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Back Buzz - February 27, 2010

pumping heartAndrews Café Tea Rooms, 32-34 Chapel Walk, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

As an avid walker who considers myself part cat, part dog, and part mountain goat, I enjoy a good exploratory wander around a city taking in all the sounds and smells (a canine attribute), climbing any stairways or bell towers to get to the top (definitely caprine), and disappearing down intriguing narrow alleyways and pedestrian lanes (unquestionably feline). In central Sheffield, just off the pedestrian shopping area of Fargate, is one of those intriguing alleyways, Chapel Walk, named after the chapel John Wesley opened in 1780 which was on the site of the current Victorian Hall.

On my homeward route through town I often take in Chapel Walk, specifically so I can enter a courtyard and pop through Mark & Spencer's back door where I can buy a Guardian in the Food Court. A few months ago I became intrigued by a slightly posh-looking coffee cafe nestled in this quiet courtyard. Recently I had the chance to give it a try.

I entered Andrew's Café Tea Rooms through the courtyard door to the rear and sat at a table by the front door that opens directly onto Chapel Walk. Appropriately dressed waiters and waitresses with warm and friendly demeanours seated me, took my order, and served me. The cafe offers espresso drinks, tea, breakfast, sandwiches ("served in traditional quarters", eg. cut into triangles), soup, salads, ploughman's lunches, and various specials. The impressive menu, however, is the one for their Full Afternoon Tea -- which, for the benefit of any non-English readers, means sandwiches (cut into triangles, of course), scones with clotted cream and jam, and a pot of tea. And what a civilised place this is, as they even offer a glass of wine with your tea if you like.

As I suspected, the menu is a bit pricey. My double macchiato was £2.00, the same price as a regular cappuccino. But it was elegantly and properly served, with a lovely crema ring around the milk foam and in a perfectly sized and shaped white cup with demitasse spoon and a caramelised biscuit. My macchiato, although physically lovely, was satisfactory but a bit acrid, pleasantly strong but with not enough character. I suppose the cafe's emphasis would be on their teas which include Assam, Darjeeling, and of course Earl Grey.

As I sipped my macchiato I noticed behind me on the wall were posters advertising plays at the nearby Lyceum and Crucible Theatres, as well as cafe reviews and a magazine rack with Portfolio and a few children's books. Browsing through this library of information I learned that owners Andrew Whewell and Jane Weger offer full service to "Marks & Spencer Clientele", as Andrew once worked for M&S. This probably explains why the clientele is mostly older, with just a scattering of what the older customers would probably consider "youngsters".

When I finished my coffee I received l'addition in a silver tray. Did this mean I should leave a tip? Seeing as how a waitress seated me and took my order and a waiter served me, I thought I definitely should. It was a good thing I had some extra change, as I'm usually running around with only enough cash to buy my daily newspaper. And it made me feel like I had just had a proper restaurant experience, even though I'd only had a coffee.

Speaking of pleasantly traditional experiences reminds me of a recent e-mail conversation with a workmate about very non-traditional experiences:

I spotted you walking up the street the other morning as I passed by on a bus. I was sitting with my head pressed against the window, trying to forget about the fact that I was looking very forward to getting off the sparsely populated bus. This was because when I had boarded and gone back to my favourite facing-each-other seats, I noticed somebody had scraped what looked suspiciously like dog poop all over the rear-facing seats. As I watched you walk by, oblivious to my gaze downward from the window, I started to realise that the aroma was wafting my way... Ah yes, I remember that bus. I was trying to cross the street but that bus was coming, so I made a last minute decision (as often I do, being an impatient sort) to go up that street rather than round the other way. Actually, at that point I had not reached this decision. It was only after several more vehicles that I had walked too far up the street to feel it appropriate to walk back down. Ideally, I'd've taken a diagonal route directly to my destination but for the barracks in the way. I am glad you got to see my handsome newly shaved chin in all its splendour, though fear the ramifications of the association of my naked jawline with the scent of canine faeces. Perhaps, when you turned up that street, you had a subconscious inclination to pass by the building where I would have still now been working on an exciting research project for the other university and enthusiastically making much more money than I am now. if only I had won that contract.

But, as the Butterfly Effect proves, I would have ultimately missed out on the dog-poop-on-the-bus incident. One must not necessarily rule out the consistency of the dogpoop-on-the-bus incident in both "universes". Even if it were a different dog, a different foot, a different bus and a different distribution of facial hair, events may well have colluded to place you in an essentially similar set of circumstances. Indeed, it is not beyond the realms of tenuously possible possibility that it was such a congruency of situations that caused this evident awareness we have of the two universes simultaneously existing for a brief moment and casually advising my decision-making process.

Perhaps, at such a point, one might be able to cross into the alternate universe. I'll let you work out how. I hate to think of the possibility of dogpoop, bus, and facial hair randomly intersecting in, say, the 10-dimensional universe suggested by string theory. Obviously dogpoop with facial hair is even more disgusting than dogpoop, and a bus with facial hair would be even scarier than a bus driven by a homicidal driver. On the other hand, a dog on the bus is always quite pleasant -- although I don't think I would trust a dog to drive the bus.