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Friday, 21 January 2011

Cafe Culture - Cambridge Tab

For the next eight weeks, I am a columnist with Cambridge Tab ( and I will reproduce these columns on here. They're not explicitly sociology, but nor is most of the blog. Happy days.

Published on Cambridge Tab -

Waking up on a typical weekday, I open my wardrobe and look for something to wear. I look for something that suggests I’m intelligent, in an effortless way, with a smidgeon of eccentricity if I’m feeling bold. I walk around town with pomp – the only form of elitist posturing I can just about pull off, since I’ve not got the right body or face for flounce, dandy or rugbyboy. Thankfully, I am not rich enough to be an authentic twat by Cambridge standards. Rather, I fit into that ‘happy medium’ margin, and lie somewhere between being a bland, inoffensive, background character and an egocentric joke who considers himself Messianic.

I’d like to say I spend my typical afternoon as a sort of 1920’s Parisian intellectual, in smoke filled cafés. I’d like to say that I am often surrounded by similarly minded others, and we often throw down our copies of Le Figaro and get angry; lambasting the system. In reality, I spend my typical afternoon flitting between Starbucks and Nero like a moth drawn to two overpriced flames, and reading social theory at 15-minute intervals. This week, as I sat alone drinking a tepid £3.40 beverage and attempting to absorb some Habermas, a couple of girls on the table next to me advised each other how best to tame their overflowing groin fringe. I wanted to learn about the public sphere, but all I got was the pubic triangle.

Why waste my time and money drinking bad tea to the soundtrack of feminine grooming? The answer is simple. More than family, more than Doncastrian friends, more than having a self-replenishing food supply, the thing I miss most about home during term time is a comfortable chair. I really am a man of simple pleasures, and the jaunty swivel desk chair upon which I am now perched emphatically does not satisfy them. This problem can’t be solved by reclining on my bed and working, as any cant of more than 30° tells my body that it’s naptime, which inevitably lasts a solid five hours.

The library isn’t an option. The library is full of books, which intimidates me. The library is off limits. So, in this vainglorious quest for lumbar support, I find myself hovering in the queue for Nero CostaBucks, with its faux-leather sofa-chairs, with my despicably well-used loyalty card resting exhausted in my palm, begging for mercy as the stamp batters it yet again.

When I went home at Christmas, I realised that my twattish pursuit of the café culture had left my bank balance unhealthily overdrawn, and I had nothing to show for it. It felt like emerging from a heavy drinking session, and feeling slightly uncomfortable about how stupid your vodkalogic was. Why did I ever justify indulging in a cardboard beaker of hot froth on a daily basis?

In this spirit of reflection and revaluation, I tumbled into the abyss and began to question how and why I even ended up in this strange little city. What led me towards this idle pursuit of padded furniture when everyone else is pursuing training contracts and grad schemes?

As a teenager, I played a lot of basketball. But, when I reached the end of my GCSEs, I had got bored of having to train every day. This put me in a difficult situation, because my entire friendship group was founded upon our retrospectively amusing Americophilia, and our liking for DMX and Fubu. I had a lot of respect for the coach, so felt I wanted to let him know that I was quitting.

“Why, Walker, why?” he plead.

What could I say? “Thanks for the free sessions every day for three years. Thanks for employing me as a coach on £20 per hour aged 14 (which remains the best job I’ve had). Thanks for everything. Unfortunately, I’m so lazy that I’d rather be friendless and watching Beauty and the Geek repeats than do anything that involves kinesis.” I didn’t actually say that. I said: “I’m going to try and get into Cambridge.” That was the seed, a mendacious impulse.

Cambridge was never actually an intention. Truthfully, I never really thought about university at all. But, Cambridge being Cambridge, it was the perfect get out – it made me look ambitious, intelligent and was the perfect alibi for non-committal responses: “I would wash the pots but I’m revising for a chance to climb the slippery pole of social mobility.”

Given time, I actually started to believe my own protestations and considered applying. Cambridge was the place to learn. And I guess it is, but from week 1, term 1, year 1, I found myself becoming more inclined to just mope about doing fuck all – stalking my friends’ family members on Facebook, watching ‘Baby Monkey riding backwards on a Pig’ on YouTube and establishing my previously mentioned quest for the perfect chair. ‘You’d only fall asleep if you went to the lecture’ became the mantra tattooed all over my every waking thought.

That slippery slope of demotivated indifference is what ultimately led me towards the coffee shops. If it looks like I’m intellectual, maybe that will spur me on to work – that was the theory. But in practice, no – it’s just me, a Frappucino and vaginal topiary.

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