Monday, May 13, 2013

In Memoriam: the St. Giles' Café, Oxford

I woke up this morning, like all mornings, feeling sundered from the Divine and dragged back to squalid earth. This was made worse though, by a text from my good friend, Tom. Tom informs me that my old breakfast greasy spoon in Oxford, the St. Giles' Café ('Café' was a real misnomer) is now under new management, no longer does bacon and chips, and offers an 'earthy breakfast' and 'asparagus with home-cured pancetta'. The diner seats are gone, replaced with wooden tables and chairs. There are now placemats with quotations from Martial. In short: it has been captured by hippies. 

I don't have separate memories of my many meals at this institution. Instead, they are all congealed (like the bacon fat in my arteries) into a single ur-Memory, the proto-St. Giles' Café experience. It runs like this: a night of excess with one or two or three too many pints of ciders; waking up at eleven in the morning; struggling to find the floor; walking down the boulevard of St. Giles filled with regrets and hope, wishing my head was more well-supported, somehow; meeting up with Tom, who has just had a tute in American history at St. Anne's; and finally, with the sign of the Eagle and Child just visible, with the sun on my face, filtered by the leaves of the huge London planetrees, we enter this hallowed hall. There are red diner seats, metal tables and a single alley leads up to the counter. (The walls, for reasons I've never figured out, were absolutely covered with framed black-and-white photos of Oxford scenes, as if the place wanted to make satirical genuflection to Oxford.)  Service, if one wishes to dignify it with that name, is brusque. Tom gets a coke. I get a cup of tea. We both order a variant of chips and bacon. They give us our tickets, with a number on them. We then pick a seat, usually nearest the door, in the hope of avoiding leaving the place smelling as if we'd just fornicated with a deep-fat fryer. (There was also the chance of some light.) Waiting. Conversation made half-hearted by anticipation. And then our number is called out. 

Thereafter, bliss. Very little talk as we exhaust the possible combinations of egg, bacon, chips, brown sauce and ketchup. (I only got the sausages once: they were horrid.) The bacon was the star: thickly cut to give some bite, but fried expertly to a crisp. Sipping my cup of black tea, my delicate state giving way to contentment, I feel a complete serenity, as if I were one of the stones of nearby John's, ancient and unchallenged. 

So the barbarians have come. Have fun, you hippies. I hope your allotment catches fire. 

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