Whenever you walk into a high street coffee shop these days, you’re bound to see them: those men and women, usually on the more active side of fifty going down all the way to the early twenties, hunched over laptops; or, less frequently, attempting to type at speed on tablets, be they Android or iOS (Apple). They all get their share of curious looks, although the ire that comes their way is most potently directed towards Apple fans. Apple fans like me, typing this in a Costa in my town on a MacBook Air.
To make things worse, in some people’s eyes, I have my iPhone strapped to my upper left arm, in a sort-of pouch with velcro straps. I admit, the thing looks like I’m wearing some kind of pacemaker on the outside; but, in my defence, I’m wearing tracksuit bottoms. Have you ever tried to keep even an averagely-sized smartphone in the pocket of those, let alone the nu-breed gigantaphones? I’m sorry if I offend complete strangers (yes, that is a lie) but I’m not going to risk an £800 handset sliding out of a pocket seemingly designed to hold nothing at all, for it to end up crashing to the pavement. Besides, I’ve been exercising (just a long walk today, nothing too strenuous yet, but still exercise, all the same) and this is how I have to attach the iPhone to my person in the absence of my having any desire to get it surgically grafted into the deeper tissues and bone of my upper arm. But sure, hey, if they find a really cool way to do that, so I end up looking like my mother cross-bred with a Borg, I’ll consider it.
Pauses for a moment. No, of course not. Don’t be stupid. If I had the money to get something technological done to my body, I’d be placing an order with a surgeon to look twenty years younger, not like Robocop’s brother. Of course, if that surgeon had Apple certification and was called an iSurgeon, maybe I’d have that little bit more confidence to say hey, please can you lift that skin a few inches higher before you tie it off and cut off the excess? I trust you. You have worked on Tim Cook, right? I can’t tell from the photos that he’s actually 112.
So anyway, here I am, MacBook Air in front of me as I sip at something called a ‘coffee cooler’ (it should be called a coffee oozer because of the way it seems to magically leave the plastic cup and dribble down the sides without any human intervention – Oh my God! It’s some sort of John Carpenter creation, isn’t it? We are all doomed!). And I am working. Okay, not right now. I’m blogging, and it’s my personal blog at that, not some blogging-for-profit venture.
I won’t do those anyway. Have you any idea how much writers get paid to blog to order? Something like a few pence per word. Use shorter words rather than longer ones, it follows you could earn double the expected pittance per article and then wonder how you’re going to spend the £50 that arrives in your bank account seventeen months after you submitted a 5,000 word article on rubber fetish wear, a subject you knew absolutely nothing about (honestly, Mum) until you had to write about it.
So, remember: if you do whore your words for crap money, never ever use a word like deoxyribonucleic, not even if it’s a feature on DNA you’re writing. Use the acronyms and abbreviations. They don’t deserve your better efforts, trust me: as soon as you collapse from starvation over your keyboard, they’ll just log on and find some other fool to step in and start typing where you left off. Probably someone younger, who has this crazy mad idea that the work will actually lead to somewhere else, a mythical nirvana of a content production sweatshop where they, you know, are going to respect you. The way a one-night-stand respects you the following morning by giving you his or her number, only for it to turn out to be the number for Luigi’s Pizza Palace in Puerto Rica (not only can you not get a pizza delivered over the vast distances involved, but just making the call costs you more than you earn in a month by writing two Bibles-worth of material for everythingpeoplewanttoknowbutcantbearsedbuyingbooksfor.com).
I’m wearing an Apple Watch as well. This marks me out to Android fans and miserable men in my age group (that which we shall call middle for the purposes of this ramble) as being a saddo. Yes, you’re not at all sad if you’re plonked in front of a Microsoft Windows laptop that’s thick enough to lend to a drag queen when one of her heels breaks and she needs something temporary to help maintain her equilibrium or she’ll go arse over tit, the fillets will fly from her bra and someone in a club will end up with a black eye and sue someone, anyone, for damages.
Oh God. Save me. I just got a notification ding on the Watch. Even I know that’s pushing it in a public place. It’s like I’ve suddenly waved my wrist around in the air to flag down a passing Boeing 707 while shouting, “Look at my Apple Watch, everyone! Look!” I mean, come on, we all know it will be just fine and commonplace in the year 2025, when people will instead be sneering at or curious about my Apple Shoes instead.
