Saltbush Cafe in Hobson Street, Queenscliff

Friendship and Cafes

In one of our lovely local cafes I overheard two elderly men discussing their friendship. They have been meeting each Tuesday morning for years. They enjoy coffee and cake, chat for an hour and then go their separate ways until the following Tuesday. 

This encounter made me think of others I have noticed who meet in local cafes regularly. There is a group of young mothers who gather in Point Lonsdale for coffee after dropping off children at school. Most have younger children in pushers and the women are invariably dressed for some kind of fitness activity. They are vivacious, intelligent, happy and enjoy each others’ company as they catch up and share experiences. It’s good to be around them, good to enjoy their sounds of friendship. 

There are many older people who meet regularly in Queenscliff, in twos, threes and occasionally more. They often prefer quiet surroundings and are typically animated and engaged. They engage briefly with passersby as they converse. Mostly, they are attentive listeners who rarely speak over one another. Laughter can include short shrieks to an unexpected bang on the table as someone reacts in surprise. Occasionally conversations are quiet whispers and you can tell when privacy is needed.

Sometimes I hear old stories shared as a group of motorcycle enthusiasts meet outside the bakery – quick catches of stories of past times and people, events relived, revived in memories that agree, add and check. These men dressed in their black leathers are lively and close and prone to laughter and good humour; it is heartening to walk past them. Sometimes they share a single table as a group, and occasionally they are too many and have to divide up. To the passerby, there are sounds of some compe-tition as versions and memories are mediated. They are all happy to be there, together.

Three women meet weekly in another café almost always at same table, at the same time. It is not quite the same if their usual table is unavailable. It can put them out for a while. If one woman arrives early, she waits expectantly, watching through the window, smiling broadly as she spots her friends approaching. A wave and warm hugs, coffees ordered and conversation. One woman is much quieter than her companions and she seems to prefer watching and listening as her friends engage. Every so often, she will be asked a question, and her responses are short as she eases herself out of too much talking. They are happy to be with one another.

Another woman enjoys a cup of tea in a different cafe and relies mostly on staff for engagement. In her seventies, she is always impeccably coiffured and dressed. She makes eye contact with others l as they enter the cafe as they look around for the best place to sit. Sometimes other customers speak to her, or respond when she comments about the weather or something that someone might be wearing that has caught her eye. Happy with the interaction, she returns quietly to her tea, ever watchful and ready for a possible interaction. Staff know her well and, as they work, they engage with her – quick snatches of conversation, respectful and caring. She is content, happy.

Cafes are complex spaces. They are filled with stories, with memories, experiences, hopes, celebrations, fun, excitement, with … life.