So May has rumbled into June. The ‘heatwave’ that had us gasping for the office water coolers has passed, but in our collective subconscious in the UK June to August means summer and summer means holidays. People across the land are preparing to go clubbing in Marbella, trekking in Jordan, kite surfing in Egypt, camping in Devon. Yet in this holiday atmosphere I must share my one simple delight that alone will make me a content man on holiday. Above anything else, give me coffee in a square.
It obviously helps if the sun is shining, though this is not essential. Rain is admittedly a hindrance. Sat in a red plastic chair, next to a red plastic table, under an Amstel Beer umbrella, I can sit and engage in a luxury rarely afforded in London- doing nothing. I can simply sit and sip my espresso from a round, thick white china cup and enjoy watching the world. How often do we really see the world around us? Sipping in a corner of a square provides the perfect vantage point to admire what is right before me.
The square itself may be composed of an old church and a connected series of apartment blocks and shops. At ground level the colourful café awnings and populated tables beckon to the thirsty tourist passing by, and up above balconies drip with potted plants and clothes hung out to dry. Shutters protect against the hot midday sun. There is nothing so plainly drab as a ‘colour theme’ to the buildings, but a recurring theme throughout is the peeling paint. Not a wall or shutter or door is spared; and it looks fantastic! Perhaps it is the sun, or the context of being in a square, or my overly charitable spirit as I sip my third espresso, but it lends a kind of insouciant elegance to the place. ‘Shabby chic’ as the Sunday Times magazine would put it.
As my eyes return to street level, the level of bustle that is generally going on is enjoyed all the more by my doing absolutely nothing, and knowing that this nothing has no time limit. On one particularly lazy holiday a friend and I coined the term ‘TAL’- ‘There’s Always Later’- and nowhere does this apply more aptly than in the wonderful, indulgent inertia that settles when sipping in a square. It is therefore with some smug amusement I can look around me and see a group of beleaguered tourists following a very enthusiastic guide as she holds her guiding umbrella aloft, or a stressed couple peering at a battered lonely planet before rushing off back in the direction from which they came. A man playing an accordion wafts past. The waitress seamlessly flits from English on my table to German on the next to French on the next. A trilingual waitress. I feel the usual blush of shame at my English incompetence with languages, but the joy of my situation cannot be suppressed for long.
If I close my eyes for a second, my ears tune into the chinking of cutlery on plates, relaxed conversation, snippets of the blurb from the tour guide, birds flying to and fro from the scattered trees. Even the accordion begins to add something to the atmosphere.
I open my eyes, and realise my cup is now empty. I have already out stayed the other guests. Surely it’s time to go? The Lonely Planet sits unopened in my bag…. TAL. I order another.
When it comes to holidays, don’t give me thrills or spills. Don’t give me pubs or clubs. Give me my greatest delight. There’s always later for the rest.