Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The Problem with Cafes

My search for a viable workspace goes on.

Café one: The Reservoir Café in Green Lanes. Free parking. View of open water. Nice cup of tea. I am the only person here.
All good so far. But a scratchy radio is blaring out the Black Eyed Peas, and I cannot write with music playing.
‘Perhaps you might switch off the radio,’ I suggest to the man behind the counter.
He pauses, considers, eyes scanning the empty tables.
‘Can’t do that,’ he says, ‘It’ll be like a morgue in here.’
‘I like morgues.’
He turns it down a smidgeon, and disappears into the kitchen. I try and write, but silently communicating irritation in an empty - but noisy - room is as distracting as Capital Radio.
Café one - fail.

Café Two. A beautiful sunny day. I decide to work outside at the café at Kenwood, Hampstead Heath. I make the mistake of telling my husband. ‘Tell you what,’ he says. ‘You work for a couple of hours and then I’ll come and meet you and we can go for a walk.’
I arrive at Kenwood, find a table, work for an hour. It’s sunny, quiet and incredibly pleasant. The only problem is that every time I need to go to the loo I have to pack up my laptop and take it with me. But that’s OK. It's annoying, but I can manage.
‘Hello Keren! I haven’t seen you for ages!’
Coming out of the loo, I bump into an old colleague. Chat, chat and catch up for fifteen minutes. Walk back to table. There’s a woman sitting at the next table…looks vaguely familiar….
Husband turns up at 12.30. I have written 500 words and talked to three old friends. Café two - fail.

Café Three. I have lunch with my friends Emma and Gillian. I tell them about my search for a place to work. They unanimously recommend a little place in East Finchley. ‘There’s a massive room at the back of the café,’ says Emma. ‘Completely quiet, loads of space. I don’t think anyone even knows it’s there.’
‘It’ll be perfect,’ says Gillian.
I arrive at little café, 10.30am. Lots of chatting people in the front, total peace and quiet at the back. Six empty tables to choose from. A friendly waitress brings me tea in a mug. I focus on chapter 9. I write three paragraphs.
Three people arrive and start having a meeting at the next table. Two old deaf men sit down, shouting at each other. Two women…a man and a woman… a man with a laptop.
Every table but one is occupied. I grit my teeth and write on.
A dad plonks his toddler in a highchair, right behind me. He heads for the counter. The child swivels in alarm. ‘DADDY!’ she yells. ‘WHERE ARE YOU GOING?’
I give a three-year-old child a nasty glare. Feel a bit guilty.
Friendly waitress starts crashing crockery. Wailing baby arrives. Laptop man is joined by another man with his own laptop. They show each other graphs and figures on their laptops. ‘Jolly interesting,’ says one. ‘Just wait till Ted sees these. He’ll be ecstatic.’
Two women at next table are comparing local schools. 'All those parents,' says one, 'Saying things like "It reminds me of my own prep school, all the beautiful playing fields." I mean there's just a cultural gap there.'
'Yes, I know what you mean,' said the other woman, 'Although, mind you, it did remind me of my old prep school.'
Nosiy family are preparing to leave. ‘NO!’ shrieks the child. ‘I DON’T WANT MY DUCKET.’ Wonder what a ducket can possibly be. A new piece of baby equipment, invented since my time? A soft toy, the Duckette? Hmmm… ‘If we’re going to the playground then you need your jacket,’ says the dad.
The three people having a meeting are trying to think of the plural of moose. Mice? Mooses? I stare at the computer, trying not to shout. ‘It’s moose actually! Can we wrap this up now?’

Shut down chapter 9 and open a new word document. ‘The problem with cafes…’ I write…

Café Three: Fail.

Next: Libraries.


  1. Interesting post. I've not yet managed to find a cafe I can work in either (though I recommend headphones, even if you're not playing music).

    I love 'mice' as a possible plural of 'moose' - hope that catches on. ;)

    Good luck finding the perfect place, Keren!

  2. Very amusing:) I can't work in public spaces at all. I remember trying a few cafés and quiet pubs in Cambridge and actually having the music turned up on me. The look in the barman's eyes said it all: "You stop this place from looking fun. Go!"

    Good luck finding somewhere.

  3. I've always written at home with all the distractions. I never knew better until I was cat sitting for my hairdresser the other day. I took my laptop to her house but there was no internet. I got so much more done than if I'd been at home. I think a cafe search of my own might be on the cards.
    *Plentymorefishoutofwater - One Man's Dating Diary*

  4. I spend hours working at the Pret-A-Manger at London Bridge. Free wi-fi, comfy armchairs and lots of space and healthy food.

  5. And yet JK Rowling gave the impression that it was oh so easy to write in cafes! Can always rely on you Keren to tell it how it really is!

    What about wine bars? Or hotel bars? On the rare occasion I've nipped to the Hilton below my apartment for an over-priced coffee I've always found it really easy to write.

    Rapunzel x

  6. Try the car - drive some where, park, work. Sad but have done this.....

  7. I'm usually able to write in public places - I find it depends more on my state of mind than how busy or noisy it is. I have to say that I do prefer working in a notebook, because when you have a laptop everyone can see what you're doing.
    Libraries used to be good until they started becoming more of a hub for free internet access than for reading books - after that they've got steadily louder with people playing games, watching videos, asking about where the printer is etc.

  8. I so sympathize! And the trouble is that home is the worst place of all.

    But I can help with one thing - the plural of moose is ... moose.

  9. Should I admit that I did something awful to a perfectly good poem to tackle this very topic?

  10. This is so apt. I have a completely quiet house to write in this afternoon but I am so highly strung from a little incident at work (not my doing this time) that I can't even focus. I am about to switch the internet off but I don't think cafes would work for me. I hate music too and people and I need to know that everything I might need is within arms' reach.
    Looking forward to seeing how libraries go. I tried that once. I sat there for an hour and did pretty much nothing. Got home and suddenly it was bingo! I'm weird.

  11. Sounds like you are definitely auditory, Keren, like me. I've had the same problem in cafes. Robert can work anywhere and doesn't hear what is going on around him (including me trying to get his attention!), because he's primarily visual. Noise-cancelling headphones?

  12. I wouldn't even consider trying to work in a cafe. For one thing I like to work in silence. For another I like the distractions of home. While I'm thinking about a plot I get on with the ironing or hoover. Every now and again I walk out into the garden or take a shower. For me, working at home is the biggest plus of being a writer.

  13. The problem with home is that it's always full of people, and the available workspace (itself pretty useless) is occupied by someone else.So I'm stuck with the dining table, which is useless. And then there's the internet.
    I need somewhere silent, enclosed, no internet, light. Headphones sound like a good idea. Leaving home ditto.

  14. On the bright side, I did finish a chapter today!

  15. Yay for your chapter!
    Some writers in New York rent out space at a place like this:
    Are there similar places in London perhaps? A more expensive solution, but I can see how it would be quite useful.

  16. LOL! I think all writers should have been born on islands! I need absolute quiet to write.

  17. Tempted to suggest that you nip into a local convent for a while, but that may be too quiet. And have a few bells too.

  18. Oh this is funny! Not funny for you, but yes funny :) I hope you find somewhere nice and quiet soon.

    I can write through quiet and noise. I prefer noies. It fades into the background, and sometimes provides good story material.

    Love your new blog look! Very cool :)