Christy’s Harvest, in Westport on Ireland’s west coast, doesn’t bother with cappuccinos and flat whites – if you asked for one, you’d get the sort of look you would if you’d come home and made the same request to your mother. You order “a coffee”, which is plonked steaming-hot onto your table, the bottom of the ceramic mug sticking slightly to the polka-dotted tablecloth.
An old man sits at the bench that runs along the wall of the tiny café, peering over a copy of the Irish Times. He’s wearing a full three-piece suit, complete with a red pocket square. It seems no one is safe from his stare as they step inside the door of Christy’s – his bespectacled eyes stay locked on each of his fellow customers until they’ve passed him by.
As the coffee machine grinds into action, the smell of coffee soon fills every corner, and the windows begin to steam up. It’s said around Westport that Christy’s Harvest is so small that there’s only ever one conversation happening here at any given time, no matter how packed with customers. Today, in the aftermath of Storm Barbara that hit the west of Ireland just before Christmas, a middle-aged woman in running clothes – one of two sitting at a table near the door – wonders aloud if there’s any more bad weather on the horizon.
“Eileen will know,” says her friend. “Eileen, is there any more bad weather coming?”
A plump waitress with a cropped haircut steps out from behind the counter, her yellow apron snowy with flour. “No, nothing for the next few days, thanks be to God. Cold alright, but no storms.”
Despite the chill outside, it’s warm and well-lit in here. The oak shelves that line the walls display various knick-knacks: a quilted owl, a red lantern with cutout heart shapes, wooden plaques with fluffy quotes. A string of garlic bulbs hangs from the ceiling. The menu is scrawled in chalk on a blackboard that hangs behind the counter, featuring a ham and cheese bagel, homemade scones with butter and jam, and “boxty” – a traditional Irish potato pancake – with rashers. A portable stereo stands on the floor, playing smooth jazz.
The chatter is quiet, the accents soft. The orange peel in the scones mingles with the saltiness of real butter. London, with its strips of Costa and Pret shops and cardboard coffee cups piled on top of bins, suddenly seems much further than just a 90-minute Ryanair journey away.
The old man in the suit stumbles over to the counter.
“What’s the damage?”
“Six euro sixty, please, my dear,” says the waitress, taking the coins from his hand. “See you tomorrow, love.”