Ice-creams, Coffee and Community

September is hobbling on and Summer is drawing the curtains in preparation for the colder months. I enjoyed the holiday and feel I achieved a lot with the time I was given. I returned from my travels to Singapore and spent a rare week in Cornwall with my family, whilst I’ve also got my blog up and running. I also did a helluva lot of Crossfit and weight training and subsequently, equal amounts of eating. The difficult bit was to fund it all, and I returned to my hometown with a bank balance edging over a precipice into the black, black hole of debt.

Scrabbling to get a foothold as the half-empty summer drained away, I went through job centres and recruitment agencies to find suitable work. Labouring, Waiting, Painting, anything. In the end, I discovered independent legwork is the best method for opening up my options. I cycled to each segment of town and tried to smile my CV through the reluctant barriers of hard-pressed small business owners. I found luck at The Beech Tree Cafe, a tiny place formed from the renovation of a public toilet. The Cafe is situated by a park and schools, providing a social hub for the local people. It is small and functional inside, with menu boards hanging from the ceiling above glowing humming deli-style refrigerators of freshly made paninis and salads. Outside, Coca-cola red umbrellas and cheap but strong picnic benches crowd a small decking that branches onto the park playground. I served school children ice cream, provided young mothers their coffee mornings, and fulfilled the daily lunchtime rituals of elderly men who demand eggs and humous, their Lattes creamy, not foamy.

The Beech Tree Café
The Beech Tree Café

I feel I learned more about community working at this cafe than I have in any other setting; be it at school, working in the John Lewis Partnership or so far at medical school. Working behind the counters means I tried to provide an amicable service from greeting the customer, finding out about their day, fulfilling their orders and cleaning up. Customers who come back day after day become regulars, and are treated with treats and discounts. Serving coffee puts me on a pedestal to reach over the invisible barriers that stop people interacting. I discovered individuals’ far-ranging interests, in-jokes and I enjoyed running conversational topics that form a meshwork of community. For example, I learned about microbreweries, made friends with the local bike shop owner and received sage business advice from a wizened entrepreneur. I’ve met people from different countries, pay-brackets and social class. The Beech Tree cafe may be an example of the blunt sounding ‘service industry’, but in such a small setting it became a service of friendship and familiarity, with food and coffee thrown in.

I didn’t even have to do much washing up.

Now, I’m back at University to engage with the new term and all it brings. I’m worried it may be a struggle to fit everything in and maintain that work:play balance I preached on about. Third year is notoriously difficult to adjust to, and I’ve got new flatmates and old friends to catch up with, with the shadow of student debt always lurking. I’ve also joined Crossfit Peckham to continue where I left off at Crossfit Verulam, and hope to train 5/6 times a week. We’ll see when it catches up with me. Hopefully I won’t have to post about ‘overtraining’.

I like autumn. It’s weather passing between moods feverishly, uncertain whether to be sweaty and groggy, bright or brisk. It’ll be time for warm leaves and cold skies, soon.

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