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06 October, 2006

The Value of a Good Café

I spend a lot of time in cafés. No, I'm not a man of leisure who hangs out with my arty, intellectual friends, discussing the virtue of form over function amid gay laughter and bawdy ribaldry. Far from it, I'm a dour, antisocial recluse who recently turned down a party invitation with the words, 'I'd rather be head-butted in the groin.' But, if I was this gay Bohemian, I would certainly need a good cafe. Somewhere a little bit dingy, perhaps, but welcoming. A place whose owners and patrons alike appreciate their good fortune in having such a colourful crowd as my own, arguing about Brecht and insulting the waiters all day long.

The time I spend in cafes is mostly spent writing. I'm writing this in a café. It's the Glove and Gown in the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane (don't ask - long story) and it's not bad at all. It's a bit large for perfection and there are an unusual number of nurses around but, apart from that, it has a buzz of life and laughter, the coffee is good (and they do a wonderful date scone) and I can sit for an hour, undisturbed as I sip my way through two large cappuccinos and tap out these immortal words on my little computer.

Over the past few years I have written three-and-a half novels in Brisbane cafés - almost entirely during my lunch breaks - along with many short stories and other pieces. Once I find a good one, I go there every day. Of course, the staff get to know me. One of them, sadly closed now, used to reserve my favourite table for me. In fact, I think the staff in these places actually like the mild eccentricity of someone who comes in every day, orders pretty much the same thing, and writes obsessively for an hour. One becomes part of the ‘colour’ of a place – and I’m always pleased to contribute something in return for the pleasure of being given this small space in which to pursue my compulsion.

Of course, the food has to be good and the coffee has to be excellent but there is usually one place in any part of central Brisbane that meets these criteria – if you look hard enough. But the main thing is having a café where the staff accept that, although you may take twice as long about your lunch as most other diners, you have the right to be there and to enjoy that precious, uninterrupted time. Most recently, my favourite spot has been Cristo’s in West End but, in my line of work, I move from place to place as I get new contracts. I’ll be in a different part of the city for my next job and I look forward to finding another, equally salubrious spot.

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