• Elliot Harper

The Tales of a Yorkshireman living in Texas: Coffee

Updated: Dec 21, 2019

“I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.”

- T.S.Eliot


Everyone needs a vice. Mine used to be alcohol. I was always a big drinker. Every Friday, and Saturday, without fail. Occasionally Thursday because it was close enough to the weekend to make it a good enough excuse. But then I quit. It’s been over a year and a half now. Pretty mental really if you knew what I was like before, which a lot of you will do. Anyway, like I said. Everyone needs a vice, and with alcohol out the window, I need something new to replace it, in steps coffee.

I love a cup of coffee, not that instant rubbish but proper ground coffee. Even better straight from the beans. I’m in the right place to be able to indulge my new habit. America is king (or queen, I don’t want to appear sexist!) of the coffee shop. Houston is filled with them. I’m not just talking about Starbucks, although I’ve been known to frequent them on occasion (not as much as Naomi though! Ha) I prefer smaller chains or bespoke coffee shops if I can. My favourite just has to be A 2nd Cup. Not only is the coffee amazing, not only is the food delicious, not only is it in the Heights, (which is, without doubt, the coolest part of Houston) but it’s also a non-profit that helps to fight and raise awareness of human trafficking in Houston. Now, you might think that’s a strange thing for a modern US city, but unfortunately, the slave trade is alive and well, all over the world. On one of the walls in the building is written “It just went underground. 30 million slaves in our world today.” That is a frightening figure. These guys help raise awareness and use the profits from the coffee shop to fund that: a great cause and a great place.

Anyway, I don’t want to get too heavy (not yet anyway), so back to the coffee shop. It’s exactly as you might imagine it. An ample, airy, bright and open space. Leather chairs to lounge in. Tables and chairs for people to work on, more laptops than you thought possible. Some beats playing over the speakers. Cool crowd, diverse, all ages. Basically, this is a great place to hang out. I’ve decided to treat myself. I’ve come on a Friday morning with the intentions of re-reading Ideal Angels. A novel by a great friend of mine, Robert Welbourn, who I met in Leeds when we were serving time together in TD Direct Investing. Thankfully, those dark days are behind us now, and we’ve kept in touch. His book was published in 2018 through Unbound. It was that event which spurred me on to start writing, so you have him to blame!

I really want to grab a comfy chair, get a strong coffee and settle into it in the right surroundings. This place is perfect. I head straight to the double-seater sofa right at the back wall. It gets decent light but also there aren’t many tables around me so I can read in peace. Two women sit talking quietly in front of me. One of them (I don’t know which) is the mother of the child in the stroller next to their seats. I nearly backed off when I saw the child there, fearful that it might start crying, but he or she looks like they are out for the count. I place my coffee down after a warm-up sip and put my croissant next to it. I don’t really do sweets, but I couldn’t resist this sugar covered treat. I briefly smile to the two women just to show that I’m not some brute with a wild ginger beard. They don’t seem disturbed by my appearance.

I pull the book out and read the opening paragraph. I’m going to quote it verbatim because honestly, I fucking love it. Rob has given me the go-ahead:

Tumescent, tumescence, a rush of blood but not to the head. The anger gives way to resignation, betrayal turns into hopelessness. Despair is everywhere.”

That is good shit right there! If that doesn’t grip you, then nothing will. I also love it when I’m faced with unfamiliar words in any book that I read — a great start.

Now, I’m no good at reviews. It’s just not really my thing. Also, I don’t want to ruin any of the story, but I would like to express some emotions and themes. This is my second reading of this book. I was part of Unbound's version of a Kickstarter, so I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy straight away, but this is my first time reading it as a paperback. I usually read on my Kindle, but you can’t beat a good book. I love the paper in my hands. I turn the pages and get comfortable. So far, you must be thinking, what a cliché. Writer goes to a coffee shop to read a book that he might review. If you are thinking that, then you are right! I’m a pure cliché, right down to my plain black t-shirt, Patagonia cap, black-rimmed glasses, bushy beard... I could go on! You know me.

