Tired of working from home, Jonathan O’Sullivan packed up his laptop to finish his work day in a trendy London café.
I’ve an unhealthy habit of spying on strangers, but I guess I’m not the only one with unappealing traits.
“It’s far too sunny for you to be working from home,” my housemate declared, quite accurately. “If you’re going to be hunched over that thing all afternoon, you might as well do it in the sunshine,” he added, with a flippant wave towards my makeshift home office, which has all the charm and function Fisher Price play kitchen.
Knowing where I wasn’t wanted, I packed up the Procrastination Station and followed orders. It was probably best for my health, given that it had been about three days since I had seen the outside of Apartment 32. As anyone who works from home can testify, being confined to your house when you’re meant to be working only leads to a web-browser carousel of Netflix, Facebook and The Daily Mail Sidebar of Shame.
Half an hour into my journey towards some undefined new location for my working day, I found myself in London’s trendy Peckham. (Peckham is far from trendy. It’s just that I’ve taken to prefacing every destination in London with ‘London’s trendy’ to piss off my English friends.) It took some time, but I eventually found a venue that met my two out-of-office requirements, an available power socket and free Wi-Fi.
Like most of the cafés in London’s trendy Peckham, it simply refused to be just a café. It was so much more than a café. It was a café/bar/Afro-Caribbean hair shop that instantly made me feel self-conscious and unwanted. Naturally, I fell in love with the place. The only downside was the Coffee Wanker sitting at the table across from me.
In case you’ve never heard the term before, Coffee Wankers are a genetic mutation of the Hipster virus that raged across 2010, much like Bieber Fever, Vuvuzelas and Gaga’s meat dress. They’re an easy breed to spot – glasses balanced over pointy facial features, perfectly framed with a beard and a knitted hat. Headphones plugged into whatever Apple product is en vogue and most likely lapping up the latest TED talk.
Coffee Wankers would proudly describe themselves as ‘creative’ and in a perfect world would only deal with other ‘creative’ people. Notions, as we’d say in Cork. People who describe themselves as creative are about as high up in my estimation as people who describe themselves as good looking. Both descriptions are strictly reserved for others to give.
To get back to my story, I found myself sat next to a Coffee Wanker, while setting up a heavily battered laptop and an even more battered phone, which, due to its old age, needs to be constantly charged. Despite my animosity for the Coffee Wanker, I was, at best, a poor emulation of him.
Not that I was drinking coffee. All coffee-drinking intentions were scuppered the minute Vondra informed me about Happy Hour. Vondra (or ‘V’ as I call her now) stood at about six foot and was every inch as amazing as her name. So I blame her for hypnotising me into drinking alcohol. Plus, at only £2 a pint, I couldn’t not have a beer. One or two looseners, I figured, would only serve to push productivity along.
Fully settled, pint in hand, all that was left to do was have a sip and let the productivity flow. Two drinks in and the productivity was nowhere to be seen. I was far too preoccupied with everything going on around me to focus on a word processer.
I had obviously stumbled into the busiest café/bar/Afro-Caribbean hair shop in town. Beside the Coffee Wanker sat a pair of twinks, very obviously on their first date. They were flanked by a glum woman staring into her Moijto while telling her friend something awful, and a group of Spaniards celebrating a birthday. The most compelling of all to watch was a beautiful Scandinavian man and his dishevelled lump of a girlfriend. They were the world’s most miss-matched couple and were clearly entering into a break-up conversation. I closed the lid of the laptop and tuned in.
Of course, I didn’t lick my fascination with strangers of a stone. I come from a long line of nosey bastards obsessed with the mundanity of other people’s lives. My childhood was spent lugging shopping into the boot of parked car containing my Mother, frozen in the driver’s seat, agog at whatever was playing out across the road. It’s not that we set out to judge other people; we just had a genuine curiosity when it came to the human condition.
What’s the first thing I’d do if I were invisible? Probably just sit on your sofa and watch as you did an hour’s worth of ironing in front of Coronation Street. Terrifying, isn’t it? I battle with this dreadful fixation on a daily basis. I liken it to OCD. Only instead of simply flicking a light on and off several times, I have to generate names for every stranger I pass. My mind is constantly wondering about the people around me. I speculate if my dentist hits his wife while I get a scale and polish, or if the girl walking ahead of me with an oversized school bag has all of her homework done.
It’s exhausting and thrilling in equal measures. I can only assume other people aren’t having half as much fun as me. I imagine their subconscious just doles out white noise in comparison to the deranged Twitter-feed scrolling across my cortex. I often fear that having an overactive imagination and an unquenchable curiosity has turned me into a judgemental sod. How could it not, I suppose? Still, it’s only human to have a few unappealing traits. I think the Coffee Wankers of the world would agree.
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