:: Blogtober is a blogging challenge whereby bloggers are encouraged to post every day for the month of October. Many of my post topics have been taken from suggestions by friends and family. In general, expect my posts to be shorter, more random and of inconsistent quality! ::
Ben and I had a rare 15 minutes together without children this morning. We dropped off Spike at school and then grabbed a quick coffee. We don't get much of that. After a successful spell leaving the boys with a babysitter for the odd Friday night dinner together, the babysitter got busy and hasn't been available for a while. Finding a new one is not a straightforward task for reasons too mundane to go into here. Our evenings are long. A cross between a relay and an endurance event. Spike goes to bed incredibly late and Oscar still needs "support" to settle, so we operate in shifts to make sure we both get time to breathe. This means we do not get to relax together. The evening ends when Spike finally goes to sleep and the last adult standing can fall into bed. At weekends, the boys have very different ideas about how to spend their R&R time and, in the absence of forward-planning, we assign ourselves a child and take them to do the things they want to do. There's a definite lack of parent time and family time.
With a little time and energy, all these things could be improved. We could wean Oscar off his nocturnal parent dependency, we could bring Spike's bedtime forward to something less ridiculous (actually, the jury's out on that one), we could find a new baby sitter, we could make whole-family weekend plans. But "time and energy" are scarce resources. Today, after our coffee, Ben suggested we make it a Friday ritual. He is walking Good Idea Factory. Done! We're doing it. And so, magically, we will have at the very least, a weekly 15 minutes to check in with each other. In fact, we'll have more than that, because we have also timetabled in lunch on Mondays. A standing date.
Ben and I are both quite organised people in relation to certain specific areas of our lives (Ben more so than me), but very few of those areas are domestic. Without a shred of hyperbole, I can assure you that our house is Marie Kando's worst nightmare. This is a narrow view from my current sitting position. Extrapolate it across a standard two bedroom flat and you have a sense of what we live in. Also, please don't ask why we have 3 sets of headphones (we have 9).
I digress. Domestic disorganisation. Perhaps these little rituals are the way forward? Fifteen minutes is achievable, a manageable pocket of time and energy expenditure. By ritualising something important, you make a habit of it and ensure that you are cultivating your life values. It makes it easier not to follow the path of least resistance. I'm not speaking from experience, clearly, but it sounds right.
I have very few rituals in my life. I am the headless chicken, dashing hither and thither with an ill-defined sense of purpose. Life is a platform game in which I can only focus on the flaming log rolling toward me, as I pray it's not the boss level next. I make time for coffee, though. Lovely, lovely coffee.
I get up a full hour before anyone else. This is partly through more-or-less medical necessity. I have to eat breakfast in the morning. Immediately. Without it, I feel like a joint of ham. The night is way too long for my blood glucose homeostasis abilities. A less clinical need is the need to be alone while I de-ham. And my final requirement is coffee, which brings me fully online. This is our 'coffee station' in the kitchen. Note the semi-professional coffee machine (best money we ever spent) and the back-up coffee machine (important).
I am far from being the world's greatest barista, but our Rancilio Silvia does very nicely for me and I can turn out an acceptable cup of beverage with her. Silvia might as well be the fifth member of our family, so critical is she to our level of functioning and avoiding the foul side-effects of "kaffetørst"*. Thanks to a timer adapter, she is ready to serve at all the critical junctures. It is also my benchmark for drinking coffee outside of my home. Is it better than I can make at home? Or, as Bake-Off's Pru might say "Is it worth the caffeine?".
I have drunk coffee since my early teens, when my mum allowed me to drink milky Nescafe (or, knowing my mum, the more upmarket Gold Blend). But my rituals, then, were tea rituals. It was tea I drank in the morning, and when I needed a reviving brew. At college, it was tea and toast that filled the gaps left by studious avoidance of the boarding school slop served in the dining room. But I know exactly when the siren song of coffee guided me from the path of leaves to the temple of the bean. I was at the University of Durham, but the course I studied was based at their newfangled Stockton-on-Tees campus. Stockton was not exactly known for its cafe culture, so there was no revolution there. When I arrived in Stockton, it was difficult not to think that we Stocktonites had drawn the short straw when compared with our collegiate brethren, towning and gowning it up in Durham. I ended up being quite fond of Stockton but, having a little Ford Fiesta, I did take the opportunity to "escape" whenever I could - to the North Yorkshire Moors, to Newcastle to Durham and most frequently, to the little market town of Yarm which was nearby.
While me and my course mates were cooking each other appalling meals in halls or slumming it in slug-infested, freezing terraces, my friend Adam was ensconced in the luxury of his family home. I visited often and was always happy to take my shoes off at his place and sink my toes into his plush carpets and sit on a sofa that didn't feel like two crates covered in a blanket. It was here that I found coffee. Adam was clearly a hardened coffee drinker already by this point, and I distinctly remember him asking if I drank coffee. I said "not really", but he went ahead and made us a generous 8 cup cafetière of Hot Lava Java. We listened to music, chatted and drank coffee until the cafetière was empty. Then I bid him adieu in order to go and wrestle with a histopathology write-up, or some-such.
I hopped in Hugo (the aforementioned car) and set off back to Stockton. I had not gone far when little sparks of light whizzed and zimmed across my vision, making it hard to pay attention to the road. And then I noticed the tremors, subtle at first and then building in amplitude until they were unignorable. I appreciated that I probably wasn't safe to drive in this state, pulled over, and sat at the side of the road winking and twitching, and admiring my own personal firework show. It was love at first buzz.
Bar my regular coffees Chez Adam, I was not immediately set adrift on a river of brown bean juice. Stockton was more of a pints and parmas kind of place. I had to wait until I arrived in London to really kick start my caffeine addiction. If I was to stay awake for interminable Trust law lectures, coffee was a necessity. Once I started working for real, coffee was my stand-in for fresh air and sleep. My morning coffee ritual centred on Manon Café on Fleet Street who served only average coffee, but remembered my order and enticed me with their free Leonidas chocolate. My day sank or swam on whether that chocolate was a gianduja. In the months before I left, Hilliard opened just behind my office. They sold Union hand-roasted coffee and they made it well. The only hazard was their luscious alfajores, which I ate anyway when I was feeling lardy.
Now, I am rather more spoilt for good coffee. I generally make time for at least one coffee out a day, typically from my locals, Sally Clarke's, Golborne Deli, Egg Break or from The Grocer on Elgin. Chi-chi joints, the lot of them, which adds to the feeling that I am treating myself. When we visit my BFF's place, I try to get to Notes which is riding high in my caffeine chart. When I entered parental hibernation, London's coffee scene was burgeoning. 8 years later it seems to have peaked. Frankly, it's perfect timing. That means London is now saturated with lovely coffee place for me to go out and discover. While gentrification has done little for my local neighbourhood of Portobello, the ready availability of decent coffee is one happy side-effect.
I'm off to think about what other new rituals I need in my life.
* Norwegian for "coffeethirst"