Toddlerville: or Why Writing in a Café Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

I wonder… Did JK Rowling have kids?

I am now Living the Dream. By which I mean: here I am, on what to the office-dwelling population is a normal working day, sitting in a café and scribbling in a notebook.

It’s true that I’m doing this in a somewhat self-conscious manner. I’m pausing every now and then to scan the room under cover of sipping my green tea, wondering whether anyone is looking at me. Wondering whether they’re thinking “Look at that woman on her own, writing away in that notebook. I wonder what she’s doing? She looks an intelligent sort. Perhaps she’s a writer?”

The fantasy

The fantasy

But of course, no-one is doing that.

That might be because they have other things to think about, or that they’re just not as nosey as I am, or because actually I don’t look intelligent at all. But the main reason that they’re not looking around full stop is that they’re all engrossed in their children. Those small people who’ve colonized all the lovely places I’d dreamed of idling in looking arty, just as soon as I’d relieved myself of the millstone of paid employment.

I look around the room and every table has a minimum of one babe-in-arms. Most have two or more, surrounded by a hinterland of buggies and bags and bits of plastic in primary colours and scraps of clothing in – I’d be prepared to put money on it – organic cotton. And this isn’t Hampstead or Primrose Hill, for Christ’s sake. This is Lewisham. Where are all the pimps and drug dealers? They’ve been driven out by the bloody parents.

The result is a constant soundtrack of squealing, squawking, burbling, gurgling and the occasional distant bark (we’re in the middle of a park, but the dog owners are keeping a respectful distance). Which brings me back to my original question: did the JK Rowling who sat in a café penning her future mega-sellers have small children?

The reality - only with more chairs

The reality – only with tables

To be clear: I’m not imagining that any such creatures were with her at the time. It takes only a moment’s observation to see that if they had been, her time would have been spent cajoling, scolding, pleading and mopping, not getting Harry, Ron and Hermione to do battle with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. But surely she must have had that talent, peculiar to the parents of toddlers, of blocking out the cacophony they produce?

Did she, I wonder, also have a coffee budget? How forgiving were the owners of that café, wherever it was, unaware of how this daily drinker of single lattés (I’m just guessing here; they might have been cappuccinos) would one day put their establishment on the map?

And do these omnipresent parents have coffee budgets too? Did they take into account in whatever calculations they made about the financial cost of parenthood (assuming that they didn’t simply shout “Babies!” and abandon contraception) the sheer quantity of caffeine they would apparently need to get them through the Vale of Tears that seems to be years 0-5?

I’d like to think that I could wait them out; that if only I ordered another tea, then another, and perhaps another, eventually – as well as needing to find the loos – the parents would leave, taking little Matilda or Moses to baby massage, or baby yoga or baby cross-country skiing, and the space could once again be used by people higher than 2 feet tall, speaking at a volume that wouldn’t trouble a jet engine.

But the hope is a vain one. There is a never-ending supply. No sooner does one group depart than another arrives to take its place, clad in the same clothes, talking about the same things, taking the same supply of toys and soft-covered books and plastic bottles from the same bags hung in precisely the same way from the handles of the same buggies.

This is their world, and I am the interloper. I feel like Neville in I Am Legend (the book, not the film – damn you, Will Smith). Joining their ranks is unimaginable. I have only one option.

Next time, I’m bringing headphones.

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8 thoughts on “Toddlerville: or Why Writing in a Café Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

  1. Daal

    Too funny. I’ve tried writing at cafes & libraries, but end up back home, where I can go to bathroom without having to take my laptop with me.

    Reply
    1. yakinamac Post author

      An excellent point! I haven’t yet progressed to the stage where I’m comfortable hanging around a cafe long enough to go to the loo (it’s a delicate equation: cost of purchase versus permissible lingering). Given the experience to date, I’m not sure I ever will be…

      Reply
  2. jackiemallon

    Thank goodness it’s not like that in NYC. So many writers clogging up the cafes with their MacBooks that they throw scowling looks at people coming in to litter the place up with noisy kids 🙂 What you need, my dear, is a White noise app or your phone/laptop and you’re isolated from even the relentless sound of passing NYC sirens.

    Reply
  3. Sharon Bonin-Pratt

    Hilarious post, and I thank you for a wake up read that has me rolling in tears of mirth and not anger or frustration.

    Where I live it isn’t the preschool atmosphere in that java places that drives me nuts – it’s the folks who run their businesses out of the joints. Entire table taken up with one adult and six school age kids, all on laptops because adult is running a tutoring program. Certainly doesn’t pay office rent, unlikely she pays taxes, but she must be hauling in the coin like fish at high tide because she’s there every single weekday with the six kids. Then there’s the personal lifestyle coach who sits on the sofa at the back and chats up the client who nods and emotes – three hours later they’re both still trying to figure out why the loser is such a loser, still occupying the sofa. I wonder when the IRS guy walks in – do they all run to order more coffees?

    I write at home – I can play my own music and make my own coffee. But I loved reading this post.

    Reply
    1. yakinamac Post author

      Ooh, a whole other world of pain! Though I quite like the idea of the lifestyle coach – bet there’s loads of material there if you sit close enough to overhear..!

      Reply

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