Read the introduction to this series
Before we're out of the amenity rooms, I have to leave the hospital, as partners are asked to, on the first night. I'm not sure why this is – are we infectious? (Possibly.) Presumably it's to ensure rest all round. Anyway, as our first night together is actually in Delivery Room 1, with me sleeping in a chair at the side of the bed that Oliver and Celia lie on, I actually leave at 06.30 the morning after, walking out of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, feeling a warm ebb and flow of emotions and thoughts that I can't place, or describe.
Rather than head home and go straight to sleep, I feel I have to mark the occasion somehow. And given my 'episode', as the doctors called it, using that appropriately dramatic term, I should get something to eat. I should also skip down the road like Gene Kelly, but it's not raining. It's actually a lovely sunny morning. So I have a full English breakfast instead, having virtually floated to Café Deco on Store Street, just around the corner from our flat.
Café Deco looks like it should be just about the best Italian-run English caff in London, but it doesn't quite cut the mustard. I like the place, but despite itself. It closes too early, and though the food is good solid greasy spoon nosh, it's nothing special. It's a great spot, although the traffic of Gower Street needs to come down a notch. But nice and light, with lovely big windows shrouded by trees, and the tables outside are excellent places to watch the street perform. This particular morning I watch in amused horror as the 'chef' peels a pre-cooked, chilled, flattened fried egg from a clingfilm-wrapped plate covered in 7 or 8 such things, rubbery grey-white discs of albumen dotted with pale yellow, and adds that to the plate in the microwave, which has sausage, bacon and beans on it. That's not quite right. Still, with a hearty dollop of tomato ketchup, an uncharacteristic teaspoon of sugar in my tea, and on this morning, everything tastes fantastic.
I stop off next door at the newsagents beforehand, to buy 3 newspapers – again, trying to mark the day. They are of course the day after, so that doesn't really work. I also feeling like announcing to everyone in the café – about 4 workmen, also sitting outside, smoking and intently studying quite different publications to mine – that I'm a new dad, and looking forward to their hearty congratulations, men bonding over my new fatherhood. But instead I sit there, quietly eating my breakfast and glancing at the newspapers, not really taking them in, and I watch Store Street slowly wake up.
I love Store Street. It's between two hellish streets for traffic, but generally avoids any overflow. It has a row of independent shops and cafés on it, struggling valiantly against Britain's creeping homogenous high street chains. It's home to New London Architecture; Cedric Price had his offices around the corner; and the Imagination Building is a conversion by Archigram's Ron Herron.
There's a Korean supermarket which always has men sitting outside it, chatting all day, sometimes squatting on their haunches in the oriental fashion, other times propped on a pile of the Korea Times. Unlike the Anglo-Brits, these guys know how to use the street. Fopp was 20 paces away until a month ago; there's Busaba Eathai and a not-great pub; despite the late 20th century, there's an independently-run garage.
Allegedly, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the Vindication of the Rights of Women here in 1792; it's got good trees; and you can sit outside Café Deco, on the corner of it and quietly eat a full English breakfast having just seen your first child enter the world.
Some of my happiest personal moments have been alone in cafés in cities, in the rare moments when I've had time to just sit and enjoy it. I have numerous other happy memories with others, but the quiet solitude of sitting having a coffee in a café, with nothing to rush you, is such a delicious pleasure. I remember distinctly a coffee in a café by the Tate in Pimlico about 10 years ago; a series of flat whites at Urban Grind in Brisbane last year, and many others in-between, often when I'm on business in a city overseas and find myself in some non-time in the gaps between flights, meetings, conferences. It's a complete luxury of time and space – what Will Hutton and others call 'time sovereignty' and usually apply to working patterns. It is to be grasped firmly if the opportunity presents itself. And ironically, given everyone's knowing warnings about 'never having any more time ever again', Oliver's birth offers up such an opportunity.
Other pieces in this series:
A birth, in 13 places
1. Scan; Private clinic, Harley Street, Central London
2. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, UCLH, Huntley Street, Central London
3. Active Birth Centre, Tufnell Park, North London
4. Antenatal classes; 1A Roseberry Avenue, Central London
5. Bloomsbury Birthing Centre, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, UCLH, Huntley Street, Central London
6. Delivery Room 1, Labour Ward, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, UCLH, Huntley Street, Central London
7. A&E, UCLH Main Building, Gower Street, Central London
8. Amenity Room 6, Nixon Suite, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital (part of UCH), Huntley Street, Central London
9. Café Deco, Store Street, Central London
10. Transitional Care Unit, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital (UCLH), Huntley Street, Central London
11. Home, Gower Mews, Central London
12. Bloomsbury, Central London
13. Registry Office, Camden Town Hall, Central London
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