Friday, February 26, 2016

The Ideas Man

Me: I've just had this great idea. If we just do this it will cut out all the bad things and good things will happen.

Her: That is actually a great idea.

Me (Jokingly, self-deprecatingly): It's a great idea that will never come to fruition because I thought of it.

Her: Hahahaha... that's so funny because it's true.

Eight hours later - do you think I can remember... do you think I have an inkling of a clue what that great idea was?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Sweariness Of Cutlery

Today in the cafe... Badaboom Beverley asks one of the customers if they would like a fork and knife with their takeaway meal. But with her French accent...

"Do you know what it sounded like you just said?" I murmur to her, our backs now to the bank of customers.

"No. Wut?" This wut, it's always short and emphatic, like she really wants to know wut.

"It sounded like you said 'Do you want a fuckin' knife'."

BB looks momentarily mortified. "Really? Is zat what you 'erd?"
I nod slowly. "It's what everyone heard. Beverley... you really shouldn't speak to our customers like that."

Fit of stifled giggles from us both. We turn around and the bank of customers is looking at us with suppressed smirks or open smiles, even though none of them really know what we are laughing about.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Top 10 Breakfast Destinations in Fitzroy

This was a nice way to end my least favourite day of the week. We made someone's Top 10 list. I know these things are subjective, but there are a LOT of good cafes in Fitzroy, and a lot of them are on this list. That we are on that list as well... this is a very nice thing indeed. Especially because we don't know this reviewer and have not chased publicity or done any advertising. We've just gone about the business of making the best food we can, the best coffee we can, and getting it all to the tables as best we can.

Normally I don't like Mondays, but this one is pretty cool.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Milestones In Hospo

Today in the cafe... This happened. Bride and Groom were having a photo shoot in Deadman's Lane, then decided to continue the shoot inside whilst having coffee. They wanted the word awesome to be in the shot.

Significant day. The cafe has been more of a struggle than we've probably been letting on. We've just been slugging away. Over the Christmas/New Year period we do quite well because all the other cafes along our stretch close and we stay open. It's hard work but rewarding, if slightly disappointing knowing that it's only because we're the only option. When all the other cafes re-open, most people go back to their preferred cafe. Figures drop off a little but we seem to get a few new regulars.
Today, after a busy week, we achieved one of those Christmas/New Years period days. A special day because everywhere else along our stretch was open, and still so many people chose to come to us.

After today, I'm starting to think we might be okay. Great effort from our small team. Feeling happy and grateful.

And feeling like a Big Daddy Vodka or two.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Good Teachers

Do you ever think about your teachers? The ones you had in school? Do you ever remember the important ones?

I had this music teacher called Miss Buttsworth (No, no joke, that was her name). She was beautiful and kind and she knew what a reclusive child I was. She always chose me to read stuff, and unexpectedly what I read or the way I read it got a laugh. She chose me to play instruments I couldn't play. She smiled at me in a way made this reclusive child think everything would be okay.

And she glared at me one day through a tiny window in a door separating me and my renegade mates from the classroom and the music storage room while we went crazy on the smorgasbord of instruments.

But it was okay. There was something in her eyes that said it's okay.

I wish I had the chance to tell her how much old Lee appreciated our life encounter. That would have been nice.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Feelin' Blue

I need to pay more attention...

"Can I colour your hair? I'll make it subtle."

"Sure babe, whatever you want."

"So can I also paint your toenails fire engine red?"

"What's that? Yeah no sure, I'm sure that'll be fine."

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sad Short Story V Lamborghini

Today in the cafe... when it comes to closing time, I now realise that I am locked in a battle of strategy between myself and some higher entity. There are some things I can't do until there are no customers, some things I can only do when there are some customers, and some things I can't do when some of them choose to sit in certain places. I am basically playing a really weird game of chess with The Cosmos. It can be a very frustrating game of chess.

It used to be that I was hopeless at telling old people we are closed or closing. I caved to them all the time. Then it was St Vinnies nurses and doctors. One guy used to always turn up at 3:50pm, 10 minutes before closing. Used to shit me until I realised that he was a nurse starting his night shift and just wanted a coffee and a sugar hit before beginning a night's work totally alien to me. Having once been saved by such people, least I can do etc.

Today I realised my List Of People Lee Can't Turn Away Even Though He Is Closing The Cafe And Wants To Go Home includes Very Very Very Pregnant Women, Odd People Who Just Want To Read Their Book For A Bit, and Travellers With Beads And Stuff Who Just Want A Pot Of Herbal Tea.

