Olivier the Ocelot and Mr Lush, having finished the last of the champagne supplied by the feline hotelier, are in search of a café in central London. They have two strict criteria: The establishment must offer nothing to-go and be governed by a spirit of relaxation. The mental image which Lush and Olivier share is one of ladies and gentlemen sitting in front of newspapers and hot caffeinated drinks in hand-painted porcelain or – Heaven forfend! – engrossed in conversation. This should be a place where people meet, not a temple to work and loneliness. Finding such a place in London is, unsurprisingly, very difficult. They both agree that there is a dearth of serious coffee house owners. Whose fault is this? Astronomical rent prices leave owners with no choice but to give in to the city’s obsession with work and money just to survive.
Despite the lack of prospects for success, they embark on their quest unperturbed. There are two major types of villains. There are those in ill-fitting suits, mobile phones glued to their ears, who jostle their way through the concrete jungle towards the city centre. Then there are the zombies who stop at every shop window to check their wallets to see if they can afford whatever it is they are looking at. If they cannot, they shuffle to the next window and repeat the procedure. The money in their pockets seems to cause them actual physical pain. There is a third group, though they could not be described as villains. There are those who completely refuse to continue in the rat race. They beg for forgiveness on park benches and sidewalks. They no longer want to play along.
The fog, initially attributed to the alcohol, begins to clear. Is there any wonder that Londoners seek to escape the city at the weekend? This city is a disease; it is a ruin of civilization. Not even a hint of joie de vivre. Here, man is but a machine, a slave to his own system.
Turning onto a quiet side street, the two sit down next to a small tree. They take a moment to catch their breath and remain seated in silence for a good five minutes. When they look up, they notice the red façade of an antique bookstore. A distinguished dame – presumably the owner – sits in front of the shop. With Parisian elegance, she delicately puffs on a narrow cigarette engrossed in a novel by Evelyn Waugh. Olivier and Mr Lush approach cautiously, not wanting to disturb scare the scene for fear the magic might be lost. Olivier clears his throat briefly and begins:
Good afternoon, Madam! Do excuse the interruption; I will keep my explanation brief. Our situation is quite dire. I will not go into specifics, but we are currently living off my body. Do you perhaps have any employment opportunities?
The lady wearing a fine charcoal roll neck looks up quizzically, then smiles and answers in a most angelic voice:
What an enticing offer! As fate would have it, I woke up this morning and decided that today would be my last day as a bookseller! Perhaps we should continue this conversation over a coffee. There is a little hidden gem of a place just around the corner. DC/MM