In a locked down city, there’s something extra special about your daily morning coffee ruitual. It’s more than a cup – it’s an adventure, writes Fiona Scott-Norman.
There’s a New Yorker cartoon doing the rounds, of a mother reading in the lounge room while her child sits on the floor and gazes at an ominous whirling black hole in the wall. “That’s just the abyss,” the mother says. “Try not to stare into it.”
This hits me right in the Locky D6s, which is where we’re up to in Melbourne, lockdown wise. I don’t know if Sydney’s come up with its own pet name or Dewey Decimal System for their lockdowns, but I dare say after week 183 or wherever we’re all currently up to, everyone’s on the same page existentially.
The challenge in lockdown is to find purpose and structure, as time melts. Was Salvador Dalí ever in Locky D? I wonder, noting that strong 2021 energy shimmers off an elephant with stilts for legs striding across a blazing red desert, or a clock drooping like artisanal pizza dough over a branch. Surrealism is relatable, when you’re abyss‑staring.
On the first morning of the first day of our current and perhaps final lockdown, I cycled to a local cafe named POD. It’s a bit of a fave, attached to an arty industrial design shop that sells geometric earrings and side tables made of brass pipes and steel fittings. I usually make coffee at home – we have a fancy machine after all – but gee it felt good to be Out. Of. The. House. You know, getting some light exercise and having a chat to the barista, or, as I call them, a person who is not my intimate partner. I think the jury’s out on whether it’s worse to be isolating alone, or with the same damn human. My honey, bless him, after 18 months working from home, does not have a conversational gambit I can’t see coming from Jupiter. “What did you do today, darling? Oh that’s right, you stood in front of your screen and coded. I watched you do it in real time.” Rehearsing for retirement, the tedium is real.
As I waited outside POD, mask on, for my flat white, I considered my options for adventure. “Tomorrow,” I thought wildly, “I shall go to a different cafe!” And that was that. It’s gilding the lily to call it a mission, but it’s definitely something. Time and memory go loose as an old brassiere strap when we don’t have new experiences, and I’ve latched on to this merry quest like a limpet. I’ve visited 20 cafes to date, one each day, all within my 5km limit. I order coffee, have a chat, take some pics, put it up on the Footscray Good Karma Network’s Facebook page. I have become quite the neighbourhood identity. “You’re the coffee lady!” people say, thrilled I’ve turned up at their local. Such is the hunger for anyone doing anything, folk have invested. I am being cheered on. “Thanks for supporting the cafes,” they write. And, “these posts are the highlight of my day”.
I think we all sense it; the only antidote to the abyss is community. Being constrained to within a 5km radius makes us humble, offers the opportunity of connecting with what’s in front of our faces. I think I’d been told so many times that fancy coffee is self‑indulgent, I’d internalised it. But it’s not true. I’m moved every day, visiting cafes that are full little hearts, the owners and baristas turning up to serve. They care so much. Lee, whose mum knits the tea-cosies they sell, makes the jarred jams and pickles. Tegan, who opened her own cafe, in lockdown, because her area needed one. Helen, who realised she’s the only person some folk get to speak to each day, so figured she’d make every conversation count. They have purpose. Interestingly, not one of them talks about the money.
Three weeks more, at least. Another 21 cafes. TBH, I don’t want lockdown to end.
By Fiona Scott-Norman, writer, comedian and brewtiful soul.
This article first appeared in The Big Issue Ed#645.