Cold, Cross Bun
I actually really rather like the Lovely Husband. A lot. Every day, in every way. He’s wonderfully intelligent, has great values, is gentle, kind, thoughtful, generous in spirit and pocket, very funny, and goodlooking too. He’s great company, my best friend, and I consider myself an extremely lucky woman. Still, being an only child and a bit of a crotchety old bag with Meldroid tendencies, I occasionally value my own company. For me, it’s absolutely essential to take some time out to reflect; spending time alone is my way of meditating and ordering my thoughts.
Now that spring has sprung, Barnes Village is a lovely place to be for just such moment. The cherry blossom is frilling the trees, the daffodils all around the duck pond merrily promise sunnier days, and the pleasure craft on the river make for a picture book scene. What a perfect environment to seek out one of the many little cafes and just let the world go by.
Gail’s burst onto the London café scene in 2005. Initially conceived as a bread bakery by an Israeli and an American whose first outlet was in Hampstead, it has spread throughout the metropolis, selling a variety bread, sandwiches and cakes to eat in or take away. Open from early in the morning until early evening, it has become a super popular destination for yummy mummies in all of its 36 locations.
The Gail’s in Barnes, on a prime corner plot just opposite the pond, is no exception. It’s always packed with locals, mostly young families, buggies, high chairs and coats spilling over the backs of chairs. There’s a doggie parking station outside where furry best friends are given bowls of water. A proper community hub, it’s great for people watching, and the smell of the freshly baked bread and cakes is certainly very enticing, but all this popularity also has its drawbacks.
For a start, when you are by yourself, it’s always tricky to bag a table when you also have to queue at the counter to place an order, since you can’t be in two places at once. I rummage in my handbag to find some items I can put on the table to signal that it’s occupied, my sun glasses and my little cosmetics bag should do the trick. The sun glasses are quite nice ones, so I furtively keep glancing over my shoulder to make sure that no one makes off with them them as I queue. And queue…. And queue some more. There are only three people in front of me but it’s taking forever. At least it gives me time to peruse the display. What shall I eat? One of those tiny prettily iced honey cakes? A muffin? A scone? Maybe a slice of banana cake? I settle for a hot cross bun. It is that time of year after all.
A good five to ten minutes later, the other people’s considerations and purchases completed, it’s finally my turn. Yes please, toasted please and with butter please, and a lemon and ginger tea too please. I pay and give my table number and then zig zag my way back, barely avoiding a collection of toddlers underfoot, to get to my window seat.
I sit there and survey the Gail’s kingdom around me. The bench in the window where I perch is not particularly comfortable, in fact, my neighbour and I have to indulge in a bit of apologetic handbag shuffling to arrange ourselves, but it looks a darn sight better than the wooden chairs and milk maid stools elsewhere. Gail’s are clearly trying to project a wholesome country kitchen image, with distressed enamel mugs containing sugar sachets on the scrubbed pine tables, oversized basket lampshades and tiled floors. The wrap around floor to ceiling windows let in plenty of daylight, which is, of course, nice in many ways, especially on a bright spring day, but it also highlights a general sense of messiness and disarray, and with the entrance door being permanently open, there’s also a slight draught, so it’s not exactly cosy in here.
I twiddle my thumbs, waiting for my order to arrive while watching the frazzled staff rushing around with heavily laden trays, deftly sidestepping small wriggly humans and other obstacles scattered across the floor. Ten minutes later, I’m still twiddling my thumbs, eagerly awaiting my teatime treat. What a good opportunity to visit the bathroom, I think. Once again, I perform territorial boundary displays by leaving half the contents of my bag on the table and shimmy my way towards the one and only loo, which happens to be in the narrowest part of the establishment. Drat, there’s a queue of two ahead of me, hopping from one foot on to the other. It’s definitely all about queuing here at Gail’s. I remind myself that patience is a virtue and laboriously reconstruct my resting bitch face into a beatific smile.
When I return to my table there is still no sign of that hot cross bun. Heavens above, I’ve been here a full 20 minutes, I’ve paid for it, I’ve queued twice, I’ve shuffled and shimmied, I’ve even smiled, surely I deserve my reward???!!! Gone is every notion of meditation and thought ordering. I feel the screaming heebeejeebies coming on and start giving the waiter threatening stares. If they don’t bring me my bun right now, I’m going to start throwing the sugar sachets. They’ve been warned and, yes, they’ve clearly got my message telepathically, here comes my tray of goodies.
I get a whole little red teapot of lemon and ginger tea all to myself, at least four or five cups full, which is appeasing, and the bun looks gorgeous, all sticky and full of plump raisins. Yay! This is my moment! Except that it is so lightly, so barely toasted that there’s zero crunchiness and, disaster, the butter is so cold and hard that it won’t melt into the dough in that sinful, moist and deliciously buttery way it’s supposed to. My heart sinks, I feel disappointed, dejected, deprived of my little pleasures.
Head hanging, bitch face back on, I retrieve my various belongings, and stomp out. I have just wasted one precious hour of my time, around £4.50 AND injested a humdinger load of calories. And all for what exactly?? I’m not fizzing with life and I’m not a happy Easter Bunny. Ah, but then I see that sea of jolly daffodils winking at me and I’ve got to laugh at myself. Having been served an undertoasted bun is hardly going to go down in my personal book of records as a majorly traumatic experience. In a jiffy, I have my equilibrium back.
The moral of the story is this: Don’t go to Gail’s in Barnes if you’re in a rush, hungry, hate queuing, like personal attention, are a fusspot, need the bathroom, appreciate comfort, enjoy tranquility or are childless. For everyone else, it’s ideal.
What I wore
Electric blue oversized cashmere Marks & Spencer jumper, blue/white graphic design Top Shop skinny jeans, mid blue French Sole ballerinas with silver trim, pink Marc Jacobs clutch bag.
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