And what was the notification? A reminder to drink water. Aren’t we humans amazing? We climbed down from the trees, set about eating rotting carcasses left by big cats who couldn’t be arsed finishing their meals and, worse, never left a tip; and then, after we got sick, we decided to start killing things ourselves (cutting out the middleman has always been something people like to do); then, we learned to kill each other, which seemed to be the most fun we had for several thousand years until Facebook was invented and we could drive people to suicide just by posting too many LOLcatz videos on any one given day. Doesn’t the need to remind ourselves to drink water, essential as it is for life to exist, show you just how far we’ve come?
We can send expensive rockets to crash into the surface of Mars by accident. We can democratically elect majority governments with just thirty percent of the forty per cent who voted actually voting for the party that ends up deciding policies for a nation. We can kill bees when we’re simply trying to make fruit last seven weeks in the bowl after buying it, because fruit should look nice and not mouldy (it’s for show, who eats fruit?). Bloody marvellous. All those other species have a long way to go before they stand a chance of competing with us when it comes to clever.
If I’m still typing at the end of the working day for these coffee folks, it’s a case of damn, I’m going to go home and blog where nobody can see me. How will anyone know I’m typing if they can’t see me typing? Well, you see, that’s just it. This entire post has been one long piss-take of the idea that we writers just go to coffee shops to pose. Fuck off. We go to coffee shops because writing is a solitary profession and sometimes, only sometimes, we get a bit lonesome for real human traffic noises and, probably more often than that, we get really, really, really bored of seeing the same furniture and wallpaper; the cats deciding to do stinking shits (in the litter tray if we’re lucky) in the middle of particularly difficult-to-craft paragraphs; and, mothers calling us to ask us really important questions that don’t seem very important at all and inexplicably lead to long, sustained, breath-pause-free narratives until, desperate, we say we have to go to the loo and get told okay, just one last thing…
And then, we flush the toilet. We flush it. The ruse does no good. Half the day has gone and all you have to show for it is the knowledge that your parent’s next-door neighbour has got new net curtains and your ugly niece has bred again with another muppet and your entire brain-dead family is cooing over the prospect of another brat being brought into the world to get addicted to sugar and then given medication to calm it the fuck down.
So yeah. We come to coffee shops because we can shut down to everything around us but still enjoy that sense of being in a contemporary, frantic milieu. There’s a word I should italicise. Milieu. Okay, what I am basically saying is we writers, we aren’t sad lonely people being on our own, because we’ve come to recognise that, in order to bless you all with more words so that you aren’t ever in any danger of running out of words and having to resort to out-of-date Shakespeare or even Chaucer, well, we need to be alone. Like Greta Garbo. We want to be alone. Except when we don’t. It’s nice to be in a coffee shop writing because nobody knows you and so they won’t bother you. You get all the benefits of a lively conversational atmosphere (I’m not using milieu a second time, that would be sloppy and gratuitous, er…) without having to actually converse. At home, it’s this call from your mother telling you your father has gone wandering down the road in his pyjamas, people knocking on your door, your mother on the phone again telling you your father’s been stopped by the police, cats demanding you fuss and feed them, mother calling again to say she’s spoken to the police and they’re fine, they’re lovely, they brought your father home, distraction after distraction, human and animal.
Now you know. Don’t cast a condescending eye at the fast-typing man or woman seated opposite you in Starbucks or Costa or one of those independent coffee shops that make us all feel that much purer just by looking through their front windows; instead, acknowledge the fact that you may be in the presence of the next Ernest Hemingway, or whoever in One Direction is going to split away from that boyband next, before announcing he’s going to be a writer and put out a book about his passion for cultivating aubergines. Remember that Blur guy with the cheeses? What, you think I’m making this shit up? This is real, baby. Real. Or, if you prefer, maybe that woman tapping away at the lit-up keyboard is going to be the next E.L. James (Jesus wept, please… NO. Just… No. Do you want someone writing about ejaculate and handcuffs next to you while you sip the top off a frothy mocha and get it all over your top lip?).