Just when I think I have a break, Higher Entity deploys one of the above and my plans are fucked.

This last one, the traveller with the beads. By the time she came in I had given up. I had lost my weird chess game. People were just wandering in and sitting down willy nilly and I just thought fuck it, whatever, you all just make yourself at home because whatever. When you give in to the fact that you have lost the thing, it's easy. And anyway, I was still winning - customers in the cafe is a good thing.

But this traveller with the beads. She started reading my stuff, some of my funny stuff. She approached me at the counter to ask for the wifi password, then laughed as she told me she liked my writing because it was so lovely. Another connection through the writing. I gave her the password. She went back and sat down and continued to read, her attention shared between her phone and my writing at the back of the menus.

Soon I could see that she was totally engrossed in the writing. She was frowning, not laughing. She was reading what was turning out to be my literary chick-magnet - Remembering Argos.

All the nurses and the doctors and the odd people who just wanted to read their book and all the really really really pregnant women left. But I wanted to let Travelling Beadwoman finish the story, so I found other things to do. And when I had finished everything there was to finish, I told her, You are welcome to stay because after I close the doors I'll still be here for a while, but I do have to bring the outdoor furniture in now.

She smiled and said, Thank you, and went back to reading.

And later, when at last she had finished this story that I wrote so long ago, Beadwoman came over to tell me, That story, the one with the man and the woman and the dog... so beautiful it brought me to tears, please, keep writing. And she left.

I don't know what it is about that sad short story, but it's the best shiny sports car I've ever owned.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Nothing Worth Writing About Happened Today. Nothing.

Today in the cafe... there were no poignant human interactions and not a single funny thing happened. It was basically just an infuriating day of totally normal and nice. People smiled and enjoyed their food and coffee, and there was pleasant small-talk with the regulars and all of our co-workers got a long really well... days like these, they shit me to tears. Come on Universe - give me some Goddamn material!

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Juliette Burton's Look At Me, Adelaide Fringe 2016

Juliette Burton – Look At Me

By Lee Bemrose

Arts festivals anywhere in the world are competitive beasts. It can be tough to get a gig and even tougher to get an audience, let alone rave reviews. To achieve a sold-out season and a chorus of rave reviews at the big daddy of all festivals – The Edinburgh Fringe – you have to be doing something right. One person who has just done all of the above is UK actor, writer and performer Juliette Burton with her latest show Look At Me. Other capitals like Sydney and Melbourne are missing out big time, but heads up Adelaide – Juliette is returning for another appearance at The Adelaide Fringe. If you like world class comedy with a big heart, read on.

So, Juliette, how has life been treating you lately?
Life has been treating me like a pet; sometimes it gives me juicy bones, takes me for walks and my little tail is wagging, and other times life leaves me at home scratching on the door howling and making a mess of the cushions. Ups and downs but mainly juicy bones of ups!

How happy were you with how the show was received at the Edinburgh Fringe?
Ecstatic! That's an underused word isn't it: "ecstatic"? Great word. Anyway, Look At Me premiered at Edinburgh Fringe 2014, getting 5 star reviews in national press, having sold out shows and at Edinburgh 2015 it had a total sold out run - every ticket that could be sold was. It was incredible. A big juicy bone two years in a row.

What's it like performing at that particular festival compared to others you've appeared at?

Performing at different festivals is like gathering a collection of friends all from the same family; you have Edinburgh Fringe which is the biggest arts festival in the world and why I even began in this career. It's the BOSS of all festivals, so boss I actually moved to the city because I loved it so much. Edinburgh's my best mate, in a way; that mate who challenges you and helps you realise the best of yourself. Brighton Fringe is like Edinburgh's kid sister; fun, arty, lovely but much smaller. Melbourne International Comedy Festival was like the cool hipster cousin who I loved being around and fancied a little bit. And then there's Adelaide who's the second largest arts festival in the world - the festival who's chilled, laid back and SO much fun! Adelaide just wants to have a good time and I'm ready to be a part of that again!

ave the audiences at the different festivals been noticeably different in any ways?People the world over can be amazing. I think it's one of my favourite things, realising that an audience in one part of the world can be just as fun, vocal and up for it as an audience in a totally different part of the world - similar characters pop up in different corners of a country or the globe. I’ve made good friends in Edinburgh who are so similar to those in York. I’ve made good friends in Adelaide who were so similar to those in London. And friends in Melbourne who remind me of those in Cambridge. We’re all connected, we’re all the same really, if you focus on the similarities and not the differences.

