Heading back up North after a gig in the lovely historic city of Bath, Mrs M and I called in at Tamworth Services for a caffeine and comfort break.
I did what I always do and nipped into the gents, walked to the furthest urinal, commenced a peepee as quickly as I could before somebody stood too close, which would mean I could only get started by taking my mind off actually starting….”two times 86½’s are 173….3 times 86½’s are…..” (do all blokes do that or is it just me?). Of course when I do get going I look up and realise there’s an mini advertising board in my eye-line….they put these over every individual urinal these days and I can only assume the marketing is never directed at middle-aged blokes who need reading glasses? I’m guessing, it may be, but I wouldn’t know as I’ve never managed to read one…
I zipped up, and marched to the sink. My heart sank: There was a sign above the hot tap that read: ‘CAUTION HOT WATER. Is this what the human race has come to? Is this where we now are in the cosmic pecking order? That we need to be reminded that hot water flows from the hot tap?
I’ll be honest, sometimes I could just pour myself a glass of full bodied red and weep.
Anyway, the next big decision – join the queue at Costa or walk straight up to the Eat and Drink Company (EDC) counter and get served with the same stuff straight away?….No brainer – stand in the Costa queue! I’ve had 20 years of being a cop I know how to form suspicion, there’s got to be a reason for their ‘no queue with cheaper prices’ scenario. I’m not falling for that old chestnut, do you think I’m daft? Do you think I was born yesterday Mr EDC?
So my wife kindly appreciated that I’d tired myself out a little providing a very polished, but somewhat continuous, police pursuit-style commentary on how everybody else’s driving fell well below the required standard (especially the baldy bloke doing 49 miles per hour in the offside lane of the restricted 50mph section of the M5 and not pulling over when I was behind him), and she insisted on waiting in the Costa queue whilst I recuperated.
I found a nice seat and now, time to relax…but then I saw him. The Costa employee. The one in the chocolate brown shirt with large letters across the back announcing ‘Barista’, and directly under this in symmetrical equispaced letters the word ‘Maestro’. This was no ordinary barista….this was the ‘Barista Maestro’!
I decided to Google the definition of the word ‘maestro’ on my phone. There was a slight delay as there was no signal for the good customers of Tamworth Services. Not without first joining the ‘Moto’ free internet service club. Once, that is, you’d provided various personal information they’d got no right to ask. Do you think they deliberately block perfectly serviceable common network Wi-Fi signals in order to force you into signing up and divulging your email address? (Take that for a conspiracy theory…I know how to form suspicion!)
Anyhow, the wait was not an issue as the service was so slow my Mrs had only moved up two places in the Costa queue before I’d become a member of the Moto Wi-Fi club. It’s difficult to describe how that feels: You know like the Marines are always marines, they’re family, brothers-in-arms who would die for each other and never leave another marine behind? Well it was nothing like that I just wanted a fucking signal to Google ‘maestro’!
Finally Google appeared and my dubiety was confirmed as unfounded. A ‘maestro’ is defined as a master, a teacher, eminent leader, doyen, authority, and yes…..virtuoso!
Fair enough then if you can’t trust the integrity of Google, who can you trust?
My trained eyes surveyed the Barista Maestro. Not to critique. I wasn’t looking for faults. Good cops have open minds. He was aged about 20 years, tall, slim, with hair to spare. He looked too young to be a Barista Maestro.
We’ve started a very controversial direct entry scheme into the police where civilians can now join as an Inspector, and in some cases, even Superintendent rank, but no one is drafted straight in at ‘Maestro’ level.
In the police we’re trained to scan people top down, which finished on a disappointing note as I have to apprise that the Maestro had unpolished shoes. Not just unpolished but dirty. Not just unpolished and dirty but significantly scuffed. But who am I to judge? This was the Barista Maestro. Perhaps he was making a statement, maybe an ironic, surreal, socio-political statement about austerity and poverty. Perhaps a strong ‘what you see is what you get’ message of ‘earthy honesty’, not like them ‘loners’ at Eat and Drink Company – they may have squeaky clean shoes but if there is no one around to hear them then did they ever squeak at all? (Probably works better with trees that one).
It required no more philosophical ponderings. Any further contemplation was futile, this was the Maestro and the Maestro had his reasons, which was reason enough.
My wife joined me with a welcome medium soya latte, a medium hot chocolate and a slice of lemon drizzle cake.
“£9.20p”, she tutted!
I tried to guesstimate the cost of each item but quickly gave up as it wasn’t divisible by 86½. Anyway if I’m totally honest I’ve always been childish and I was distracted by the thought that ‘lemon drizzle’ sounds like an embarrassing symptom a middle-aged person displays from experiencing a risqué sex life whilst desperately grasping onto the last throes of Funtown before the love boat has sailed forever.
My wife quickly scanned the room from our dirty Costa cup-covered-table vantage point and made me aware of the rather obese, ginger-haired bloke, sat on the other side of the aisle. He looked very much like the American stand-up genius, Louis CK. Unfortunately this Louis CK version had found cholesterol before comedy, although it looked like he was still going for his chosen passion with 100% enthusiasm to be the best (or in this case the biggest) that he could be.
My wife informed me that the fat CK had just eaten his own generous portion of sandwiches and sausage roll, then finished off his wife’s, and now was checking the children’s left-overs for any discarded calories. I looked over. I did not judge him, after all I myself was born with the ‘greedy’ gene and know how to trough. Although I will say this, and believe me when I say it in a non-judgemental way, that this is the saddest thing I’ve ever written. I glanced over at his two small children, and the look in their eyes as they stared at their father, was not one of adoration and awe but rather of a despondent, “you’ll never see me grow up”. Kids are smarter than you think aren’t they?
It was then that my wife spotted him….the Maestro.
“See him over there?”
“Who?” I enquired.
Then she did that swivelly-eyed, noddy-head thing she does when she thinks she’s being subtle.
“Him with the scuffed shoes”, she explained, “Look how slowly he’s moving”.
I looked and saw the Barista Maestro had a two tiered trolley tray on wheels, onto which he gathered up dirty cups and plates. I have lived a full life but I’ve never seen anyone clear up dirty pots so slowly. He was stopping the trolley 5 feet short of the target table. Slowly walking over and picking up one plate, cup or napkin before walking 5 feet back to the trolley, loading up the solitary item, and then repeating the process.
I was shocked, the Maestro was moving in ultra-slow motion, almost defying the laws of gravity. Slower than an extra on a zombie B movie that was sacked for over-acting. Slower than the Chief Officer put in charge of tracking down the missing Westminster paedophile dossier, handed to Leon Britton in 1984 for safe keeping. Slower than the dead-behind-the-eyes-gum-chewing barista (non-Maestro) assistant working the till completely unflapped by the Costa Conga queue now snaking around Moto town and nearly into the car park.
I was starting to doubt the Barista Maestro. Surely virtuosos don’t move like they haven’t got a rush in them? I began a bout of synchronised tutting with my wife. Perhaps we’re getting old and grumpy, perhaps we’ve reached that age. Perhaps we’re Institutionalised Persistent Complainers….or perhaps some of the baristas of Tamworth Moto Services, up to and including Maestro level, are switched-off, sloth-like, uniform carriers who are the very reason for the ‘CAUTION HOT WATER’ warning above the hot taps.
Anyway, what I think I’ve been trying to say is if you go to Tamworth Services and there’s a queue at Costa then you might want to give the Eat and Drink Company a try.