Our new columnist, comedian spends his weekdays touring Guildford’s coffee shops and the things he overhears as he works his way through the caffeinated drinks menus provide inspiration for all manner of escapades...
I “can’t believe those Macbookwielding freelancers who work in coffee shops, making one latte last three hours,” thought the woman opposite me, probably, as she looked over at me and my nearlyempty coffee mug.
This was today’s office: one of Guildford High Street’s many fine caffeine emporiums. I’ve found it’s here that I write best, while trying to not outstay my welcome and buying lunch to show willing. A few months ago, in this very café, I wrote my first children’s book, Noah’s Car Park Ark – and here I found myself again, pondering what to do with it.
The woman opposite was greeted by a friend with beverages and they spoke about schools. “...just left Valley End,” I heard one say. My old school! I grew up in Windlesham and Chobham, so Valley End C of E was my local. My headmaster was the ever-benevolent Mr Turner, and by chance I’d recently met the current head, Mr Mead, at a comedy show in Camberley. So with eavesdropping becoming inspiration, I wondered if Mr Mead might welcome a reading of my new book. Or better still, his pupils might. I emailed Valley End, then sipped my latte. By the time of my next sip, 90 minutes later, they had replied positively.
The day came, and while it’s a cliché to say the school seemed smaller, there’s a chance – just a chance – that it’s me that got bigger. The memories returned: slipping over on bubble liquid during the school pantomime, listening to Greensleeves on vinyl every assembly... and missing the first term of school because I was stuck in Great Ormond Street Hospital. By the time I joined in January 1983, my classmates knew each other, so I arrived knowing nobody. A bit like today then.
I sat and read them my book. They liked it (or at least pretended to – you never know if they’re just taking pity on the new boy). Here I was, making up for lost education. Hospital sometimes kept me from school, but the time off made me read lots, then made me want to write lots.
Three and a half decades later, I’m still writing, and still arriving at the same school not knowing anyone. Then again I don’t know the people in my office either – by which I mean, that coffee shop on Guildford High Street...sip.
Paul Kerensa is an awardwinning stand-up comic, a regular voice on BBC Radio 2 and writer for BBC’S Miranda, Not Going Out, Top Gear, ITV’S Royal Variety Performance and Channel 4’s TFI Friday. His books include Hark! The Biography of Christmas and the children’s book Noah’s Car Park.
Twitter @ paulkerensa Instagram @ paulkerensa Facebook. com/paul. kerensa