Tell us a little about
Look At Me. What's it all about? How did it come about?
I first had the idea back in 2007 – what would happen if I swapped my body for other bodies, having been the same girl in so many different bodies naturally. I’ve been a size 4 (US size 0) due to anorexia, a size 20 (US size 16) due to compulsive overeating disorder, I’ve been a “healthy” size but ill with bulimia and I’ve been a “normal” size and struggled with hidden illnesses like depression and anxiety. It got me thinking – is what we appear to be who we really are? I started chatting with friends about the idea and everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, I spoke to had a story about how they relate to their bodies and the outside world. And judgement too. So when the Arts Council in the UK gave me some money to change my looks in lots of dramatic ways I leapt at the chance to become, for a day, a 90 year old lady, a man, I wore the hijab, dressed “provocatively” and revisited my obese self – to find out how much appearances affect who we are on the inside. 
What were those experiences like? Any surprises there? 
A LOT of surprises! I don’t want to give away any spoilers but being a man unleashed some hidden sides of myself! Let’s just say perhaps confidence verged into arrogance… Revisiting my obese body surprised quite a few of my friends in fact…one of my friends didn’t even recognise me and other friends who have seen the show fancied me MORE in that disguise… And I wanted to reclaim my experience of that body on that day. And being a 90 year old lady revealed some truths; I felt rather liberated in some ways! To see just how liberated you will need to join me at the show!

The subject matter is, when you get down to it, pretty serious stuff. How difficult was it to work it into comedy?
 Not terribly difficult. Some of the experiences I went through were so bizarre that the only way to communicate them to audiences is with honesty and laughter. Looks will change all the time and youth will fade, it’s life’s great joke that we assign any real “value” in our appearances and yet we do and we’re encouraged to do so. Reflecting that judgement call through the show reveals the comedy in ourselves and also in the absurdity of my own experiences. We all have a day when someone judges us on appearance and the best we can do is laugh about it.

Some of the people you interview are dealing with some serious issues... how did they react when they found out your show was a comedy?

For the show I didn’t want it to be just my voice, so I interviewed a lot of people, which I do for all my shows, to make sure the questions I’m asking are universal as well as personal. For Look At Me I interviewed 80 year old men and women, physically disabled friends, thalidomide men, facially disfigured dudes, professional models, fellow weirdo performers, transgender people about how they relate to their bodies and how others relate to them.

When I told these people I was interviewing my show was a comedy, I told them well before I interviewed them, and they all unanimously loved the idea! I think we’ve all thought how ridiculous it is to judge on appearances; and as one of my interviewees said “Other people’s ignorance is not and never will be my problem. And if other people think that because of the way I look I can’t do certain things, well, watch me!”
Watch us! We are so much more than others and even we ourselves might think we are.

We know how the critics and audiences have responded to the show; what have been the responses of the interviewees? 
The interviewees have their own mailing list who I email first to let them know of future shows. I believe almost every interviewee featured in the show has now seen the show…bar one. And that one lives in Australia. So I hope they can come along!
All the interviewees who have seen it have loved it; it’s their show as well as mine in many ways. It’s everyone’s show who sees it and takes something from it. An audience affects a show far more than we realise. 

What are a couple of highlights for you in the interviews?

 Other than the incredible Adam Pearson, who I met thanks to the interviews for this show and I now count as one of my best friends… we once got so drunk that he ate a whole sharing sundae by himself. And we’ve shared some pretty dirty Cards Against Humanity games… other than him, there’s Geoff Adams-Spink who I met during my time working at the BBC, a wise, funny, irreverent man affected by the thalidomide drug. And there's Simon Minty who runs Abnormally Funny People. He says his condition (he’s 3 ft 11) is one thing but his disability is how people react to him. There’s also John Lyons, an 80-something year old poet, artist and author who says he thinks about life, not age – with ALL my interviewees I watch their interviews with the audience in the show and every single time I’m struck by the collective wisdom of my friends! It’s a treat to watch these pearls of wisdom back to remind me to listen to them and adopt their experience myself!  

