For the love of coffee.

A lot of sacrifices have had to happen recently; everything in my newly-forged life was thrown up in the air not long after it had finally all been settled nicely. I had to give back my independence that came with the ability to drive once more, I effectively surrendered my decision making to my 'rents, and worst of all... I've been signed off work.

I'm signed off for the foreseeable future, the professionals at the hospital have said it should be three months. Now I may have agreed to this time limit, when in reality I know that if last year is anything to go by, it'll be barely eight weeks. I loved my job last year, and I hated leaving that one too of course, but this year I am being dragged kicking and screaming - if I had it my way, I'd probably stay at work until the day I needed to be admitted to hospital. I'd do an opening shift that day and drive myself straight to the hospital after, swanning in with an iced latte in hand. 
I've written (and spoken/gushed) about it enough, surely, but I'm never done it seems - I adore my job. I roll my eyes when people claim they hate Mondays, because nowadays I am definitely of the belief that you don't hate Mondays at all. You hate your 9-5. Alright, you can wake up on a Monday morning and reminisce for a minute about your lazy weekend lie ins and Sunday afternoon drinks in the garden, but if it gets to 4:32pm and you're sitting at your desk biting down on a pen lid and seriously debating risking the death stares and bitchy comments you'll get if you pack up and leave a quarter of an hour early, then honey you have a problem.
Maybe I'm being unfair, or maybe I have no experience of that Monday morning feeling as for my whole working life I have not known the boundless joy a weekend can bring. I'd pack up and head home from uni on the occasional weekend, but that was when I skipped a lecture on a Friday and swapped a shift on Sunday. 
My dad has been waking up at 5:50am and getting the 6:58am train to London with all the other suit types Monday-Friday every week for the last twenty years. I like to think you wouldn't do that if you didn't have a substantial amount of passion for your profession. Also we both chatted recently about being able to confidently and happily say 'I am good at my job'; you cannot underestimate the importance of that satisfaction and self-worth. Then again, sometimes you have to be reminded that you're good, that you're doing well and keeping things up to standard if not beyond. My ex-manager would always throw us a fist-bump if we were clocking out or if we took over from him, and then add a 'good job today' at the very least. Positive reinforcement and general 'taking care of staff' is such a major factor in my job, and I could tell this was the case from day one. 

Now, rather than gush-write about my journey with this lovely company and perfect little store/branch/cafe/haven, which in all honesty I could pour onto a page in the time it takes milk to bubble and burn, I'll try and condense it into a series of highlights. Cream in the coffee moments.

Regulars. Some regulars we may detest just a tiny bit - the lads who order three large cappuccinos at 7am, the Soya Girl (her own teabag, obviously no hot water whatsoever for the teabag, a shot of sugar-free caramel syrup and topped up with soya froth, then chocolate sprinkles, all this for just 70p which she will pay by card), the skinny wet large extra-hot single shot drink-in but takeaway cup latte lady, the black Americano plus a cup of ice gent (again, drink in but a takeaway cup - I think people are cottoning on that you get just a spoonful more milk or hot water in a takeaway cup, or maybe they just think they'll pay 10p less...), and anyone who wants a wet cappuccino (I sometimes put 'latte' through on the till so they can see it and feel ashamed)... Yes, some regulars can be very specific nightmares. However, for the most part, regular customers can really make me smile. After being signed off, before my op, I visited several times and hung out at the end of the bar - like some of us will do after we finish an early shift anyway, just because it's fun to hang out and we're in no rush to go home! - and I'd always see at least three of our regulars come in and make their usual orders, and they'd always chat with me. The thing is, customers might love being called 'sir' or 'madam', but if they're such frequent visitors that you feel the need to ask their name and then they learn yours too, that's a bit lovely. I could list names here, but that might be weird...
I will mention this little girl though, she is probably about five years old, who delights in the fact that we are both called Grace. I always get a 'hi Grace!' from her when she comes in with her parents. 
I also really enjoy working with 'other Grace' (better known as 'Misty', for obvious reasons unbeknownst to her) because if we get asked what our names are we can both respond together and freak 'em out.

