Silent night

The cactus on the tables, the chatter in Campanese dialect, the fresh nutty toasted smell of an espresso.

Living the dolce vita in a neighbourhood square in Campania…Except I was in West Norwood, or “West Nowhere” as our West Dulwichians would joke. The cafe I walked into was spilling out into the main road, and it was just after Christmas, walking under a grey sizzling downpour.

As I walked in, I found a spot by the coffee machine, ideally positioned at a vantage point to look around the cafe, like the theatre director at the edge of the stage.

The barisa came over and said “flat white” and I replied embarassingly “decaf”. “Of course”, he replied. He knew he definitely wasn’t in his home town in Sardinia.

As I looked around the cafe, trying to see what was on the menu, an Irish man walked in, in his 40s and sat down a few metres away from me and sit opposite a man I couldn’t quite make out.

I was curious, a cafe owner, catching up with an elderly man. It didn’t seem like his dad or relative. It could have been his neighbour, maybe they had met at Dulwich Hamlet FC’s stadium, the local football club, or maybe they were just regulars at the cafe that I hadn’t noticed before.

The elderly man looked up from his slumber and came to life. “It’s busy in here isn’t it”. “Do you fancy sharing a soup, it’s a rebollita I think?”

“How was Christmas?” the elderly man asked inquisitively. Andy, the Irish middle aged man talked about the trips around the country he had to make with his children to see his parents and in-laws.

“I feel exhausted”

“How was yours?”

Jim didn’t reply. The room seemed to fall into a silence even though it was very noisy.

“You’re the first person I’ve spoken to since I went to the food back before Christmas”.

Suddenly my public service mind switched on and I thought:

  • How is it that someone can be invisible and lonely in plain sight?
  • What is it about the cafe that brings together locals to help each other out?
  • What is it that the cafe owner can spot this person in a cafe that’s so busy?




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese

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Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese

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