Most of my readers will never ever step foot in one, more’s the pity.
There are only seven in total, five in Huddersfield, one in Halifax and the other one is to be found in our little town. In these parts they are the most widely used coffee shops around and used by all manner of customers as a meeting place and for lot’s of different reasons. To rest one’s weary feet, a place to get warm out of the way of the biting cold, a place to catch up on gossip or the latest episodes of a favourite soap, a place to rest a while and perhaps read a novel or newspaper, a place to do some business or as I often find myself doing of late, simply to sit and wile away the time waiting for K to finish her Yoga class.
You can read all about their founder and origins here and also get a feel for what makes them so special and such a favourite meeting place for both young and old, rich or poor here . We had arranged to meet up with my youngest son’s girlfriend and Merrie England was as always the chosen venue. Their Cappuccino coffee is second to none in my estimation and K swears by their hot chocolate. As we waited sat on our wooden seat, I couldn’t help but notice four or five ladies gathered round a table across from where we were sat and who were obviously friends who met up regularly for a coffee and a natter about this and that.
I began to realise that its one thing I never do and haven’t enjoyed doing since my teen years. Meet up with a ‘gang’ of friends either as a prelude to going elsewhere or just for a coffee and a gossip or natter. In a natural progression from that thought, memories came flooding back to me of ‘Bills’ coffee bar where anyone who was between the ages of sixteen to twenty five or so used to hang out, congregate, meet up, listen to music, play slot machines, drink endless amounts of Coca Cola and more importantly, meet the opposite sex. It was usually in Bills where first dates were made, either through a friend or directly and where many a love story and happy marriage began. It was the only place we had. All the other meeting places in our small town in those days were public houses, I don’t remember any other coffee bars except Bills. Or perhaps I just never ever noticed their existence.
It was handily placed just as you lighted from the bus. You couldn’t miss it. The jukebox was placed right at the back next to the entrance to the other room, which I seem to remember was always dingily lit and housed the slot and pinball machines that most of the guys used to play. The entire coffee shop wasn’t very big in size, and on a Saturday most of us used to have to stand, either propping up the counter or just stood about willy-nilly in groups. Bill himself used to work behind the counter with his younger assistant Tony. He must have made a fortune in that place. It was all we had. Every teenager in the town used it which explains how we all know each other so well even now, all these years later. Bills has been long gone. I can’t remember its demise to be honest with you or what year it occurred but it’s now a locksmiths shop.
As the group of ladies laughed and joked and swopped conversation with each other, I couldn’t help but feel sad. I used to love those days in my youth. The conversations then were about the latest boyfriend or an outfit just bought. Or often work as most of my friends in those days were also my workmates. Gossip about who fancies who or the latest record by the Ronettes, the Beatles or the Supremes. Today its usually about the latest TV soap or reality show, or what the grandchildren are up to.
Eventually my nostalgic trip back in time was interrupted by the arrival of my son’s girlfriend and I was brought sharply back to the here and now. Thank goodness we still have coffee shops to meet up and gossip in! Long live Merrie England!