Barista of the Year. The company-wide annual competition that I somehow stumbled blindly into... I won the mini-contest we had between ourselves in our store, somehow beating two Maestros by a couple of points, and I'd never wanted to even take part in that tiny first phase of the competition. I was trying to bribe my colleagues to do the area competition for me. 
I won Area. I somehow became the Area Champ; I competed against the other barista reps from the branches in our area, there were twelve of us total, and just getting into the Final Two was enough for me, but then the super-amazing girl (another Maestro!) I was in the Final Two with was too late putting one drink down (that was how close it was!), and I won. I was delighted when they called my name for all of three seconds - then I remembered that this meant I'd be competing in the Regionals competition in a month or so. More competing, more stress, more time limits for making cappuccinos... I was all kinds of nervous, more than I'd been for Area or for anything ever for that matter. If that wasn't bad enough, I'd also been booked in for a last-minute brain scan the day after Regionals, due to certain symptoms popping up at this point (I hadn't got The News yet, luckily). 
Anyway, as we got in the car with our lovely Area Manager, headed for Crawley again, I confided in her and my colleagues that all I wanted was to get down to the Final Two again. I knew I could never ever win - Final Two. That's all I wanted. I was actually lucky that it was Crawley again, the place where I'd competed before, I had a slight advantage. Now, I'll spare you readers a blow-by-blow account, but here are some highlights (within this very long highlight): the girl who I was 'up against' (although everyone was up against everyone, she was just who I was paired with) knocked my arm when I went to put a cappuccino down on the tray, there was a gasp and an apology but I thought I was doomed. Luckily it was let go as they could still see my foam level was on point... My team; the Area Manager, my ex-manager, the bestest colleagues including one who'd just left, my sorta soulmate who managed another store, all of them sang my songs and chanted their very imaginative creations ('get that milky nice and silky!' 'All about that Grace, 'bout that Grace, no bubble!') which weirdly gave me more confidence rather than distracting me, which seemed to concern the other competitors. The best and most helpful shout-out though was my Maestro simply yelling 'You've got this!' as I battled away in the Final Two. Oh yes, I made it to the Final Two again. I was announced second, which was hellish, and in a creative way: 'I believe her name fits perfectly into a song or two...' Then my team and I scream as we catch on, then suddenly form a massive screaming group hug, my fab Area Manager is holding me by the shoulders and saying 'you did it! You wanted to be in the Final Two!', my boyfriend (who only just missed out on being Champion in his Area) is texting saying 'You've already f---ing smashed it!', then before I know it I'm having to head back behind the bar and wash my shaking hands again.

Whenever I feel a little low, I can just cast my tired broken mind back to Crawley when everyone was drinking cider, hugging and chanting witty rhymes or singing 'my songs' as I bossed it behind the bar. Suddenly 'Amazing Grace' was played over the speakers and my team were singing along - I wanted to go back in time and tell myself that this would happen, back when several popular/idiot boys would follow me home from school singing this song at me as an act of aggressive bullying. 

