Coffee shops are becoming impossible. I had been standing in the queue at Caffè Nero on Battersea Rise for nearly half an hour behind a man ordering a round of coffees that were so complex, so detailed and intricate, so different from each other, so bespoke and unique, that it would have been quicker to get served if I had been standing behind a man ordering a helping of weapons-grade plutonium and a custom-made Range Rover.
I had nipped in to buy a coffee and a croissant. Silly me, for wanting a coffee and a croissant.
The man in front of me was ordering something like, from memory: ‘One regular black Americano with one and a half shots; one regular decaff white Americano with one shot, skimmed milk; a grande caramel full fat latte with two shots and extra froth; a regular soya cappuccino with one shot and chocolate on top, a large cappuccino with one and a half shots, skimmed normal milk and no chocolate; a large soya latte with two shots, easy on the froth; a macchiato with two shots and extra foam; and a small decaff mocha, normal milk, half a shot, no chocolate, extra cream.’
In other words, he ordered all the sizes, all the coffee strengths, to the nearest decimal place, all the milks, and all the different frothing and topping possibilities.
Some of the coffees were so ludicrous I don’t know why their human counterparts had ordered them. After all, if you want de-caff, why on earth are you worrying about whether or not you get one shot of un-coffee in it or two, or indeed one and a half?
It took the single barista on duty 20 minutes to assemble the various concoctions correctly, writing carefully on each paper cup complex codes that summed up the ingredients so no one would have their human rights infringed by sampling a sip of cow’s milk rather than soya, or being assaulted by one shot when they wanted one and a half.
Thank goodness we weren’t in Starbucks, where he would have to have written the drinkers’ names on the cups as well. We would have been there all day as he scribbled gobbledegook with his marker like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.
After 15 minutes, the customer behind me tutted and exclaimed at the barista: ‘Come on! What’s taking so long?’ But I put her in her place. ‘You came in after me. You don’t know what was ordered. You weren’t here to witness the sheer chaos and anarchy of the demands made on this poor chap behind the counter. You think you could do any better? No one could do any better. Stephen Hawking couldn’t make sense of this order any better. And Bear Grylls couldn’t assemble it any faster.’
The man doing the ordering for his unseen friends looked at me accusingly, but I didn’t care. I was reaching a Crisis Point.
I stared back, trying to work out what sort of person he was. He seemed sensible enough. Probably, he was the owner of the regular black Americano with one and a half shots. But who the hell were his friends? As the ludicrous order took shape I assembled a mental picture.
There was surely at least one woman with green hair who rode a pine bicycle; several hipsters with beards who worked in web start-ups; a stay-at-home man mummy with a ponytail and a child in a papoose on his stomach; and in all likelihood a designer cockapoo crossed with a Maltese terrier, a cockapootese, who I assumed would be taking delivery of the creamy decaff chocolateless mocha.
I stood and waited, my sad little ham and cheese croissant in my hand, and I thought: ‘I can’t do this any more.’
London has simply overtaken me. It has become too sophisticated, too complex, too demanding and, above all, too full of too many choices.
I don’t want any more choice. I was full up years ago. I ran out of the ability to choose more after the BlackBerry, the laptop, and the regular latte. Everything since then simply won’t go in. I’m full. I want less, not more. I want fewer choices, fewer possibilities and fewer varieties of variety.
I want a cup of black or white coffee, and a cottage with absolutely nothing more sophisticated than a space for my books and my piano, which have been racking up storage bills for months now.
Just as well, then, that a few hours after I emerged from Caffè Nero on Battersea Rise with my regular latte, the estate agent rang with an offer I could accept on the flat. And just as well that, minutes after that, the vendors at the other end accepted my offer on the cottage in Ripley.