Yesterday returned with the boys to a much loved spot - Coram's Fields. The first time we've been back for at least a year to this city oasis where adults are only allowed to enter if accompanied by a child. A kid's paradise among the dying plane trees.
When we lived on an estate atop Penton Mound, Coram's Fields was a valuable bit of open space to escape to - swings, sand-pit, slide, goats, rabbits, geese and a lovely little old fashioned caff tucked away in a corner under a whitewashed colonnade, a surviving remnant of Thomas Coram's 18th century Foundling Hospital. A bowl of pasta pesto at £2 was a standard order on those long days out in the Bloomsbury air. Simple sandwiches of the ilk I scoffed myself as a boy - cheese and tomato, ham and cheese, tuna and cucumber a mere quid. Little cupcakes 50p, ice-cream in a cone 60p. Public park prices, kids prices, queueing up clutching their fistful of coins in a sweaty palm. Despite it's centrality and trendy associations, the area that Coram's Fields services has some of the poorest estates in London, ranking among some of the most economically deprived in the country. This is council run play-schemes for working Mums, and only a smattering of Yummy Mummies.
My horror yesterday then when the caff was gone replaced by some dreadful poncey continental Upper Street colonial outpost of a place. The name was some meaningless combination of consonants, the staff young, beautiful, indifferent and mainland European. Where was that lovely old weather-beaten cockney maid who dished out the cookies and cordial? Delicate pastries had replaced our slabs of sponge cake. The pasta boasted of being served with a homemade sauce and weighed in at a hefty £4.50. Who gives a toss when you've had that mangy goat licking your fingers. Get the local kids onto that stuff and it could trigger a crime wave. I stood in the queue and watched as a Dad despondently shelled out £9 for a few juices and biscuits - I think there was some sort of claim of being organic or some such guff.
As I waited for the staff to finish fixing their hair between customers my horror turned to anger - this was a cultural invasion. How had we let the locally specific Caff be replaced by the ersatz Cafe? Where will it end? Would I mind so much if they kept the prices the same? Probably not. I'd let it pass in a minor huff. But the point of the over-margarined sandwich bar, the strong tea stand, the too-sweet biscuits was an idea of democracy, a day out for all, a food we all understood because our Nan's plated it up for us. I can see the Cappucino Tsar for Camden Council condemning the old caff to a fate befallen by all too many before, and dreaming up the list of Conranista criteria that a cafe should have. And here it is - sending the disappointed kids slouching away with nothing but an over-priced Fredo Frog.