Distance: about 3 miles
Bicycle: 1982 BSA Prima 10 speed a.k.a. “Major Tom”
Venue: The Grove Cafe, next to St Mary’s Church, Stafford
Purchase: Double espresso (Lavazza) and a toasted tea cake (£3.60)
Marks out of 5 for the cafe: 3ish. Good service and decent enough coffee but one can see why cafes have moved on.
Bike friendliness: depends, mainly on which way you’re coming from. It’s in the awkward part of the town centre where the bike lock-ups are all just a little bit too far away, and where the pedestrian traffic is highest. Basically ok.
Other stops: Specialized, Citroen display, Waterstones, library.
First stop today was the Specialized Concept Store, where I bought a new helmet. It’s red, cost £50, and does what you’d expect. I’ve had to wait a bit for them to have the right size in stock (medium) and when I first put it on I thought the straps were wrongly adjusted, but it turns out I was wearing it too far back on my head. With it in it’s proper place it fits really well, much better than my current 10-year-old helmet, and I think it copes better with my slightly asymmetric head. Only snag is I’ll have to wait for Christmas to use it…
After that I rode to the market square, locked my bike up and stopped off to give a once-over to some Citroens that were on display. We often have various car dealers in the Market Square showing off their wares, and I do like to have a little nose about. I was quite impressed by the Citroens, especially how well-equipped and stylish they are for the price. That’s not the same as actually driving one though! My mum had a series of Peugeots and each one was more ghastly than the last in terms of basic ride and handling, and I believe Citroen is part of the same group.
Next I went to Waterstones. I’d already been in town this morning for the usual coffee, and we had a look In Waterstones but I didn’t have any way to carry anything home. This return journey I came prepared with my simple drawstring rucksack (a freebie from the ride I did in July) stuffed in my back pocket. It’s just so damn handy. In Waterstones I didn’t waste too much time, as I’d already cased the joint and knew what I wanted.
My first Christmas purchase of the year was a book for my dad – the political memoirs of Ken Clarke, Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer in the mid-1990s and thrice unsuccessful candidate for leader of the party. He strongly opposed the Iraq war, which leads one to wonder what would have happened had he, and not Iain Duncan Smith, been at the dispatch box opposite Tony Blair. Anyway, he’s a bit of a political hero of my dad’s, so I’m pretty sure he’ll like it.
Today’s actual coffee trip was very much the old-fashioned cafe experience. The Grove is a little place sort of round the back of the town centre, tucked away down an alleyway. It’s been there for as long as I can remember and really I suppose you’d call it more of a tea room than a cafe. The other side of St Mary’s Church is the Soup Kitchen, which is very similar although a bit more successful, though the Grove seemed plenty busy. It’s what genteel cafes where like before Starbucks showed up – very prim and proper, a sensibly-dressed waitress allocates you a table, then you order and pay at a counter and food is brought over to you.
A Lavazza espresso doesn’t particularly jump out for either good or bad reasons, it’s just a solidly decent cup of coffee. It reminds me of Formula 1 in the 1990s, because they sponsored the odd minor Italian team here and there. The tea cake was smothered in butter (by me) and when the butter melts and soaks in it’s just nicely satisfying in a simple, uncomplicated way. All this for £3.60, so notably cheaper than your big chains. The picture however doesn’t manage to capture the crying baby sat behind me not two yards from my ear. Oh well, he did shut up eventually. The book I was flicking through is called “Something Will Turn Up”, by David Smith, and is about how the British economy has changed over the last 60 or so years. I haven’t really got into it yet, but it seems engagingly written with the added bonus of BSA getting the odd mention here and there.
On my way home I stopped off to pop in to the new library for the first time. It’s a bit controversial because this is the third site the town library’s been placed in my lifetime, and many suspect the reason why it’s been moved into the ground floor of the new council buildings is because they haven’t been able to find a retailer willing to rent the space. If you ask me, the Library should never have moved out of the purpose-built old library building I remember from when I was a boy, but the new site is a lot quieter than where it’s moved from, which was simply terrible. The floors used to make a huge racket every time someone walked around on the floor above, which isn’t really ideal. My verdict is it’s a little small, and I’m curious why True Crime is placed right next to the entrance, but at least it’s better than no library.