As in all larger Irish towns, a ‘new’ culture is springing up in the UK City of Culture. It’s a café culture and, generally, it’s a good thing.
Until relatively recently people went to cafes to be fed.
It was a necessity.
They weren’t primarily social spaces.
Now people go to cafes to see and to be seen, to read or to talk.
They even bring their lap tops and have a coffee while ‘surfing’ the net.
In the past the only real option for social interaction was the pub. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of pubs as social spaces. It’s just that in drink sodden Ireland it’s good to have alternatives.
Incidentally, one exception to my own sweeping generalisation was Foster’s famous café at Strand Road.
For over 60 years it was the place to see and to be seen in.
Black uniformed waitresses with white aprons and stiffly starched headbands served dainty sandwiches, scones with butter and jam and the finest clotted cream and pastries on three-tiered plate stands.
It was the latest in Edwardian chic when it opened in 1906 and it retained its ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ feel right up into the 1970s.
Before the First World War it was the café that appealed most to Derry’s emerging and newly prosperous middle class.
For those who enjoyed morning coffee or afternoon tea in Fosters, social divisions were more important than religious ones.
As long as patrons were from the right social class, religion mattered little.
Relationships across the divide were often more cordial than they are today.
Now our religious differences loom larger but at least perceptions about social class aren’t so much of a barrier.
Now the city has a good selection of cafes serving excellent coffee and cakes.
We don’t even have to depend on the big trans-national chains that may have questions to answer about how little tax they pay.
We also have good locally owned cafés.
It’s a digression but mentioning the tax affairs of enormous global companies reminds me of the hypocrisy of many British commentators.
They’ve been busy pointing fingers at Ireland for so-called sweetheart tax deals with trans-national companies. DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson even accused the Republic of “stealing” from British taxpayers. (It was a classic DUP nod in the direction of their more gullible, more prejudiced and less discerning supporters.)
They say they want international taxation rules.
Try suggesting a financial transaction tax by the big banks and you’ll hear how much the British favour international tax harmonisation! They’ll protect their own arrangements for London at all costs.
There were howls of anguish when Germans wanted such a transaction tax.
If Angela Merkel were a DUP woman she might have accused the British of “stealing” from them.
Anyway, with any luck you’ll be reading this while drinking fine coffee and trying not to think about taxation, in one of the city’s pleasant cafes.
Elsewhere on this page, hopefully you will find more entertaining thoughts.