Nights. I was going to sub-head this section as 'drinking', then realised it may give a bad impression. But yes, basically this highlight is meeting up with work friends for drinks. This lovely chain I work for seem to work so hard to ensure that all colleagues are taken care of and get along; pizza nights happen every now and again, often coinciding with team meetings which are pretty nice and sociable anyway, CN Club is when all of the stores in the area (or most of them, at least) get together and 'socialise'/drink up and dance. My first CN Club social shindig was just two weeks after I started working at my particular cafe, which was perfect as it meant I could meet everyone early on and never get confused again when my manager or colleagues mentioned a manager or shift leader from another store - it also meant that I was included in some of the post-night out stories later on, which was a major plus. I was so happy I was able to attend the next one (they're not very frequent which is sad but makes them more special, surely) before my op. We were out until 3 am and then didn't sleep until maybe 5 am, then I worked the next day with my fellow puking sleep-deprived friends - but at no point during the shift, not even when I had to run outside and breathe/dry heave, did I regret the night before. I may have wavered at one point and debated getting the 00:40 train home, but luckily the Area Manager talked me out of it - and made me well up happily as she did. (Now, I'm aware that I keep referring to people as 'colleagues' or 'managers' of some kind, which is weird but I have to stick to my no-names rule! Sorry.)
The night of Regionals was also one of the best nights ever. I went into hospital the next day for my CT scan and had to apologise to the nurses for my moaning as they pushed me back and forth through the machine - I explained myself with the words 'tequila hangover'. For some reason, at my place of work we keep tequila close by and drink it after hours from the takeaway single-shot paper cups. 
We also then decided we had to attend the actual Company Finals of BOTY, to see the guy who beat me (by one point) take on the other finalists. I said jokingly that I'd forgive him if he reached the Final Two. He did, but alas did not win overall. He didn't care, and why should he? He did good. He had free drinks all night! I had a few freebies too - in fact the one time I put my card on the bar to pay for a round at the after-party, my two best girls practically threw themselves on the bar screaming that I mustn't pay... That night was so special to me, even after we left the club and were settling into our rented flat for the night, making full English breakfasts at 2:51am and watching 'Don't Tell the Bride', I was buzzing with the happy feels. 
Confession time: I usually enjoy nights out, but always have a sense in the back of my mind not to stay too long, not to hang it out; to cut things off when they're good and usually make an Irish exit (Irish goodbye? Leaving without saying goodbye, basically). I don't want to outstay my welcome or provide more opportunities for me to say something idiotic or make a misled move... However, whether it's a night out in London or Crawley or just after-work or post-deep-clean drinks at the pub next door, I'm never in a rush to leave. I think in London I genuinely had a moment when my fuddled boozy brain was saying 'I never want this night to end'.

Friends. Just in general. My workmates have become so important to me; such good hard-working people to have around me as I'm washing up or serving a queue, a constantly supportive team when times are tough, and totally awesome friends. Making friends at work is so important to me anyway, and the team dynamic is crucial - my last job, the one I had for six weeks last year who still owe me my hard-earned money, they were never a team. Everyone was out for themselves, and there was never any flow or decent communication behind the bar, you were given one task to do rather than taking complete care of each customer and you'd do it for hours and never connect with customers... Whereas at this lovely place, not only is there a good clear way to serve customers and generally get by behind the bar, there's always something to do and we are actually a team. We talk happily between ourselves and with the customers, we share out the less appealing jobs - and actually most of the time everyone volunteers to do those jobs OR the best ones (not me, basically) will do them without being asked. Anyway, enough comparing my terrible old job with my perfect current job. There's no comparison. 

I recently visited work, it was the last time I visited before I went into hospital, and as I drove there I received a Snapchat from one colleague taken behind the bar with the caption 'when u coming to visit?' then a message from the other colleague working that day asking when I was next visiting... I was five minutes away in the car and hadn't told them; I had the stupidest self-satisfied smile on my face. I parked my car in the staff car park, I bumped into a regular whose name and entire family story I know as I got to the door, I let her in ahead of me and saw my friends grinning when they realised I'd come in. One of my other favourites came in half an hour before her shift started to see me. It was just lovely. Even now, as I sit on the sofa recovering slowly and painfully, I'm receiving texts and Snaps asking how I am doing and keeping me updated on everything as it goes down. One of my biggest fears is, as regular readers may well know, being left out and being left behind. That was one of my worries when I was signed off; so many stories come from work, be it ludicrous exchanges between lovely or lewd customers, or hilarious pranks played on one another behind the bar, or drunk anecdotes. There are a lot of 'you had to be there' moments. I even had a moment of self-pity when I saw our beloved newbies had graduated from their maroon shirts to the coveted black, and I wasn't there to witness the moment when they aced their mini practical exams or had their first shift not as a trainee. I knew it would be tricky, I knew I'd miss a fair bit, but what's so great is that for the most part I'm being kept in the loop. I'm missed too, apparently. I just cannot wait until I can leave my house and make journeys - I know where my first outing, maybe even my first train trip, will be... 
Okay, the cheese train stops here. Now all you patient readers who made it this far through all my lovesick rambling will know (hopefully) just how much I enjoy my job, and how badly I want to be working again. I need my fix of coffee ASAP. The home-made brews from the parents' teeny too-cutesy Gaggia machine can only keep me going for so long...


  1. Wow. Grace. Such an amazing story. I am so impressed with your spirit!


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