Cafés have been in the news recently as the population adjusts to more flexible working arrangements. Here Debrett’s, the British Guide to Social Etiquette that was founded in 1769, has issued advice on the problem of WFC (Working from Cafés) – not to be confused with WFH (Working from Home). WFH is all jolly well but it’s lonely and often the simple addition of being within sight and sound of others can lift one’s spirits. So those WFH have migrated to WFC! The issue Debrett’s has identified is that of table usage; become absorbed in your laptop and you hog a table for too long, depriving the café of income from new customers.
At one end of the spectrum, in Manchester and London the Costa chain is trialling soundproof booths you can rent for £13 per hour. At the other end the Hackney Coffee Company has introduced a policy of no laptops on weekends and after 1700 on weekdays.
The Hope has, you may recall, recently installed charging points so it’s a hot topic. Of course the primary purpose of a café these days is to host customers who are meeting friends for a coffee and a chat; in the Hope case this might also mean grabbing some delicious Brazilian pastry from the delicatessen next door!
You will have read how I have come to enjoy time in The Hope Café, overhearing conversations that might contribute to some sort of post, getting to know Josh and Susie, meeting Sami and Edith. To conjure up tales from inside one’s head is always possible but people relate better to real life observations! I would like to think I am sensitive to the WFC issues and on busy days vacate my table after an hour or so.
This week I found Sami head down in a book, with a half drunk coffee and a crumb-scattered plate. His latest book is The Man Who Died Twice, the sequel to Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club. He looked up and smiled as I approached; I sense his holiday has done him good or maybe it was giving his evidence to the Post Office Inquiry (See PC 235 Generosity in Government June 2021).
“Hi! Richard. Glad I got that over …. but everyone’s been talking about the BBC Panorama programme ‘Scandal in The Post Office’ by Nick Wallis.”
“I’ve got it recorded but haven’t had time to watch it. Is it revealing?”
“Absolutely! The most significant case they reviewed was of Martin Griffiths. A sub-postmaster with an unblemished record of some 13 years in Great Sutton in Cheshire, a few months after the Horizon computer system was installed he had a shortfall of over £61,000. According to his widow, he was persecuted by the Post Office, made to pay it back and had his licence terminated. Unable to cope this father of two teenagers committed suicide.”
“Wow! That’s horrible!”
“There’s more. A firm of forensic auditors, Second Sight, were investigating the hundreds of cases of missing money. A few days before they were due to report, the Post Office made a ‘take it or leave it’ financial offer to his widow Gina Griffiths on condition of her silence. They were worried that news of Martin’s suicide would have made headline news particularly for the tabloid press and the whole edifice of the Post Office would have come crashing down. The CEO of this organisation from 2012 to 2019, Paula Vennells, was made a CBE for ‘her services to the Post Office’. Now it’s been suggested she should have that honour taken away.”
“Isn’t she an ordained priest?”
Sami nodded and shrugged his shoulders! ‘I don’t think being a priest necessarily makes you a wonderful manager and leader, or vica versa!’
I appreciate that this scandal may be of little interest to some, but for me and others it’s so utterly unbelievable yet jaw-droopingly true that it needs to remain in focus until those whose lives were destroyed, in some cases completely, see justice. Those responsible for the Post Office’s management and leadership during this time must be called to account in court.
I excuse myself and head back to my table, as I need to scribble something for this week’s post. Edith’s been rather down, reports Josh. He senses the whole Ukraine nightmare and the ridiculous use by Russia’s Putin of the word Nazi have reawakened nightmares of her own. While completely understandable, objectively it has caused many who had scant knowledge of the 1935-1945 period to reach for the history books, just as those who experienced it are coming to the end of their own lives. This is a good thing, understanding the past, particularly our own past, as it should help us to make better informed decisions today and tomorrow.
Josh hovers near my table, checking no one needs him, and asks for my opinion:
“The other evening Luke and I had three other couples to supper and, after the main course had been cleared away and before some pudding, a couple got up saying they wanted to have a cigarette and headed for the front door. Another couple obviously liked the idea and joined them, leaving the table half empty! I want individuals to enjoy themselves but afterwards felt they could have waited until they walked home. Then I remembered how lovely a post prandial smoke was, so understood the urge.”
“Wasn’t it just, sitting around the table, smoke from cigarettes and cigars mingling with the smell of red wine and meat! Later a glass of port, Cognac or Drambuie helped the conversation to flow. Times change and I understand your conundrum; are you gracious and don’t make a fuss or simply ask your guests to be patient? I wonder whether Debrett’s can rule on this conundrum! Should I write to them?”
“Why not” says Josh then with a “sorry, need to get back to work, maybe see you next week?” he moves back to behind the counter.
Richard 13th May 2022