An interesting gentleman joined Jeff and I for dinner last night. (My definition: Dinner is when you sit at a table and you have more than one course. Tea is the usual main evening meal when you eat it sitting in front of the television in your comfy chair.) As we wanted the chap to think we have as much couth as he does, we had dinner. Over the course of the meal the conversation ranged over a number of topics: literature, philosophy, getting older, childhood memories, dogs, the problem with noise and the lack of silence in today’s world, the stress of modern living and where you can get good coffee.

The Old Boy first met this gentleman in his second office: the cafe across the street from his first office. Actually, if we go by the amount of time spent in each location, the cafe is his first office. The gentleman, let’s call him Joe, was a regular there up until a short time ago. The Old Boy, being the shy bunny that he is and having already made himself known to all the staff and other regulars, sat himself down uninvited one day and made conversation with him. Turns out the fellow is a very, very smart man and the Old boy found his brain was stretched in new and interesting ways. Go, Joe!

Joe is retired and spends his time writing both academic texts and fiction. He’s unmarried and lives on his own. He brings his laptop with him to the cafe and spends a good part of every day there: working, drinking coffee, having lunch and observing the world. (It’s a nasty little habit that most of us writers have picked up.) Lately he’s been trying a different cafe. He says the other 0ne is just too noisy. He complained a few times to the staff and asked them to turn the music down etc, but they’ve not acceded to his demands.

Now, I understand where he’s coming from. I, too, can’t bear too much noise. I don’t even have the radio on during the day and especially when I’m working. Because of my father’s deafness, I grew up in a quiet house. I find too much noise very stressful. I loathe being at parties where the music is so loud you have to scream to have a conversation. It’s exhausting. Barking dogs drive me to distraction. In shopping centres I hear mothers shrieking at their children and I marvel at the children’s ability to tune their parent out, while at the same time I fight to subdue the overwhelming urge to shove a dummy in the mother’s mouth and tell her to shut up. We talked at length about the noise levels in today’s society and the fact that many people can no longer handle quietness. They have to fill in all the silent gaps with more noise: music, radio, television or their own voice. We shared our common yearning for the freedom to be quiet, peaceful, tranquil…

So, I understand his need for quiet. What I don’t understand is why he chooses to work in such an environment. He said he’s been looking around for another cafe that has the required “peace” level yet which also produces good coffee. I think: Why go to all that trouble? Why don’t you work at home? Is it just me that thinks it’s odd that people who want peace and quiet (for the creative muse to spark) choose to work in a cafe or coffee shop? I mean, those places are full of people! They often have tiled floors, crying babies, music playing, machines shushing and clanging, people talking, feet clomping, chairs scraping and the drone of traffic outside. I would have thought you would choose to work in such a place because you crave noise and contact, not the opposite: quiet and solitude.

I know several writer friends who like to take their laptop/i-pad to a cafe to work. Why do you do it? Is it the “peace” or the “bustle” that attracts you? Is it the companionship or the pseudo-companionship that entices you? Is it that you can’t make a good cup of coffee?

As for me, I prefer to work in the room the furthest from the front door, around the corner in my little cul-de-sac; the radio and television off; the dog sleeping and a large mug of home-made coffee on my desk. Now if I could just get Cheeky the cockatiel to shut up I’d be in heaven. Hope you all have a peaceful day, whatever that means to you.