It’s my habit to pop out for a mid-morning coffee following the torture at the gym. One sunny day I parked myself outside a café to rest my weary bones, sip my americano, scan my newspaper and watch the ebb and flow of the eclectic crowd. A sallow-faced, reedy man plonked himself down in front of me. He was playing Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ on his phone – not too loud to cause a stir but loud enough to raise eyebrows.
A silver-haired old chap with a walking stick shuffled past.
‘Like the music?’ he asked.
‘It’s fine,’ I replied. ‘I don’t mind a bit of Rick.’
‘Some Pet Shop Boys would be nicer,’ he said with a wink.
I tend to agree. And so to the Pet Shop Boys anthem which was the soundtrack to many a young man’s coming out back in the day.
Pret a Manger, a national chain of coffee houses, has one solitary outlet in Norwich. It’s distinguished by the fact that it is one of the few venues in the city with a place in the sun during the afternoons. Bright days are too few to waste so I take full advantage of their £1 filter coffee and sunny aspect whenever I’m able. Pret is also distinguished by the fact that they don’t have a formal loyalty scheme. You know the kind of thing – swipe this, stamp that, tells us everything and we’ll give you a free crappafrappachino with every grand spent and we promise not to sell on your personal data to the Russians (yer, right). Instead, staff are encouraged to give away a free beverage to patrons whenever the mood takes them. It’s company policy. Back in the day, I was a regular beneficiary of a Pret freebie when I ordered my morning fix every weekday and 8:45. I like to think it’s because I looked quite the cock of the queue in my sharp business suit. Nowadays, my bargain bucket look goes unnoticed in Pret. At least that was I thinking last time I offered my pound coin to the nice young man with the hairy chest and pony tail. But then he said,
On the house.
I took up pole position outside Pret a Manger on Haymarket to sip my usual tipple, rest my gym-tortured limbs and people-watch. It was a bumper crop. School’s out and the Easter break delivered bus-loads of bumpkins and charabancs of tourists to sup, shop and promenade along Norwich’s cobbled streets. Dutch lowlanders mingled with landed gentry and the children of the corn while Chinese happy snappers brought up the rear. As I gazed into the crowd, I spotted two middle aged men wandering past the crooning busker outside Top Shop. The pair sported the neo-clone whiskers that are all the rage right now. They were also holding hands so I guessed they were more than just good friends. My, how things have changed since the secret encounters of my wonderfully misspent youth.
Haymarket Down the Years
St Peter Mancroft
With thanks to the late George Plunkett and his marvellous photos of old Norwich.
With the weather finally on the up and blossom dripping from the trees, the citizens of Norwich were out in their droves doing what the Brits do best – shop and sup. Purses and plastic were loosened in a brave attempt to drag the economy out of the abyss. Technically, the economy is as flat as a witch’s tit, rather than triple dipping and the patient needs all the TLC it can get. Market stalls toppled out onto the pavement, till queues weaved round Primark, the M&S food hall heaved with Norfolk broads and we couldn’t find a table in Pret a Manger when we bagged a baguette.
We escaped the madding crowd by browsing the floor show in the Forum. Modern art isn’t everyone’s cup of char but Liam loved it. I left him to peruse the exhibits and ordered a couple of drinks at the bar. Cheers!