Don't tell anyone this, but when I saw your wonderful show When I Grow Up at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2014, I almost cried. It was heart-breaking to see what you had gone through, but ultimately one of the most uplifting (and funny) shows I had ever seen. How do your shows affect you during the performances? 
Wow. Thank you. That’s a wonderful thing to share and say aloud. Well, not aloud. This is written text. But you know, I heard it in my head so we’re totally connected like that. Anyway, what was the question? How do the shows affect me during the performance. Honestly, every single performance I get emotionally vulnerable and raw. But I count that as a victory because if I get to a point where I can be so honest and vulnerable with an audience then we must be really connecting, not as performer to audience but as human to human. I’m often asked how I perform if I’m struggling with my mental health problems and I always say because I know that as awful as I might feel before the show, I will feel amazing on the other side, because I’ve connected with a whole room of people who are with me on that journey… we’re in it together. 
How do you feel about humanity generally? Are we getting any better at being human or are we still a bit shit?

What a question! I don’t pretend to know the answer to that. I have to, for sanity’s sake, believe in the good in humanity. For every awful act that happens or hits us personally or hits the headlines there are so many people out there who will choose the path of kindness. There have been some shitty things happen in the world in the past couple of years since I last came to Australia and each time I have an increasingly greyer view of the world… and then a greater, stronger, brighter revision of that – when I see the power of loveliness rush through in the wake of shittiness.
A news story I was involved in in May 2015 is one of those weird news stories, It affected many and affected me personally. I relapsed badly because of it. But then the rush of humanity overwhelmed me. And it was immense. I talk about it in the show; we’re never really alone. It just takes bravery to be honest about how we’re really doing. Once I got on stage and started making jokes about the situation, hearing people laugh about what I’d been through I immediately knew it was going to be ok.
You are coming all the way to Australia but not taking the show to Melbourne or Sydney. This is a bummer for Melbourne and Sydney – any chance this could change?

 I would LOVE to return to Melbourne one day and visit Sydney for the first time… Let’s all keep our fingers crossed, and perhaps if this Adelaide fringe goes well I can venture a bit further in the future!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Cafe Stories - Plastic Bottles For The Psyche Ward

Today in the cafe... I'm bringing the outdoor furniture inside as I close up. A woman looks inside, sees that we are closed and starts to walk on just as I say hello. She stops walking and asks if we are closed. Yes, I say, but what were you after? Do you have something that I could take away? Some food? I tell her I can do a ham and cheese croissant or something, and she says yes, that would be good. She comes inside the cafe with most of the outside furniture packed in parts upside down.

Ovens get switched back on. She takes a Coke from the fridge and asks if we have plastic bottles "because this is for a psyche ward."

All flavours we have are in glass except for the vanilla Coke in plastic, so she settles for the plastic.

She is quiet and well spoken and has a quietly, strong calm about her. I make my assumptions and ask her, Is that where you work? In the psyche ward?

No, she tells me, I'm visiting someone there.


Yes. It's my son.


And then she tells me about his troubles. It's been a long battle. He's 33 years old now but the troubles started when he was 18 or 19... earlier than that when you consider his other habits and addictions, the compulsive collections of things before chemicals were part of his world. And then the chemicals replaced the objects and since then he's been in prison and he's been homeless and just recently he vanished from her world only for St Vincents to get in touch with her to tell her that her son was with them. Not well, but alive.

She tells me that her siblings are supportive, and she tells me that as hard as it is for her, it's harder for him. Her level of selflessness is impressive. We talk about the homeless and fortune and this guy she knows who lives in a tent in the sand dunes near where she lives and how he has some sort of community support, and how she thinks of him as houseless rather than homeless.

I tell her about a dear friend of mine who beat ice. She disappeared from my life for a year, kicked that arsehole habit, turned her life around big time. She tells me that my friend is lucky. Yes, I think, my friend is lucky that she is so strong.

I hand the now toasted ham and cheese croissant to her, and she turns to leave with her plastic Coke bottle, back to her son in the psyche ward.

Thanks for staying open for me, she tells me, and thanks for the chat.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

On Disengaging

When I told you that I disengaged, it meant I disengaged. In the end you proved yourself to be superficial and a drama queen who wanted things to happen that were never going to happen. You wanted me to be jealous of your new lover without ever understanding that this was never going to happen. I was prepared to be your loyal friend, that's all, so your expectant jealousy baffled me. Consequently, you lost the most loyal friend you never quite had.

There is no turning back with these things.

When I told you I disengaged, I meant it: I disengaged.