A Sit Down and a Cuppa, Part 4

I’ve been on annual leave for the last three weeks – working only twenty hours a week, I didn’t realise quite how much I had to use up before the end of the financial year. I thought I was back in today, so Ted was summarily dispatched to nursery… only for me to find out that I’m not actually back in until Monday. So it’s time for a writerly ramble instead!

Welcome back to my charmingly random rattling on about nothing in particular. At least, I hope it’s charming. If not, well, I’m not forcing anyone to read it! My cuppa of choice today is a latte with extra espresso, vanilla syrup, and anything else I could think of to get them to put in it, seeing as I was using up the free one on my loyalty card. I’m nothing if not resourceful. Well, all right, stingy. Who knows if this post will ever get finished, because the internet in this particular Caffe Nero keeps cutting out, but hey, I’m doing my best.

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I’m supposed to be working on the Secret Project today. Seeing as I’m unexpectedly child-free, I figured it would be the perfect time; especially as a Facebook memory popped up this morning that made me smile.

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Dreambakes: Thoughtful Food in the Heart of Doncaster

Back in 2014, my dear friend Hannah was just starting her new baking business – I was just about to get married, and she was automatically our first choice to make our wedding cake. A sound choice, it turned out. Our brief had managed to be both vague and complicated at the same time, but Hannah fulfilled it marvellously with the most splendid purple cake, partially gluten-free, partially dairy-free, three different flavours, and with a hint of Harry Potter.

That should give a pretty good hint towards Hannah’s talent as a baker.

Four years along the line, and that little baking business has grown and grown. Hannah and her mum, Carol, have just opened their first official premises – a café and deli in their hometown of Doncaster, serving up their own bakes alongside tried and tested local products.

Teddy and I had a little trip down there on Friday to see how it’s going, and I had a secret mission of my own, too…

It’s been far too long since I’ve had a regular writing spot: Darlington is woefully devoid of cosy hipster cafés of the type I frequented back in Manchester, and even getting into the semi-soulless chain coffee houses requires some luck. On days where I’ve got Ted sleeping in the pram next to me, it’s next to impossible.

I’ve been on a proper hunt for somewhere to be my new writing home-from-home: somewhere comfy and friendly, with excellent coffee and tempting food. Plug sockets would be a plus, and preferably somewhere that wouldn’t look down on me for rocking up with a noisy toddler. I’ve found a couple of places I like in York, but so far not a single one that fulfils all of my criteria.

What perfect timing, then, that Dreambakes should be opening?

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A Coffee and a Catch-Up

It’s occurred to me that I haven’t really talked much about me lately, at least not without being in the middle of a review or a more topical ramble. In fact, I probably haven’t really put my life in much context since we left Manchester, or even before. Plus, if I’m writing anything at all I should really be working on my Camp NaNoWriMo, so of course I’m going to find something else to write until inspiration rears its beautiful head.

So while Teddy is happily distracted by Thomas the Tank Engine, let’s sit down and have a coffee and a catch-up!

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Bank Holiday Barista

Ladies and gentlemen, on this, the last bank holiday weekend of May, please spare a thought for baristas everywhere.

Hell, spare a thought for retail staff everywhere. We’re a hard-working bunch, and we don’t deserve the crap that gets thrown at us.

I’m lucky this time around – I’m not actually working on Bank Holiday Monday itself. Having worked the Saturday and Sunday was quite enough, thank you. But this is quite a strange turn of events: I’m usually very firmly moored to my coffee machines for bank holidays. And quite frankly, it’s never pleasant.

Brace yourselves. I need to let off some steam.

The shop where I work is right in the middle of one of the UK’s most popular shopping centres. Going there is a major family day out for a lot of people, a proper occasion to look forward to for weeks… and they tend to save that day out for a nice bank holiday.

I’d like to point out that technically we’re not a coffee shop, we’re a slightly evolved sandwich shop – we’ve just also found ourselves to be pretty damn good at making coffee, and each branch has a couple of people trained as proper baristas, coffee maestros. The food is still the main attraction, and will always be prioritised. I love our food, it’s healthy and filling and bloody tasty, especially the soups. Mmm, soup.

But somehow, despite our very obvious focus on food (the name of the shop is a bloody great giveaway), the drinks always cause the most contention. Part of the problem is, I think, that people in the UK have gained most of their knowledge about coffee from one chain in particular, and it’s not the one I work for. If anything is even slightly different from the ‘norm’, it’s our baristas who get to hear about it. And half of the baristas in my shop are… me.

My Top 5 Favourite Customers of the Bank Holiday Weekend

  1. When we had so many people in the shop drinking coffee that we’d run out of ceramic cups and had to temporarily move onto takeaway cups: “I’m not drinking out of that. I’m… allergic to paper. And so is my husband. And my mum. Get me a REAL cup.”
  2. Customer: “I want a medium latte.”
    Me:”We do two sizes, small or big.”
    Customer: “I want a medium latte.”
    Me:”This is small, and this is big.”
    Customer: “I want a medium latte.”
  3. We sell iced blended drinks – seven different varieties. We have two blenders.
    Customer: “Why are you taking so long with my drinks?! This service is terrible. I’ll be going to Starbucks next time.”
    This particular customer had ordered five flavours of iced drinks and two different types of hot coffee. He had, at this point, been waiting less than five minutes.
  4. The woman who nearly cried when we ran out of skimmed milk for her cup of tea. Look love, three drops of whole milk aren’t going to ruin your precious diet. Chill.
  5. The family who, at five minutes before we closed, seemed totally perplexed as to why they couldn’t sit down and have a good long chat with their enormous cups of coffee. They also bemoaned the fact that we’d sold out of pretty much everything.

