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In praise of coffee shops

I discovered a long time ago that quiet, undisturbed places like libraries and study rooms don’t usually have the effect they’re supposed to have on me. With very rare exceptions (of which more later), settling down to work somewhere quiet and undisturbed usually results in me finding something fascinating to look at through the window, or rearranging my address book, or checking my diary for clashes, or looking at Facebook or Twitter or… well, you get the idea. I don’t need any help to get distracted; I distract myself. For some reason though I can work very efficiently when surrounded by other people, and coffee shops seem to offer the perfect blend of anonymity and company. I don’t feel like I’m the last human being left on the planet, I’m conveniently close to sources of coffee and cake, and I am irrationally embarrassed about being caught slacking in public. I don’t pretend to understand the last bit, but it works; when push comes to shove, I get more done in a coffee shop than in an office or library. (It’s a kind of solo version of Shut Up and Write.)

Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of time in coffee shops this summer. As well as getting the final, final draft of my thesis finished, I’ve also been working on first drafts for a book chapter and an academic article. It’s the first time I’ve done any of these, so there have been plenty of ‘what the heck am I supposed to do with this bit?’ moments as I got to grips with the subtle differences in approach and content required for the different formats – exactly the sort of mini-crisis which would have led to a prolonged bout of window-staring if I’d been on my own. Thanks to the local branches of Starbucks, Cafe Nero and Pret a Manger, along with the cafe downstairs from my office at uni, window-staring and other such distractions have largely been avoided and I’ve achieved what I hoped to over the summer. It cost me a small fortune in coffee and sarnies, but it was worth it. Thank you coffee shops – I couldn’t have done it without you…

There is one exception to my rule about libraries being too quiet, and that’s Gladstone’s Library at Hawarden in North Wales. There’s something about having busts of stern Victorian theologians gazing down at me which is at least as effective as the chattering hordes in Cafe StarManger in keeping me focussed on the job in hand. That and the thought of getting back downstairs in time for another pot of excellent tea and plate of home-made biscuits in a comfy leather armchair in the lounge. I suspect those Victorian theologians knew more than they were letting on about getting the job done, but in comfort…

Posted August 9, 2013 by HVS in Publications, Thesis

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