Book Beginnings – 19th March 2021

Book beginnings on Fridays is hosted by Rose City Reader and it is a chance to share the first sentence or so of a book you’ve reading, about to read or recently read.

The book I’d like to share this week is The 24-Hour Cafe by Libby Page. I’m currently reading this book thanks to NetGalley and I am really enjoying it. I wanted to share the first couple of pages with hopes of also tempting you in…

The city never sleeps, and neither does Stella’s. A glowing red sign marks out the café that serves fish and chips, bangers and mash and American pancakes to Londoners and visitors at any time of day or night. While buses pull up and drift away outside the window, the coffee machine hisses and administers caffeine to the sleepless.

The diner occupies the ground floor of a tall building opposite Liverpool Street station, during the day one of the busiest stations in London, at night a waiting ground for holidaymakers catching the coach to Stansted airport, drunk students heading home from a night out in Shoreditch, and those with nowhere else to go huddling beneath the awning of the Starbucks concession.

Inside, the café is a gaudy mash-up of British and American nostalgia – nostalgia for a time and place that perhaps never existed on either side of the Atlantic. Every wall is covered in pictures. A pop-art style portrait of the Queen hangs next to a red plastic Coca Cola sign. Framed beer coasters below an old London Underground plaque that reads ‘Liverpool Street’ in huge letters. A lending library housed in a red wooden telephone box and a frumpy fringed lampshade hanging from the ceiling. Black and white checked linoleum lines the floor. Old wooden school chairs with space to slot books at the back sit opposite Formica tables and banks of fake leather seats. There are high tables with stools on either side, as well as dinerstyle booths where lamps hang low in the middle. Small packets of sauces sit in Oxo tins on the tables, red paper napkins stuffed beside them. In the middle of the café, at the back, is an antique Cadbury’s cabinet filled with cakes and smoothies in glass milk bottles. On a counter beside it is a shining silver coffee machine that glints with the reflection of the café and the faces of its lost souls. Behind the coffee bar is an enormous painted Union Jack, taking up the whole length and height of the back wall. Right in the centre, leaping from a wooden mount, is a stuffed brown bear. Its paws are outstretched, permanently frozen in ‘attack’. The bear is wearing a top hat.

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