Today as I was waiting for my sister to arrive, I sat at the window of a Pret a Manger on the corner of Oxford Street and Great Cumberland Street. ( I think – I might have made that up.) It is close by Marble Arch and close by Edgware road, and on the other side of the window was a group of men drinking Pret coffee.
They were together but not sitting as a group, they were all with their backs against the window, sitting in a line observing the street. I actually hadn’t noticed them, what I looked at first from my bar stool behind the window was a man tying his toddler’s shoe laces. The child, a boy, was not even two years old. The man (presumably his dad) was crouched down, tying his son’s shoelaces with a fag in his mouth. This is the point where a mum would shout, or at the very least wince: burning cigarette face-height of excitable toddler, not often a good combination. ( Yes and then we’re not even talking about passive smoking with children…but that is not the point I am trying to make.) It was interesting to see, because Dad was actually standing by the side of the pavement, just having a smoke. Protecting his son from running into the road. His son was being coaxed and waved at by the men sitting in front of the Pret.
That’s when I saw them. All these men, from dad and son to the men with coffee watching the world go by had recreated a scene that would probably be very similar to their native countries somewhere in the Middle East, right on the busiest corner of London. There were no women or wives to be seen, just a male get together from different generations. The old men in their chairs waving at the toddler, one of them bringing more coffee. Some children skipped by, one of the men gave them some money, not even reluctantly – not in that sighing mum kind of way, who shouts after her brood to not spend it all on sweets, because dinner will be at 7pm – but just in that interesting male relative love way: money given, no questions asked.
More coffee was had and more conversation was made, with each other and with the dad on the other side of the pavement. It didn’t seem like they knew each other, but the little boy kept everyone amused.
I was intrigued, spying on a community as well as gaining a little insight into male-communication. When my sister arrived it was 7pm, I got my coat and saw that the children had returned, showing off their chocolate bars and sweets to their benefactor. I could not contain my grin: their mothers would not be pleased but for now everyone was just being happy.