November 27th, 2004



The coffee pot has expired. The fault lies entirely with its operator. Over the years, the habit of tapping the grounds free from the filter against the side of the sink has resulted in a series of bends and fine cracks. The seal is no longer sufficient to maintain pressure against this uneven curve and, therefore, the pot just splutters and steams. It produces very little in the way of actual, or even autarchical, coffee. I guess it's time to move on.

I'm not sure when my habit of coffee drinking began. I can remember an electric percolator that my parents had that would appear on certain evenings of the year as a special treat. It would sit there gurgling for at least twenty minutes and then be poured into cups. Sometimes it would be served with multicoloured sugars. Ah, the 70's... Coffee drinking only became common amongst my peers from the age of 13 or so. It appeared to mark a rite of passage, in particular because coffee was drunk from plastic pint, or half-pint, glasses that the pubescent drinker needed to obtain from Reading University Students Union. It was harder for the younger pupils to obtain these and therefore possession of such a glass was quite the statement.

Coffee drinkers would enter the kitchenette on the first floor, make their drink and then stand on the landing looking through the glass out towards the pond, frequently listening to someone's stereo pouring out Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Rush or worse. By the time I made it to the sixth form, much of this had been displaced by Heaven 17, Duran Duran and Rush. A hardcore of Rush supporters remained, alas [Perhaps Cornelius has a better memory of the definitive coffee drinkers' playlist. We could market it via Friends Reunited.... Err, no!]. Of course, Cornelius' presence here means that I cannot be entirely slapdash with my Proustiana. My memory, rather than the actuality, is that I rarely drank coffee socially during this time. I remember drinking jasmine tea and listening to Mahler, but this does paint me in a rather favourable light.

I tend to think that the eminence of the plastic pot began to be undermined by the red Nescafé mug over this period. But the pot retained the advantage of its immense steamy volume. But when did I start drinking coffee? My recollection (as a historian I must make it clear that I am entirely aware that this is myth-making rather than substantiated account) is that my interest in coffee resulted from reading the novels of Colin MacInnes and that early 60's demi-monde he described. I imagine that Geonid played his part here, given his Italian background, he certainly is the person I owe my culinary interest to. Grana vs Reggiano... The supermarkets were undergoing a change at this point. The market was bullish, the last whispers of ration-mentality evaporating, people sought distinction in their shopping trolleys.

I think it's The Ipcress File where Michael Caine, in the height of mid-60's sophistication, is spotted buying a tin of mushrooms by his boss in one of the new supermarkets that were appearing at the time. ["Champignons?", I think the boss reads dismissively from the tin, or is that Caine correcting him?] Cor! That Michael Caine! He might have a dash of the Robert Carrier about him, but he's all man. Similarly, Soho was the one area in London where Italian immigrants were offering a taste of the world beyond to jazzers, skiffleheads, proto-modernists and their ilk. Expresso Bongo [Laurence Harvey was in that?!?] is one skewed record of this caffeine and purple hearts Tin Pan Alley era. Judging by photographs and my memory, clearly invented, this sort of coffee was a vast improvement but it was still a poor version of the Italian. Could you make it more milky please? And ensure it's in one of those Duralex cups, thank you. [Am I alone in having used the number on the bottom of the Duralex glasses at an earlier school as the means to decide who was going to clear up the plates?]

Anyway, one character in the MacInnes novels often orders latte macchiato. The idea that there was this vocabulary of coffee intrigued me and I can remember ordering it when I first went to Rome. Standing at the bar with F. in the winter light. Pause. Well, I've already spent a fair amount of the morning wondering myself back there to her company and I am, believe it or not, trying to get to the point here! Her family had a reasonable Gaggia machine in the kitchen.

Just maybe, F., you've stilled the rush of connections. This doesn't matter. You did.

So, since the pot is up the spout, it's time to get a new one. In a brief interregnum I am drinking this cup in the Turkish style. It's grainier on the tongue, but it's not bad and certainly a huge improvement upon what the pot has been making over the last few days. The plan now is to finally take the step and buy a decent espresso machine. The Bialetti isn't bad, but it's quite tricky to ensure a decent crema. I like the idea of waking in the morning, looking out into the garden as I munch toast, one eye watching the pressure gauge approaching its optimum. It's time.

F., you have stolen the wind from these sails. The boat is stilled among the doldrums, the sailors restless for your breath.

I am very glad that Charles Jenkins has been released. I can see the biopic already in my head. Inevitably, it stars Tom Hanks.