Coffee Shop Sermon (Sleepy Sunday World)
The morning after the night before is always an interesting people-watching day with some rare sights, interesting street 'art' and fascinating wildlife scavenging amongst the human detritus. Traditionally a day of rest, today's sleepy Sunday world sights highlight much more than good times and excess - let's have an unreasonable discussion...
My guts are rebelling against me, I have a bit of a sweat on, and it was definitely a double-spray of the air freshener in the downstairs toilet morning today. Yes, dear reader - I am suffering from last night's excess. I ate a macaroni cheese and onion rings with two... TWO... pints of soda and lime, for which my guts absolutely hate me. I love macaroni cheese but in the last two years, I have found that it's a bit like playing a particularly smelly game of roulette when eating anything to do with cheese. Certain pizza brands are to be avoided and now, apparently, also the ONLY veggie option at my local pub... I could have a baked potato, but the only filling option is, well, cheese. Helpfully listed as 'Cheese and Ham'. I feel attacked. Coming out the other side of cheese based stomach cramps with porcelain ripping, arse shredding, acidic brown-water jetting misery, I think my animal product ingestion is going to be limited to eggs from now on. Please, don't take eggs from me!
It's in this condition that I wobbled off for my walk last Sunday into the city centre, sun shining and my delicate butt behaving. My usual destination has supplied a lemon cake slice and chai latte that seem to have been welcomed by my stomach without any revolt, so I think I can relax (though not too much, if you know what I mean). In my slightly delicate state, I set out too early and ended up sitting, listening to a podcast in the hollowed out church, just down from the coffee shop, that serves as a seating area and occasional venue for various markets. It wasn't filled with empty beer cans, discarded takeaway or broken bottles as I initially, pessimistically expected. I sat on the other end of a bench from a care worker, wearing comfy shoes, uniform and backpack - a reminder that Sunday is not universally restful. The two other occupants a sad reminder that although my expectations of what a post-Saturday night city centre might look like, some things never seem to change.
The space is octagonal, keeping the walls and clock tower of the church that, for as long as I can remember, was nothing more than a glorified pigeon roost, constant potential 'falling masonry death' hazard and occasional newspaper story about developers with big ideas, fighting development battles before scattering like litter on the breeze. It's right in the city centre so, a prime development space, and the city council doesn't give away land like that, not if there is money to be made in the future- especially after being 'forced' to buy it (insert conspiracy theory about planning issues here). After decades of failed development and the increasing cost of stopping the building casually killing a passer-by with tired lintels, it was eventually hollowed out into a 'performance space' in a city of an under used concert hall, theatre, large parks and depressingly empty shops. Though there are some markets held in the space, it feels, perhaps cynically, like the B-listed building has been scraped back to the minimum viable product for potential future development. As I sat there last week, the two, hapless rough sleepers under the watchful eye of the 'tastefully' installed CCTV module and anti-pigeon spikes, incongruous against the lime mortar needed to keep the building within its 1807 character, were obviously performing an act from 'Societal Breakdown: The Musical'.
One man was sleeping, stretched out on the bench, jeans and puffer jacket, with the grubby tanned face of a life outside. The other, a few sides of the octagon away from the sleeper, sat facing the corner of the building, back to me, occasionally draining the contents of a can of something-or-other. Between drinks, his shoulders were hunched, staring at the floor as if in prison in this roofless, open windowed art destination. Eventually he stood and turned, pale-faced, to carefully put his rubbish in the bin and root around in it for something useful, removing an empty takeaway coffee cup and shaking out the dregs before leaving. As I sat there patiently waiting for the coffee shop that, judging by the branding colours, probably sold the cup to be discarded for the man to re-use, the irony was not lost on me and my relaxing Sunday was getting a little sadder by increments. Seeing that the other rough sleeper had left, sleeping man slowly got up and left - neither man paid the least attention to me nor the care-worker, completely failing to reinforce any middle-class perceptions of homeless people as violent wastrels. Perth has never been short of issues around homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, domestic violence and poverty. In the past it has always contained and hidden it well whilst looking down its nose at its rough, industrial neighbour, Dundee who was never as good or willing to hide its issues. Times are getting harder and meaner by increments in the UK and cities like Perth don't seem so adept at sweeping this issues under the carpet anymore.
Start-of-shift midwife soon departed, and I was left alone with the gentle, enquiring burble of Louis Theorux in my lugs and fifteen minutes to spare. The jarring presence of the spiked CCTV girder above the space was still annoying me - not from a privacy point of view, rather that it looked so comically awful - but my attention was soon rescued by an influx of wildlife. The usual sky-rats (pigeons) appeared with one sole crow, who walked in, rather than flying. It stopped briefly, turning its head fully side to side to regard me with both eyes individually. Reassured I wasn't going to make any sudden movements (or maybe it felt safewith spikey boi CCTV present?) it wandered in, bowing its head to slide its beak sideways along paving damp spots, grasping at tiny grains of detritus. It looked a little bedraggled and not the normal, confident, intelligent crow you would expect. It seemed to be almost apologising for its presence as it plodded about. There was a profusion of white feathers in its ruffled appearance that made it look old and doddery. I've since learned that this is in fact a condition called Leucism and caused by protein deficiency. Looked like the poor soul was losing the battle for street kebabs against the sky-rats and their more militant sky warriors, the gulls. I got up to leave and walked slowly behind the crow, as if giving a pensioner time to walk in front of me, as we both left the performance space.
When I was at school, thirty plus years ago, we used to always talk knowingly about how Sunday morning was the best time to go for a walk down town as drunks had invariably dropped money everywhere- you'd be rich by lunchtime!! It was notable that a street sweeper was already out doing the rounds, ruining whatever slim pickings might have been available to anyone looking for cash or cigarette butts - two sources already drastically diminished by vapes and contactless payment - and a further reminder that the 'day of rest' is a complete misnomer these days. Many things in society have changed since I was a kid, but some things are constant and ever present. There will always be people down on their luck. Those empowered to keep shared spaces functioning will always fret about what people do when they can't see them, replacing humans to intervene (police) with CCTV operators to monitor. The very ground available to fuel these aspects of society will always be controlled with profitability, rather than human happiness, as its core principle. Is the 'happiness' afforded to a rough sleeper as a place to sleep, a pre-shift care worker or wandering coffee-lounge addict to chill-out, or protein-deficient crow enough? Or could it be so much more?
Forget the pigeons, though - they , of course, don't deserve happiness.