I wouldn’t call this a spoiler because it’s written all over the front of the book but this novel deals with something that’s close to my heart. Alcoholism. I’m not suggesting that I was an alcoholic, I don’t think I was, but within these pages, I see something that I can identify with — the struggle. The point where one becomes two, becomes four, becomes ten, and on and on. Some of you will know what I’m talking about. The high and the lows. The roller coaster of booze. I’ve begun to feel like consuming alcohol can be similar to self-medication. Not for everyone, but definitely for some. One of those being me. Drinking to settle your nerves, to be confident, in some cases to be normal. Ideal Angels explores those problems. I’ll use that term again, raising awareness. Sometimes it’s easy to dismiss it as normal. For many, it is. One or two after work, no problem with that. But what if you end up having another two or three? What happens then?

The baby stirs. It doesn’t cry, but it certainly whimpers. One of the women quickly jumps up and quietens them down. She was fast. A regular expert I have to say. It's broken my concentration a bit. I’m ploughing through this book at a breakneck pace. I need to chill out. Coffee won’t help, but I notice that I’m pretty much empty. I place the book down and quickly go and order another latte. I leave my stuff at the table because I’m absolutely sure the mother and her friend won’t steal anything. Number 1, they don’t look the type, but number 2, why the hell would they? The coffee is ordered, so I return to my spot.

Where was I? Ah, yes. That leads me to another theme in the book — mental health. Rob has greenlit me to mention this, but I know that he has dealt and continues to deal with mental health issues. Of course, I won’t go into the specifics, but when you read the book, you can see it has heavily influenced it. Rob has said many times to me before that writing is a form of therapy for him. I get that. I feel the same way. Not so much that we have gone through the same things, but that writing and being creative can release some inner demons. Provide some relief. There’s real pain in these pages — real life in them.

My concentration is broken again when my name is called (Elliot, not ALEX, which is a first!) I scurry off to collect my new caffeine fix. With the coffee in hand, I return to my seat. The mother and her friend are packing up to leave. The baby remains silent despite the upheaval. Ever the Brit I politely nod as they leave. With them gone I delve back into the book. Back to that raw emotion. It really is raw. It’s a reveal all kind of book. Like I said, dealing with some real issues.

I’m smashing through the pages. I stop and pull out my phone for a breather. I gently scroll through my Twitter feed, reading but not really reading the many tweets out there. I don’t really know why I do it. It’s not like I get much from it, but it does seem to relax me somewhat, even with the coffee coursing through my veins. This leads me nicely to one of the other main themes of the book — social media. This is a big topic of conversation at the moment. Everyone has at least one account, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever. We’ve all got one. It’s invaded our lives. Don’t get me wrong it’s an incredibly useful tool if used wisely and correctly. Living across the Atlantic has really made me appreciate the instantaneous nature of the internet and social media. It’s fantastic, but in the wrong hands it can be damaging (Cambridge Analytica anyone?) If we are being honest, it’s a bit like a drug. That sleek wonderful screen that can cater to our every whim. We have something to say? We can say it. We have something we want to find out? We can find it. New business? We can promote it. We need it.

There’s a fine line between usefulness and obsession. We humans can’t help ourselves sometimes. Social media is everywhere and everything. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I genuinely don’t believe that. Why else would I be writing a blog? But I also think you need to be careful with it. Educate yourself. Don’t just walk blindly into the unknown. I find sometimes I need to just take a short break from it. Keep my phone out of arms reach. Most of what is said in Ideal Angels resonates with me when it comes to social media. It is a very relatable topic. I put down my phone. Break over. I’ve wasted enough precious time, back to the book.

A few hours later, I drain my fourth cup of coffee with a slurp and then use my hand to wipe the foam from my moustache. It could do with a trim. The thing has gotten wild. My plan of just a few cups has gone out the window. I wasn’t meant to demolish the book in this fashion, but I’ve gotten over-excited and finished it. I won’t say too much about my final thoughts on the climax of the book. I wouldn’t want to ruin it, but I feel the pain and emotion. That’s all I’ll say about that.

I glance up to find a guy with a way bigger beard than me has taken the spot in front of my seat. He nods his head in what I believe to be a sign of recognition, one beard to another. I’ve clearly been out bearded though, massively. This is my cue to leave. I’m wired now anyway after four cups of coffee. I can burn a little of that off on the drive home. I stand and stretch my stiff back.

To my right, is an empty fireplace. Above it reads “You are here. Becoming aware. Funding aftercare.” It makes me feel equally happy and sad. Happy, because, yes, I’ve done my tiny bit in the only way I can, but also sad, because a place like this needs to exist. I collect up my stuff in my backpack and make my way home.

That was a tale of a Yorkshireman in Texas.

A bloke with a ginger beard who writes.



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