There’s a specific ritual of procrastination, coffee drinking and eventually writing that accompanies this page. As it’s the usually the last one to leave Midori House and ship to the printer (a small luxury I enjoy as editor in chief), I know there’s roughly a 48-hour window from the moment the last big batch of stories gets sent to the repro house and the receipt of a very sharp e-mail from Jackie (our head of production) telling me she’s not going to wait a second longer and the plant’s going to print without it. As we’ve been playing this little game for well over a decade now across a variety of titles we’ve worked on, the close of an issue wouldn’t be the same if I filed my letter at the start of production and Jackie didn’t curse at me.
Since we moved into Midori House (almost a year ago), part of the ritual involves me always sitting in the same place, at the same time (well before Jackie gets in), surrounded by the same things. Some time around 8.00 I take up my position on a Svenskt Tenn sofa in my outer office, turn on the TV, flip open my laptop and stare at the screen. I clatter out a few words and then stop. Something’s missing. I need a coffee. As it’s quite early and there’s no one around to assist with the task, I have the perfect excuse to leave the building and pick one up down the street. Of course I could walk down the hall and fire up the Nespresso machine myself but a little fresh air and the prospect of bumping into colleagues at the café is more exciting than stuffing a compressed disc of coffee into a not particularly attractive looking machine. Despite our central location in the heart of London’s W1, we haven’t been terribly well served by beans and baristas. The very good coffee at Providores on the high street is a little bit too far and they don’t do take-away; the excellent flat whites at Sensory Lab demand a special expedition and the mezzo-mezzo coffee from the cute café down the street is no longer as the owners recently shuttered the operation. Short of options I had to make a choice. Do I walk the extra block and spend my two pounds at one of the high street chains or do I stay super-local and sample the greasy caff under new management just beyond my window? I opt for the latter. I’ve probably walked past Blandfords 200 times over the past year but it never tempted me with its bacon sandwiches and odour of baked beans. Nevertheless, I thought the new owners deserved a chance. I was greeted by a charming, industrious couple – she was snapping orders at him in Italian and he was doing exactly as he was told with some fried eggs and brown toast.
“Prego?” She asked, flashing a smile. “Good morning,” I said, surveying the premises. “I’ll have a cappuccino please.” “Don’t worry, we’re putting in a new kitchen – if the builders ever come,” she explained, somehow reading my mind.
We exchanged a few brief words as I watched her carefully preparing the coffee. Things started to look even more promising as she took great care with the milk and poured it into the cup. I paid, thanked her and then walked back to the office. As I rounded the corner I took my first sip. The coffee was very good. Better still, it was all prepared without pretension.
Within a week Blandford’s had become our new local, not only for coffee jaunts but also hearty breakfasts for the anchors and producers working on The Globalist on M24 (in the office at 4.00, on air at 6.00 and in the caff at 8.10) and the toasted avocado, tomato, bacon and egg sandwiches. Food aside, the staff also know most of my colleagues by name (seemingly all regulars are known by first names) and we’re already angling for our own dedicated corner table for late morning planning meetings. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a welcome addition to a neighbourhood that’s starting to fall victim to its own success.
In the past month a host of independent, local businesses have closed up shop to make way for more chain retailers that are unlikely to attract much in the way of local custom. For many years the local landlords did a good job of attracting more interesting local enterprises but lately it seems that they’ve been going for safer (read bland) options and our local high street is becoming less interesting. Without the essentials (newsagent, electric shop, hardware store, florist), is it still a neighbourhood? What am I going to do with a Dutch fashion retailer at noon on a Sunday – indeed any day of the week? How much soap and fragrance could I possibly require on my way home from work? The environs around Midori House (and other neighbourhoods) are falling victim to landlords who are killing off the very streets they worked so hard to build. Just as neighbourhoods can become derelict with the loss of key tenants, they can also become obsolete when new tenants no longer serve the local community. Vibrant communities require independent enterprises that recognise their regulars and bring people together. Unfortunately, this message is lost on too many landlords, developers and leasing agents. If you’d like to continue this discussion, you’ll find us in the corner at Blandford’s or at email@example.com. Thank you.
For more from our editor-in-chief, read his column in the FT Weekend