Mario’s Cafe

Note: this is an old post re-upped here in honour of So Tough getting some Tim’s Listening Party action on Twitter today.

1993 and I’m 16 and I have a blue Metro that my dad bought me. He taught me to drive and I passed first time. It wasn’t a sure thing. While he was a car man (I can see him now with chamois, wax, oil can), I was a bookish child with big feet and no focus. But in that moment, I was my father’s son: practical and in control. Now we had a point of contact – literally, because the deal was I’d be given the car, but in return I had to pick him up from the station every evening after school, and drive us both home, a 30 minute cruise from bromidic Tonbridge to the cloistral village where we lived.

He worked in London. And because of that, unlike many of my school peers, I knew London. Dad’s London, anyway, which was Soho, mainly. His office was on Wardour Street, and the train from home would take me to Charing Cross, where I’d snake my way up through Leicester Square, Chinatown, Brewer Street – and, if I was feeling brave, through Walker’s Court and the thrilling chaos of Berwick Street market – and up to his door at 101.

I was naively proud to know my way around this slice of the city. And more than that – when I stepped off the train and headed across the Strand, my stomach would settle, my teenage jitters would recede, and I would feel at home. My actual home, that place that caused such anxiety (for reasons not worth going into here), would fade away. I was in London, and I could be whatever I wanted to be. London was a vast promise, and at that age I knew I had years to fulfil it.

But still, I was aware that… well, London’s a big place. It’s a very big place. And Dad’s London wasn’t my real destination. That was somewhere else. I wasn’t quite sure where, until I heard an album by Saint Etienne called So Tough.

I bought it on cassette, after seeing the band perform You’re In A Bad Way on Top of the Pops. I played it endlessly in my blue Metro. The first track was called Mario’s Cafe – and one line, one single line, embedded itself in my mind and became the vision of my London life to come.

“Rainy cafe, Kentish Town, Tuesday.”

At 16, stuck in a parochial village, I couldn’t seriously think of anything more romantic and wonderful than the idea of sitting in a Kentish Town cafe on a rainy Tuesday. I didn’t even know where Kentish Town was. But it sounded like an oasis of melancholy idealism. Plus, the idea that you could sit in a cafe on a Tuesday! To not be at school, or at work, but sitting in a cafe, talking about music and girls and art, and London outside with all its promise – what more could anyone want?

I had no idea who the KLF were. I had no idea what the Racing Post was. But this was a song that conjured a world I wanted to live in. My goal in life was to get to London, find my people, and “meet for a while, Tuesday morning 10 am”, in some creaking cafe, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, planning how we’d absorb every last drop of London’s spirit.

I did it. And 23 years later I’m still here, and this song still inspires that same feeling. I will always want to live in Mario’s Cafe.

Published by

Christian Ward

I write books and screenplays. I have been twice long-listed by the BBC Writersroom. I work as a trend forecaster for innovations advisory Stylus. I speak about media, technology, culture and advertising, at events including SXSW, YMS and the Stylus Summit. I host a trends podcast called Future Thinking with Stylus.

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