I like a good café, don't get me wrong. But I can walk past a café, indeed café after café after café after café, without ever feeling the urge to go inside.
A lot of people are strangely drawn to cafés, for a drink, for food, for a natter, for company. A whole range of cafés exist to cater for their tastes, from coffeehouses and greasy spoons to plush diners and upmarket patisserie emporia. A shopping parade isn't complete without a café, nor is a museum a going concern. But open as many cafés as you like, in as many convenient or far-flung locations as you dare, and I will not be drawn to pop inside.
I don't get as thirsty as a lot of people do, this is well documented. I know friends who can't go more than a couple of hours without a drink, so swiftly reach a point where whatever we're doing has to pause so that they can go and buy a beverage from somewhere. These are the needy souls who keep cafés afloat, and Starbucks and bottled water companies to boot, because their bodyclock is hardwired to seek the nearest liquid-dispensing outlet whenever an internal signal triggers. I do not recognise this behaviour pattern in myself, nor anything close.
I don't get as hungry as many people do either. You may get to the middle of the day when you're out and crave something warm inside you, but I can take it or leave it, so I generally leave it. I don't need a jacket potato with sidesalad, or bread artisanally sliced with avocado smeared on top, or a nine quid burger with chips. If I've remembered to put a packet of crisps in my pocket or a Kitkat in my rucksack, that'll tide me over fine. I can eat later, I have plenty of stuff in the fridge at home, so why outsource my evening meal to lunchtime?
I never walk round a tourist attraction and afterwards think, you know what would make this visit complete - a trip to the café. I see this room set aside for consumption, and think fine, you lot sit there if you want to, but I have other places to be. If I'm far from home then why would I waste valuable hours in a part of the country I may never see again slouched over a table with a food I could get anywhere? And if I'm nearer home, well, I keep my fridge stocked for a reason, so I might as well hold out for a bit and feast when I get back.
I do, obviously, go to cafés sometimes, but only at someone else's behest. I was in one on Wednesday with BestMate after a nice walk round the Walthamstow Wetlands. Had I been visiting by myself I'd have headed home, but instead we hung around and chatted more over a cuppa. We didn't buy any cake because it was overpriced, the waiting staff didn't seem to have a clue what they were doing, and the tea when it finally arrived was horribly stewed and the bitterest brew I've had to endure all year. When this grim fiasco is a potential café outcome, why would I risk trying it alone?
I see the markup on a café's food and drink and cringe. I know one slice of that sponge can't be worth £3.75, else the entire cake would've cost you £60. I know I could buy a six-pack of Tunnocks in a supermarket for a quid, whereas you're attempting to charge me more than that for one. I know the cost of a teabag and a drop of milk, and it isn't even a hundredth of what you're charging. Yes, I'm very much aware that in a café I'm paying for the staff and their time, and the electricity and the heating and the rent that keeps the whole place ticking over. But five quid for tea and a flapjack is risible, compared to how cheaply I could consume the same at home.
I can generally make a better cup of tea than a café can too. The water from my kettle's proper boiling, whereas theirs may just be recently-hot. More importantly, I have facilities in my kitchen for removing the teabag after it's been in the mug for the requisite amount of time, whereas scooping the bag out from a cup with a stirrer can be difficult, and preventing the leaves inside a teapot from over-stewing isn't generally feasible. I recognise that coffee is an entirely different proposition, and that a professional barista can rustle up a better drink, but with tea it's almost always the opposite, and homebrew is invariably the better way to go.
I also recognise that there are several snacks that cafés can turn out far better than I could ever manage. Nothing beats a café fry-up, with the bacon browned just right and a dollop of mushrooms floating near the beans. I can't bake to save my life, so a lemon sponge oozing moistness on a doily is always going to be better than the artificial stodge in a supermarket alternative. For a just-cooked lasagne or a plated roast, a lamentable chef like myself always needs to look elsewhere for tasty expertise. But if that's the case, there has to be a deeper reason to why I don't go to cafés, more than just the quality of the tea.
A lot of people go to cafés to be sociable. They're ideal places to meet friends or family, especially during the day before the bar scene fires up. For the price of a hot drink (and maybe a treat) everyone can sit together and enjoy some quality time, mulling over the news or what's been happening in your lives in comfort, without the pressure of being imminently moved on. A café rendezvous beats everyone trooping round to someone else's house, which might or might not be in a fit state for a group visit, or a lengthier sojourn in an expensive restaurant. Cafés still perform a vital role in keeping communities coherent... it's just that I never feel the need to join in.
I do not have a life-partner to go to a café with. A lot of couples need things to do to fill the hours they're supposed to spend together, and heading to a café, bar or restaurant often fills that requirement. A trip round the shops may end in a café, a walk round the park may end in a café, a snatched hour while grandma babysits may end in a café. I don't need to fill my time in a café because I have no partner to need to fill it with. Indeed today is the eighteenth anniversary of me exiting my most recent relationship, which is why I thought I'd write a post about cafés today rather than repeat that list about being single I churn out on November 3rd most years.
A lot of single people go to cafés because they need to be sociable. Rather than sitting around at home alone they head out to a café simply to be with others, as a kind of validation of their existence. There's bound to be someone else in the café to chat to, even if it's only the staff behind the counter, or some random lady at a neighbouring table. For many single people the important thing is being in some kind of physical company even if they don't directly engage with it. A coffee and a chocolate brownie, the newspaper spread out and/or some networking on their laptop, and that's half an hour they'll enjoy far more than the loneliness of housebound solitude.
I do not feel the need to go to a café to be sociable. I do not feel the need to be sociable, full stop, it's just the way I am. I can go days without seeing friends or family, even a single acquaintance, without suffering any ill effects. Don't tell me I can't, that a week without personal contact must be damaging to my mental well-being, because it isn't. I am a well-adjusted introvert who can navigate his life without seeking comfort in company, which makes me both surprisingly resilient and a bit dull. It also keeps me out of cafés.
I am not a curmudgeon, a grump or a refusenik. I'll go if you're going, if we're out and the opportunity arises, and if it's what you want to do. I just don't see the need for solo café-ing, nor will I be the one who drags you inside.