12 years I recall – just – some phases, like the slightly Moroccan (yes, really), the retro irony (pictures of prawn cocktails), the boho ….

But what I remember much more clearly was why it opened. Because that was why I became a non-local loyal.
They opened because: the tea shop next door (only one in the area- those were the days) was run by the most astonishingly aggressive and shouty owner; because there was no where to put local community leaflets and info; because the anti Starbucks / corporate chain movement had just accelerated in San Francisco; because there was no where in this road to sit, feel welcome, be comfortable, to be treated like a human being and hang out for a while.

I’ve been working on a brand, with the marketing team,that has unwittingly behaved exactly like this café.
Both brand and café started out with a certainty, a conviction.

Over time they have ‘refreshed’ and ‘re-positioned’ so many times that they have forgotten where, or rather why, they started.

Both have become slaves to whatever prevailing wind is currently blowing.

Both brand and café have lost their purpose

And the café’s lost me.

KANDAHAR INK

Penny Hunt's blog coffee conversationsIt’s all over my fingers and the dipping end of the pen. Smells lovely. I feel I’m back wearing plaits, sitting with ankles crossed, concentrating on hitting that pre-ruled upper line with the letter ‘P’. The ink concentrates on the nail / knuckle area of my third finger. There’s still an ancient callous-y bit there from all those years of pre-keyboard handwriting.

And it’s such a lovely feeling!  Get that pen and paper out!

image

I’ve just come back from a calligraphy project in a colleague’s house involving walls, children’s poems, mess, and a tight timetable. I experienced dedicated time, focus, and physical effort. It was wonderful.

So let’s celebrate CRAFT and all the wonderful feelings unleashed by doing something with your hands, with making something, with having a real object to handle at the end your efforts.

It’s a contagious feeling. A small person (wearing plaits!) approaches my table in the café to get a closer look.  So in a spirit of generational continuity we settle down to some serious paper folding. You can hardly see my fingery ink smudges on the flapping bird. Hardly at all.
We are in companionable silence, punctuated with little exclamations of effort and delight, as I realize that our heads are bowed at exactly the same angle, and that I have left my espresso untouched.

I guess a child doesn’t drink coffee.

I’m a child at this moment. No doubt about it.

My new partner in paper crime speaks seriously of a surface design required for the paper fan. We consider it thoughtfully and debate options. We are fellow artisans. We conclude – I did nudge a little – that a calligraphy design will fit the bill.
Ten minutes later and a happiness without price smiles its way around the table.

It will be a present for her mum.

A little problem I’d been noodling over effortlessly resolves itself as I wave across the café. The concentration on a physical action has worked its magic. Everything and anything can be solved creatively by not trying to solve it, it seems.

So this is my creativity prescription.  Make something. Anything.

First, some encouragement: a little book to dip into.

Alex Munroe is a craftsman, an artist. His jewellery is enjoyed around the world. He has now written enchantingly about how he came to craft jewellery. His childhood was free and full of love, a sort of benign neglect that encouraged a curiosity into the workings of….everything, in rural Suffolk. Here he is on youtube talking about how ‘Two Turtle Doves: a Memoir of Making Things’ came to be.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aq-TDxfmjCE

We’re not all accomplished craftsmen. But we all have a craftsman within us. We are all craft-y. And that crafty part just loves to be let out.
I reach out across the table. A Cruella de Vil ink–drinking scenario is avoided just in time.

I sip the espresso, and slip back into adulthood.