We went to a favourite place to which we kind of don't often go - if that makes sense - the food is great, but if you don't get there EARLY there's always a long wait for a table which is often fine but some days you don't have the time to spend hanging around while they cross off name by name on the sign-in list.
The Old Town Cafe is just... a great little spot. People watching is easy and rewarding. This morning we had a couple in a corner booth one or both of whom were hearing-impaired to at least a certain degree because there was lots of intense sign-language going on back and forth across the table; a young crowd sitting at the communal table boasted a pretty Japanese girl with long glossy black hair and two HUGE silver hoop earrings that protruded from that curtain of hair like some weird mechanical parts belonging to a cyborg, and beside her another young lady with enormous blue eyes made bigger by a copious application of eyeliner and hair of an improbable shade of pale lavender which combination made her look rather like a manga character come to life; at another table, someone from Casting Central answering to a general call for Young Geek (a seriously weird check shirt, gaunt bare sockless ankless protruding from two battered lace-up brown leather shoes, a sparse black beard, and the ultimate in geek eyewear in the shape of glasses framed in heavy black plastic which looked like it had been recycled from one of those old-fashioned black bakelite telephones of yesteryear (the kind which still had DIALS on them, remember those?); elsewhere, mix-and-match kids wearing EVERYTHING ranging from sheepskin boots to sleeveless tank tops; a young girl in what looked to be hand-painted rubber boots; well, you get the idea. The place is... eclectic and I enjoy it hugely every time we go there.
Often - at least on Saturday mornings, I don't know about weekdays - they will have some local musician (or musicians - one time they had a FAB local trio playing) sit in the corner with a guitar and a tip jar and provide a couple of hours of entertainment for the price of a cup of coffee and perhaps an omelet provided by the establishment. As you might expect, they vary wildly, from "don't quit your day job kid" to "what the hell are you doing HERE and why aren't you on national tour?!?"
Today's offering was a thin, lanky Japanese young man with wire-rimmed spectacles and long-fingered hands.
On the quality scale, when he started playing, he sounded like he might be one of the okay ones. Worth listening to. But then I realised that he was really VERY VERY GOOD and his only problem was that he was little too quiet - but over the usual sussurus of the cafe, without amplification, that was perhaps unavoidable.
What made me sit up and really take notice was when I recognised a tune he was singing - except that he was singing it in ENGLISH and I knew it in FRENCH - this one:
I sang the chorus, which was the only lyrics I could reliably remember "en francais", to rdeck across the booth table while we waited for our breakfast - and afterwards I went over to the singer and I said to him, "I know that in FRENCH!"
He opened his eyes wide. "REALLY? It was translated?"
I said I had no idea which side translated the original into which language, but that I had enjoyed his (English) version of it, too.
"You play anything else I know?" I asked.
"Wait and see," he said, with a smile.
He did, at least one other song that I knew, but just as we were about to go - we'd got up, we were putting on coats, whatever - a drift of music, a turn of phrase, caught my ear, and I froze.
"Oh, my GOD," I whispered, to rdeck.
"...it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth..."
We stayed, standing there by our table, until he was done with the song. I sang it, with him. And then, while I was doing so, I looked around the cafe.
A silver-haired granny sitting in a booth was mouthing the words, her eyes glittering.
One of the young girls at the communal table, long tumbled hair loose around her shoulders and some twenty years younger than me, was singing right along too, and we caught each other's eye and smiled.
There were others.
They all knew the song. They knew the words. Over the din of the breakfast restaurant babble of conversation and clink of cutlery and crying babies, WE HAD ALL HEARD IT. Recognised it. Stopped whatever we were doing, to listen, to sing.
Slightly changed, that last verse has become my life's anthem, really:
"And even if it all goes wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!"
I think if Leonard Cohen could have been there this morning, he might have wept. I know I did.
But then, perhaps he knows.