One thing they all have in common? Very short on that ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ business. I always do an extra-enthusiastic “YOU’RE WELCOME! HAVE A LOVELY DAY!” in those situations because come on – what could they complain about? “Dear head office, the lead barista in this shop told me to have a lovely day and I hadn’t even said thank you. I am outraged at the impunity.”

Oddly enough, I do enjoy my job and I’d absolutely love to open my own café one day. Ninety percent of the time I have great customers, sociable people who like to have a chat while you’re making their drink, people who have a sense of humour and leave the shop genuinely happy with their experience. It’s easy to make someone’s day: it feels good to go the extra mile. I get such satisfaction from my making my beautiful, shiny coffee machines do their job with precision and perfection.

Cimbali beauty

Beautiful shiny coffee machine. If I could sneak it into my handbag and take it home, I would. Sadly, it’s plumbed in.

That all goes to hell, of course, when it’s a rainy bank holiday weekend and nobody can think of anything better to do than traipse their entire family around a shopping centre. Today, at least three quarters of my customers had right miserable faces on. I like to have a chat and will natter with pretty much everyone, but hardly anyone even cracked a smile today. It wasn’t as though I’d personally dragged them to the shopping centre, marched them into my shop and threatened them with a frozen baguette until they ordered a coffee. I’m a bit dippy and usually manage to do something stupid like trip over on my way to the coffee machine, or flick milk into my own face, or steam myself with the steam arm. Usually a bit of unintentional slapstick is ace for breaking the ice and getting a customer to have a bit of a conversation. Not this weekend! Grump, grump and more grump. And if it wasn’t a standard grump, it was a bored child throwing a paddy. There’s been more than a few of them this weekend!

So I thank the god of rotas, or my manager at least, that I don’t have to go to work tomorrow. The weather forecast seems to translate as ‘it will be arse’ and that means a heaving shopping centre. Will I spend the bank holiday marching from shop to shop like an automaton with a credit card? No I bloody won’t. I will be sitting on my sofa, rereading A Clash of Kings and perhaps playing The Sims 3. If I get a bit of energy, I might let Kev tow me along to the pub to be sociable.

By the time I get back to work on Tuesday, all will be back to normal.

And if it’s not, keep your eye on the news. Any reports of a barista overdosing on espresso and throwing boxes of teabags at an old lady who “can’t possibly have tea unless it’s in a pot with a silver spoon”… you’ll know where to look.

A Bit About Me

It seems to be traditional that every time you start a new blog, you have a little chat about who you are, where you come from, all that kind of babbling. Like you’re being auditioned for some kind of really in-depth dating website, which requires the equivalent of an Oscars speech before you can talk to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it 92 times before because you’ve started 92 blogs before (39 of which were linked to on the same Twitter you’re using now), but there you go.

This is me.

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Rather obviously me, as this picture is probably currently both in my sidebar and on my Twitter profile.

I’m Jess, and I’m 24. I grew up in Guernsey, in the Channel Islands, with my mum. I now live in Manchester with my lovely fiancé, Kev, and our somewhat dimwitted cat, Sandor Clegane. I went to university in Durham and just about scraped a degree in Modern Languages. By day, I’m a barista in a coffee/sandwich shop, but I call myself a writer. My first novel will be coming out with December House whenever I get round to finishing it, and I’ve got some flash fiction in a collection on Amazon.

That’s the facts, when it’s all laid out in bare-bones form.

If you want to know the real me – well, I suppose that’s a bit more difficult to put down on paper. I’m a metalhead, having once been a bit of a metal groupie, and I love bands like Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, Within Temptation, Amoral and Amaranthe – but I also obsess about the Eurovision Song Contest every year and I can often be found dancing like a maniac to Lady Gaga in Poptastic. I freely call myself a literary nerd, and I’m still obsessed with Harry Potter: to the point that I have a Deathly Hallows tattoo and the words “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home” can still bring me to tears. The ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, and of course the Game of Thrones TV series, are currently taking over a lot of my life. I play a lot of The Sims 3, probably more than is healthy.

I consider myself an ardent feminist, to the point I regularly have to be dragged out of the kitchen at work where I’ve been ranting to my coworkers about something I’ve read. I still quite happily call myself a feminist even though my dream in life is to sit on my arse all day, writing books and occasionally popping out children. I’m counting down the days until me and Kev’s wedding (August 10th!) and I’m broody to the point of eyeing up prams when they’re pushed into my shop and wondering where I could get one.

Me and Kev, HP Studios

Me and Kev, indulging my Harry Potter obsession

I suffer from misophonia and a ridiculous phobia of balloons, and couldn’t live without ASMR videos. If you were to cut me open, I’d probably bleed espresso – and if you pronounce it eXpresso, I’m likely to knee you in the privates. I will pounce on a rogue apostrophe like my cat on a loose piece of wallpaper, something my fiancé and I delight in having in common (the grammar-fiendism, not the wallpaper-attacking).

Sandor climbing

Sandor Clegane the cat, demonstrating his wallpaper-attacking skill while trying to reach the ceiling.

That’s me in a nutshell, and in this blog you’ll probably find me rattling on about all of the above at some point. I like to think I’m not quite as rambly and disjointed as I used to be last time I was a ‘blogger’, but we’ll probably find it’s the exact opposite.