Monday, 12 March 2012


Continuing with my birdwatching amongst the Costa Shop Regulars.......*

*I overhear the conversations because the tables are so close. I'm not spying.... honestly:

NAME: THE PROFESSOR             SPECIES: Academic male (early 60s at a guess)

SIGHTING: Occasional, (mostly Fridays)      CALL: A pot of tea

PLUMAGE: Completely corduroy with a hint of matching polo-neck jumper.  
                   Sensible shoes.

The roll-neck/jacket combination
It's all the rage
The Professor is about 6.4' and is as thin as a stick. He has a mop of long and wild gingery hair which gives him a very distinctive look and one that screams: “I am an academic, don't you know?”   If you can imagine a cross between Rod Hull (of Emu fame) and one of those old Open University Lecturers you used to see on the tv back in the 1970s, you are starting to get the picture. He always wears corduroy trousers (shudders – don't get me started on this personal pet hate) and a corduroy jacket which is invariably matched with a similar coloured polo-neck jumper. He certainly has a style of his own.

I remember the first time he arrived on our doorstep. He bounded up the stairs two at a time (we roost on the first floor of the bookshop) and marched over to inspect the complimentary newspapers. They obviously didn't tickle his fancy, for he loudly declared to the world that he was going across the road to to Beryl's Teashop because their drinks were cheaper and they provided a better calibre of newspapers.  Now granted, he does have a point about the newspapers - Costas only provide the Sun, The Express, The Daily Mail and the Bury Free Press – horses for courses I suppose, but Beryl's coffee is rubbish.

Available from all good bookstores
Well, of course, he came back. Then he came back with one of his friends. And then he came back with a different friend. And now he keeps coming back, although I think he still secretly visits Beryl just to keep himself up-to-date with the broadsheets. When he is alone he tends to read books from the shelves of the bookshop, although I have to say I've never actually seen him buy any. I noticed he was particularly interested in a couple of titles: ' The Victorian Fern Craze' and “The Victorian Home” and I can just imagine that is exactly what his own house looks like: Victoriana and ferns mingled with a mountain of reference books and cluttered pieces of paper.

What's this?  The Telegraph?
I'm off to Costas
However, it is when he is supping with a friend that he really comes alive; then the arms fly and the opinions flow. I think he belongs to another time, perhaps in an 18th Century Covent Garden coffee house, discussing the Enlightenment or how to cure all the social ills of the Universe. However, he doesn't get angry or irritated with the state of world affairs, in fact, he is often quite jovial about it all; he just seems to enjoy social comment and the flaying arms are only employed to emphasise a point. In just one sitting, I have heard him pontificate on the inner city poor, the Asian market and it's effects on the economy, the problems of the Middle East (yep, all of them), the merits (or otherwise) of Obama, Thatcher, Cameron, Osborne and Milliband and the location of the new toilets in the Shopping Centre. Yet, the really interesting thing – well, to me at any rate – is that although the Professor and his friend appear to be in the middle of an intellectual debate, neither one seems to be actually listening to the other.

For the Professor sees a problem and he has an answer to it - then the friend has an opinion and he states his case and so they end up taking turns to speak.  Each has a pre-ordained point of view or an opinion in their head and the only thing they are focussed on is to get that particular thought out into the open. Thus their “discussion” simply becomes more of a sequence of declarations:

Professor: Of course, the thing with the new toilets is they are miles away from anywhere - right out of the way, just behind Debenhams.

Friend: You wouldn't want to put them slap bang in the middle of the the open plaza area.....

Professor: And no signs! Well, not unless you are coming from the south side of the Centre and then you're practically on top of them anyway.

Friend: I see Milliband has piped up again. Totally ineffectual of course. Always thought his brother was the better option.

Let's forget all our differences
and have a cuppa
So, never mind Westminster, Capitol Hill or Zhongnanhai; the whole world can be put to rights over a pot of tea and right here in sleepy Bury St Edmunds. The tea has long been drunk whilst all this is going on, but there the Professor sits, for goodness knows how long, waving his long arms about like Mr Tickle and jabbing the table with his bony finger to emphasise his point of view. I notice he doesn't wear any rings.  Of course, this may mean squiddly-dot, but I don't get the impression he is romantically involved with anyone; he certainly never mentions any names. And I can't say I'm entirely surprised, as I for one would find it extremely hard to live with that much corduroy and opinions in a confined, Victorian fern-filled space.

Next Sighting: The Lesser-spotted visitors

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