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Back Buzz - April 4, 2010

pumping heartThe Rude Shipyard, 89 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

I was curious to try the relatively new Rude Shipyard for two reasons. The first reason is the Internet presence it seems to have, with plenty of online forums about Sheffield and/or coffee featuring rave reviews of the place. The other reason, of course, is the intriguing name. I have to admit that among all the unusually named cafes I've reviewed -- Gee Whiz, Cry Baby, Be Bop A Latte -- the Rude Shipyard takes the cake.

The actual name of the cafe over the door reads: "In the Rude Shipyard beneath my window..." I like the fact that the name ends in an ellipse. Then again, I like the fact that writers like bell hooks and e.e. cummings feel no need to capitalise their names, and that Harry S Truman's middle name was actually "S". And look at me: do I spell my name JC Mitchell with no dots after my initials to distinguish myself from my father, who was often known as J.C. Mitchell? Not really; I do it because I like it that way.

As I discovered once inside the cafe, the ellipse is there for a reason, because the name is the first line of a poem:

"In the rude shipyard beneath my window
Books tumble from ear to elbow.
An amalgamation of script and scran,
A living room where money changes hands."

The cafe is appropriately named because it's a tiny bit of mess, a cosy nest of chaos. Although there is seating upstairs, we stayed downstairs in the main room where we squeezed ourselves into the only two available seats. Wriggled into the chairs like rats through a keyhole, we realised we'd given up our basic human rights to legroom, as the table in front of us was actually two antique sewing machine tables, complete with treadles. The other seating in the room, all occupied, consisted of a sofa and chair around a coffee table and a tiny two-chair table in the corner by the bookcases.

Besides a full coffee and tea menu there are lots of bottled cask ales as well as two handpumps. The cakes seem to be very popular but the snacks are a bit pricey, with a bite-sized samosa going for a quid. The chalkboard food menu was currently offering fish cakes (1 portion remaining), burritos (1 left), meatball sandwiches, and bagels with various spreads. I could definitely see Marmite and cream cheese, but Nutella seems a bit sweet for a bagel. I suppose that's my Los Angeles Jewish deli upbringing showing.

Our double macchiatos were served in large green cups I could picture in the kitchen of my more Bohemian relatives. The macchiatos were nicely made and the coffee tasted even, clean, and round, although it was a bit too smooth for our tastes, more like a comfy plush round cushion than a punt down the River Robust.

As it was Valentine's weekend the man sharing our crush of a table was reading The Anti-Valentine Anthology, and on the table was a schedule for the weekend-long Anti Valentine's Festival featuring bands, poetry, cabaret, and magic. It sounded like a fun event, albeit a probably very cramped and crowded event. I pictured something like the more popular live gigs I used to go to at the tiny Al's Bar in downtown Los Angeles, where if you found a bit of cool brick wall to be smashed against you could count yourself lucky. If those sewing machine tables were regular tables instead and offered a bit of legroom, the cafe would make a lot more sense as a live venue. But then a lot of things in this world don't really make sense.

Speaking of not making sense reminds me of a recent e-mail conversation with a workmate about the numbering logic of our respective university libraries:

Even though Level 5 of the campus library in which I work is full of books to be shelved, my commanding officer has sent me down to Level 3 where there is absolutely nothing to do and the Level 3 monitor is quite bored. Ah, well, at least I can get some rest, and perhaps we'll play a game of chess... There's a sign been put up by the newspapers in the campus library in which I work that says something like "Back Issues are kept in the Stack on Level One". Level One? The information boards also use this nomenclature, albeit in tiny writing: ground floor of your library is Level One, first floor is Level Two. It's very odd; the reason why the ground floor is labelled Level One is that it is at first floor level in your campus; there's a Level 0 in other places and the adjacent building starts at Level Two. The clue is to be found in the room designations: rooms on Level One in your Library are numbered 61..., Level Two 62..., etc. But some poor, confused child somewhere in the university, desperate to homogenise the Libraries, made a misunderstanding and ordered the signs wrong for my Library. So C101 is on Level Two and C001 on Level One. Fair enough, someone made a mistake; it's easily done. But now somebody else is perpetuating this error, and it bothers me. It bothers me that someone is trying to make a consistency which is not actually consistent.

Of course, in some far-flung and obscure parts of the world I believe that it is conventional to designate the ground level floor as One. But that just adds an extra level of confusion to things. The Stack in the lowest bowels of my Library is indeed Level 1. It's at some form of ground level, I believe, because one can hear the buses at the nearby interchange growling loudly. But then Level 6 is ground level in relation to the road on the other side. I'm surprised my Library hasn't toppled over yet, obviously as it resides on such an incline. (If I could remember my trigonometry and I knew the largest floor size of the Library and the height of each level, I could jot out a diagram and figure out what the angle is. Hmmm. I'd much rather do that than tidy the Law Books.)

The house in which I lived in Seattle was on a hillside, and although we lived on the bottom floor (there was a floor above and a basement below), we were both at street level (on the north side of the house) and one story up (on the south side of the house) because of the hill. So it gave us a nice feeling of living upstairs in some of the rooms, even though other rooms were downstairs -- like having stairs without having to take them. To confuse matters, I'm sure you know that in the US the ground floor is the "First Floor" whereas the first floor is the "Second Floor". And a basement or cellar is a basement or cellar. Basically there is no such thing as a "Ground Floor". Those crazy Americans -- go figure.

My Library has a room-numbering fact that reaches the stupidity of your Library. It has to do with a couple of the rooms on Level 5 that no one can ever find. It took us a while to figure out that these nonexistent rooms do in fact exist, but we have to direct the students back down to Level 4, across the way past the reception desk and into the Level 4 Extension cafe, and up the stairs to the Level 5 Extension. Why can't they number the rooms something like 6515-X, so people will know they're in the Extensions and they won't have to always be late for their meetings while stumbling around the Art or Business section?

I tell you, this world...but then that's why I do my blog.