An Aberdeen cafe I frequent on a regular basis is often a source of inspiration to me.
It’s where I write a lot; weirdly, I concentrate better. I put this is down to my past life as a reporter scribbling away in all sorts of fraught situations.
At home I am distracted too easily by the sheer weight of peace and quiet, so I peruse a cruise or stand in the garden admiring my agapanthus. Time really does fly and the day ahead is suddenly the past.
My “office” in the city is where I am observing our unsteady steps back to normality. My little cafe trips also maintain the old discipline of having to get up and do something creative for body and soul, which is important in later life.
The pains of having all eyes on you at all times
Not that long ago, a lord of the realm was sitting next to me in the cafe tucking into a full Scottish.
If he glanced slightly to the left of his fry-up he would have been alarmed to see a picture of himself displayed on my mobile. I was just checking my memory was still in working order.
Being an off-duty celebrity doing everyday things in public places with every other eye on you must be nerve-racking at times.
I was reminded of watching boxer and national hero Henry Cooper carrying a tray loaded with coffee and cake at Heathrow airport.
Those fists of steel – his speciality twisting left hook was known affectionately, to those not on the receiving end, as “Enry’s ‘Ammer” – had floored Cassius Clay before he became Muhammad Ali.
Calamity struck: retired, but still in his prime, Henry managed to drop the tray with a huge clatter. Every eye on every face within earshot was on him in a flash.
Some celebrities might have strutted back to the counter and told staff to clean up the mess. But humble, hugely embarrassed Henry hunched down and cleared it up himself.
In a scary touch of irony, I was suddenly knocked out of my boxing reverie in the cafe.
“Do you want a punch in the face?” Someone yelled. Blimey, I was only in the middle of writing this column; how could anyone take offence?
But mercifully it was nothing to do with me: two men at the counter were sparring over social distancing etiquette. One infringed the other’s space and wasn’t responding in the spirit of the times when challenged.
The dust settled and fisticuffs were avoided, but it shattered any illusions of camaraderie in adversity. A reminder of man’s endless capacity for aggression.
They disappeared to their tables, but as I shuffled out one of them walked across and started filming the other on his mobile phone. Maybe it was the start of round two.
We have inspiration back
Not very inspiring, I have to say. I was perked up passing by a busker outside, singing about inspiration of all things.
“Inspiration’s what you are to me / Inspiration, look and see.”
It’s from Led Zeppelin’s song Thank You. I remember buying the album when it came out. It’s a gentle thanksgiving melody with tender words written by singer Robert Plant, as a tribute to his then wife.
But the busker now seemed to capture our hopes around tender shoots of recovery.
The power of song is amazing; just a fragment of something memorable or meaningful as you pass a busker is inspiring, and starts you humming it for ages.
The player’s face showed he had lived a life, if you know what I mean, but his performance on acoustic guitar bore a passing resemblance to the original. And he wasn’t offending anyone in the process, more to the point.
Support is needed across the board for full recovery
People might think buskers are a threatened species in Aberdeen. They are facing the music over moves to curb excessive loud amplifiers.
I get that about the noise, I would not like to live or work next to a street busker wired up for a show at the Albert Hall.
Let’s be reasonable, but they are still an essential part of a vibrant city street life and achieving normality. Some might play “ropey” music, as one critic told The P&J, but that is irrelevant and a matter of personal opinion.
Without proper support for all elements of life, recovery is illusory and as fragile as the froth on our lager or cappuccino
The drive towards cafe culture in the city is a great concept to speed recovery and busking has a role to play.
We see beer tents and coffee shops bursting at the seams, but they do not mean the local economy as a whole is doing well. The retail sector – from big stores to community shops – is desperate for a similar level of support.
Otherwise, recovery is illusory and as fragile as the froth on our lager or cappuccino.
David Knight is the long-serving former deputy editor of the Press & Journal