Sunday, 13 July 2008

At the next table...

Working in the coffee shop yesterday was more productive than I expected. Having got over (well, just about) the fear that a random stranger would steal my notes on incest in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, or my copy of the New Casebook on Revenge Tragedy if I went to the counter to order a new coffee or left the table to go to the toilet, I settled quite happily into reading and note taking in a corner of the room by the window. I like to work outside, or at least outside my flat / the office (when I used to have one) - it's good to have a change of scenery, and I'm much less likely to watch TV if I'm not sitting on my sofa!

Some environments are not good for working. I used to work at the Castle in the Beautiful Scottish City that I Miss, but during the summer tourist season, there was too much noise. I admit to feeling slightly resentful that noisy families had invaded my peaceful castle, but I also know that's the chance you take when you choose to work in a public place. And as much as I like to think of it as such, it is not my castle, and I have to share it. And if those people didn't visit the Castle, then Historic Scotland would have to close it. So, I don't get too cross when there's noise around me when I'm working in a public place. In fact, some noise in the background often helps me to concentrate, as long as it's at reasonable levels.

So I did feel a little guilty when a man with his two small daughters sat at the next table, and from the moment they arrived he kept "shhh"-ing them whenever they opened their mouths. I don't expect or ask for silence, and his daughters seemed to be very sweet and well behaved children. And, as she kept trying to tell her dad - she really did have very cute new shoes. I tried smiling at them when they looked over, especially if they were talking, so he didn't feel he had to keep them quiet but it didn't seem to make a difference. So, I feel bad about it. I didn't want to spoil their morning out.

After he left, two ladies with a baby and two young boys sat across from me. The ladies were so busy talking that they did nothing about the boys screaming and shouting , and running in and out of the toilet, causing a queue without actually needing to be in there (there is only one multisex toilet in the cafe) except occasionally shouting at them. By this time, another lady had set up her laptop elsewhere and was also working. When the ladies noticed the boys jumping up and down behind her, one of them said "that lady is going to get very cross and shout at you, so come and sit down". Well, yes, maybe she would get cross with him, but surely "come and sit down" is something the boys should be doing in a coffee shop anyway? They left. The other studying lady and I looked at each other and breathed a sigh of relief.

Another two ladies with two small boys arrived. They two were shouting and screaming and running around. They entertained themselves by playing trains noisily all across the floor, particularly at the top of the stairs and by trying to climb over the window guards behind me, put up specifically, I would guess, to stop people falling out of the windows (we were on the second floor). The women made little if any attempt to calm their boys down, or move them out of harms way for some time. Eventually they made them sit down, but only to then allow the older one to climb all over his mother, with his legs flailing dangerously close to my face. And this time I was cross. Not because I was trying to work - it would have annoyed me if I was only there for coffee with friends - but because this was disruptive, anti-social and potentially dangerous behaviour. They could have been hurt on the windows or on the stairs; people carrying trays of hot coffee, small children, trains on wheels and narrow staircases is not a good combination. If I could see that, why couldn't their parents? I grumbled quietly to myself, giving the occasional glance of disbelief toward the boys / waitresses / parents. Another sigh of relief when they left.

Finally a group of teenage boys came and sat down. They weren't noisy or disruptive, and I settled back to work. They were just chatting and then suddenly one of them said abruptly "Oooh, look at her!". "Where? Where?" was the rapid response. They were looking out of the large window by their table. "Ah, the one in the little blue skirt?... Yeah, she's well fit. But I'd rather have her friend with the pink shoes..."

I guess I wasn't the only one people-watching in the coffee shop.

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