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Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Prêt a Observer @ Prêt a Manger


Today, this exciting blog comes from the vantage point of a window facing high stool in the Prêt a Manger café bang in the centre of Nottingham. I have ordered myself a medium cappuccino – complete with a chocolate star on the froth. I can see forward of me and off to the right is the junction of Bridlesmith Gate and Low Pavement. The tramline passes through my line of vision. My reason for blogging today is to observe as many different people as possible within half an hour. It’s often going to be a race against pen and paper and passers-by. Are you ready? And they’re off!


Coming up from the left is a twitching lanky teen with his Mum and Dad and he’s dragging himself behind them in order to disassociate himself with them. If I was out on the street I’m sure I would hear him gripe those chosen words of many teens “Its not fair!”

Directly ahead, there’s a tufty grey haired man sitting in the drizzle. He has his head down and is concentrating on the offerings of his mobile and he takes the occasional drag on his cigarillo. Not just a cigarette, a brown cigarillo. His aquiline nose pulls in the pungent smoke.

The door has just opened and in drifts a tiny portion of a mobile phone conversation. The big dread locked black guy speaking apparently hates his job as a security officer and got into a fight on Friday night. The door shuts to and he turns into a fervant mime artist.

Looking on to the streets again – there’s a young woman with a check patterned umbrella and brown boots. She nearly collided with a thin grey-faced man carrying a large plastic box. They both twist sideways for a second as in a dance and carry on their own ways.

From nowhere passes an old man blowing his nose violently into a filthy looking handkerchief. The junction is getting busier and it seems the day for shell suits today and flat cap style hats on both men and women. Most people are stooping in the light drizzle.

Behind me a fellow customer has knocked his stool over and it just hit the floor with a solid thump.

I look up again and notice a painter working in a first floor window above the bright blue Barclays Bank sign. He is wearing a hard hat and painting the interior window frame. There are spikes on the exterior ledge to discourage birds landing or to dissuade half-hearted suicide attempts. A young woman dressed in a blue padded coat has just hit the ATM ledge at Barclays with her fist. She is now looking around with a savage face. Should we applaud or run?

Two young girls are going by. They are perhaps about ten or eleven years old and are jiggling along the pavement unconsciously excited about being in town and out shopping or meeting friends at half term. Both are wearing High School Musical tee shirts and fashionable pumps.

Another painter and decorator strides manfully past with his bib hanging over his painter’s overalls. A tram cuts across his path just seconds after he has gone from view.

They must be letting the old folk of Nottingham out now as I see two or three old ladies arriving in succession. The first one has a woolly green tee cosy style hat and walks with an orthopaedic walking stick. She looks frail and her thin legs and tiny feet make her come across very much like a cartoon granny. So much so I feel obliged to do a little cartoon of her myself in my hand-written journal.



Suddenly I am aware of swinging arms everywhere and wonder if we all swing our arms as we walk. Would it look odd if we didn’t? How would it feel not swinging one’s arms. Must try that sometime for fun.

A second old lady goes by, sashaying in her tartan skirt and shaking her patterned umbrella up and down for some reason. She appears as if she has a Highland Fling going on in her head. I’m half expecting her to break into a crossed sword jig in a minute.



Woah! Here comes a ‘cripplingly shy’ teenage girl all dressed in shocking pink –leggings – again pumps- fingerless gloves- a short plastic anorak and ipod. Every bit of her is covered in this vibrant shocking pink. I’m not making it up. She practically glows. Even her hair is pink.

More boringly, a couple in perfectly matching clothes pass by – I assume husband and wife. Do they agree what to wear in the morning? “Rainbow jumpers and bobble hats today dear?” “Oh why not?”

I am being stared at. The observer is being observed by a young lad who is sitting opposite me on the wet metal chairs outside. He would have no idea that I am writing about him. I hope. He is wearing a blue coat with the hood up. It’s not a hoody; more quality. His face is half hidden and his chubby cheeks are rosy in the cold and wet. Some blonde fringe hair sticks out from under the hood. He seems bored with looking at the baldy bloke writing in the café now and keeps looking from side to side as if waiting for someone. Now he is slouching. Perhaps he has slipped in the wet. His legs and feet are kicking about in restlessness. I can see that he has blue trainers on and turned up jeans.

Four pigeons are fighting over a cold chip in the middle distance and a woman in a bulky beige coat and green scarf makes them scatter as she motors past them in her fetching deep red mobility scooter. Her face is a picture of focussed intent. The pigeons look around in confusion. The chip revolves around and around on the scooter wheel. Life can be cruel sometimes. Maybe that’s the meaning of meals on wheels! Hah!

