So we went to Eastbourne, and boy howdy did we find a nice cafe.
The walls are covered with framed black and white photos of the cafe through the years, gorgeous shots from the 50's with the original signs for fruit salads in the background, and then, on the wall next to the photo, there's the same sign for fruit salads. Original menus on the wall, offering such out-of-time delights as ice cold Ovaltine, and arctic flavour ice cream. "We've been here since 1936", says the lovely, chatty lady behind the counter, "Same year I was born!".
We get stuck into plates full of fried wonderfulness, and then focus on the real reason to come here. Desserts. Home made ice cream. I get a knickerbocker glory, partly because I'm a greedy, greedy man, partly because there's a running joke in my family about a time when I asked for one as a child, and then cried when I saw how big it was and realised that I couldn't finish it, and partly because it's rare that a 44 year old man can say words like "Knickerbocker glory" in public without fear of ridicule. It was excellent. You could taste the milk in the ice cream, it tasted fresh and gorgeous and now as I write this at home all I want to do it go back there right now and get another one. As I said, I'm a greedy, greedy man.
A gaggle of old ladies shuffle in and struggle to inhabit a booth. "Alright girls!", says the lady behind the counter, and much chirping banter ensues as the old ladies all order something and then take it in turns to go to the bathroom, in what seems to be a pre-arranged order. There's someone I feel confident describing as an old geezer having a lemonade in one of the other seats, "Eastbourne ain't changed much", he says as he pays. A well turned out, bleached blonde middle class, middle aged woman comes in to get an ice cream to take away. She looks around, smiles at the counter-lady and says "I came here when I was five". Beautiful.
Very little recharges my soul as efficiently as a place like this. It reminds me of my childhood, sure, of the Golden Egg in Waltham Cross that was sunk into the floor, so as you looked out of the windows all you could see were the feet of passers by. And you can't beat egg & chips and an ice cream for comfort food, and I've always been a comfort eater. But more than that, in a world where the notion of community has become just another piece of jargon thrown around by crass, shallow politicians, places like this is where it really is. They've been serving egg and chips and ice cream since 1936. Plating up toast through wars, depressions and booms. They've given kids ice cream as the radio behind the counter played skiffle, then rock & roll, then R&B, then hip hop, then dance. A constant. Nothing is forever, of course, but Notarianni's, and its kind, need to outlive us all.