Fragment from a student’s note book
In Duke’s Coffee Bar on Duke Street:
Marge, the waitress, squirmed suggestively among the tables with a tray of cheap meals: bacon and egg, beans and chips, shepherd’s pie, the gravy seeping darkly through the light pallid coating of instant mashed potato. She served up white coffees, black coffees, glasses of milk and cans of fizzy drink with a larky “Righto luv” to all concerned.
Customers sat eating and talking, eating and smoking. The noonday sun shot in bars of aquamarine light through the tinted slats of the venetian blinds. It was both humid and shady inside, beneath the staircase that came down into the centre of the room.
Harry Duke, proprietor, ex-traffic cop and fork-lift driver stood behind the counter spooning instant coffee into dirty, white cups and taking orders for lunch. Opposite him sat a regular customer, George, The Historical Botanist, trained at Kew and Wisley back in the days when men were men and winter was winter.
George was personally offensive to many people, inarticulate of speech and lumbering of manner, he was large – stout you could say – and quite tall. He wore National Health glasses with wire frames and small, round lenses that heightened his air of a mad surgeon run-to-seed. He always wore a tatty old blue mac that fell to the pavement, and he always carried piles of books wrapped up in polythene bags. Every so often Harry Duke would give the public health officials a call and they would descend on George in is his decaying tenement in the suburbs and give him a bath and a lecture on personal hygiene. George, however was incapable of understanding, or deliberately obtuse, for it never did any good. Timid, lumbering and, unknown to himself, something of a cult figure for the employees of the municipal public library opposite Duke’s Bar where, ensconced for hours in the reference section, he researched the classification of toadstool spores
In a window seat sat a skinny blond-haired library assistant with delusions of sensibility. He dipped a hard biscuit into his watery coffee as he tried to build up a neurosis about ‘other people’ and the age in which he lived. He wondered, was his worldview in conflict with the zeitgeist? He covered his face with his hands. “I hate people… I hate people,” he thought.
Meanwhile in a corner, near a juke-box usually playing Telstar or something by the Beach Boys, a group of students were discussing the latest novel taken up by the ‘underground’, some mystic fable, the transcendentalism of which chimed-in with the aspirations of young people bored by the dry, stuffed-shirt humanism of their parent’s generation; they tried to cultivate pantheistic visions without understanding their addiction to mysteries, marvels and ‘cosmic’ wonders.
“Bloody long-haired layabouts” thought Harry Duke, lurking behind a machine that dispensed orange drinks – a plastic tank with transparent sides containing plastic oranges floating in a synthetic sea that might be fruit juice. “Bloody long-haired weirdos,” muttered Harry.
© A C Evans