To the right a young boy is jerking around on his mother’s arm like small electric currents are coursing through his little legs. His sister looks like a kindly ferried Eskimo child, all fur hooded and beaming smiles emanating from her pushchair.

Some smartly clad office girls talk and walk and ‘walk the talk’. No doubt they are also thinking ‘outside the box’ and no longer pushing those proverbial envelopes. They walk like they have itchy feet and important things to do and much business jargon to assimilate. One of them has a massive black, white and red umbrella with a company logo. A thin mist of rain glistens on the surface.

As I write these things down I wonder how many observational gems I am missing as I make my notes. When I look up again a woman in a red coat has pinned herself to the café window and has a mobile sternly clamped to her right ear. Her knuckles are white with tension. Her face is away from me and her head keeps giving out angry little jerks. I can almost hear her chewing some poor sod’s ear off.

A tram passes up the rise to the Lace Market stop. It is bright orange and advertising a job based website. A young woman with shoulder length hair is walking quickly by and she is repeatedly looking back over her shoulder. She has fantastically bright yellow shoes on and they are reflecting their happy colour in the wet pavement.

Inside Prêt a Manger there is a constant hum of conversation going on backed by the incongruous muzac. I am concentrating so much on the writing and in a little creative world of my own that I am quite surprised to witness the table next to me now occupied by two women and a couple of young children, a girl and a boy. When did they arrive? The little girl in pigtails smiles at me. I smile back. I write this information seconds afterwards. This is weird. lol

The streets are getting busier. I can see a colossal bald headed man has two sweet young children holding his ham-like hands as they go briefly by. Another electric green tram snakes towards the Market Square. Two girl friends with matching brown furry boots and matching blonde hair-styles run across the tramlines in perfect unison.

There is a corpulent council office worker walking diagonally towards me. He has a name badge so I am making inventive assumptions about his work place. The right hand side of his ink-stained shirt has fallen out of his trousers but he and his clip board don’t seem to have noticed. He looks directly at me with an imperious gaze. Suddenly I am reminded of Oscar Wilde on a bad day. He (the man) has luxuriant black floppy hair and a petulant mouth opened slightly to allow the wit to slide out unexpectedly at boring council meetings.

I have forgotten my coffee with so much writing going on. The brown chocolate star has collapsed into the mug and the drink is a bit tepid now. I drink it anyway.


Two grey haired ladies cruise by arm in arm. Mother and daughter? The older one has a shapeless knitted hat on and a long ill-defined granny coat that scuffs her bony knees. Her middle-aged daughter has the look of long suffering patience and a determination to get somewhere quick.

Before I pack up and go I note that a young Goth styled man (am I getting old calling anyone in their twenties, young?) is carrying a four-foot long case about three inches in depth. I am curious what it holds.

Finally two young (here I go again) women go by in short frayed edge denim skirts and dark coloured tights. They stop abruptly and call out elatedly at someone across the way. It turns out to be another of their friends, also in a short frayed denim skirt. They can’t have seen their friend for years and years because their reunion causes them all to bounce around in a frenzy of excitement. Their high pitched shrieks cause several hundred dogs to prick up their ears around Nottinghamshire.

Time I moved on.

After note: As I left the venue I heard the little girl in pigtails ask “Mummy, why was that man writing?” I didn’t stay to hear the answer.

7 comments:

feasting-on-pixels (terrie) said...

What a smashing post...!
I felt as though I was sitting beside you as you did your people watching.
That is my fave sport, but I'd rather do it in a cafe in Paris, as you well know.

You really brought your day alive for me and I thank you for these wonderful observations.
You have taught me a great deal...

Hope you are well dear friend, I will write soon as I just arrived home and am spent for the day...
Bisous...xxx

feasting-on-pixels (terrie) said...

PS
A link for you that I found that I thought would interest you...
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/real_food/article5509853.ece

bisous
xxx
TM

Phil Lowe said...

Thanks Terrie for your lovely comments and the Fish and Chip link. Brilliant. It reminded me that I should go to the chippy in my village to get some photos. Cheers

Stephen Wright said...

Fantastic, descriptive observations! I felt like I was actually there! A wonderful read, and really comical. Looking forward to your next 'assignment'...

Phil Lowe said...

Mr Wright, welcome to my loyal band of followers and thanks for your support matey.

Roz said...

....so how was the coffee?..besides tepid :-)

Phil Lowe said...

aaah... the coffee. It was nice thanks Roz